Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Numbers by Rachel Ward

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Whenever Jem meets someone new, no matter who, as soon as she looks into their eyes, a number pops into her head. That number is a date: the date they will die. Burdened with such an awful awareness, Jem avoids relationships. Until she meets Spider, another outsider, and takes a chance.

And here's what I thought:   Actually, let's look at that summary for a moment.   As soon as Jem looks into someone's eyes, the date of their death pops into her head.  Not the most fun of talents.  Of course, when she's a little kid, she's not sure what the numbers mean, but then her mom dies, and it becomes quite clear that that string of numbers is actually a death date.    When she meets Spider, Jem is a foster home, isn't really enjoying school too much, and doesn't enjoy making friends (because of the whole death-date talent).   The nice thing about Spider, is that he's persistent, and he's also a bit of a loner, like Jem.   Things seem to be going okay, with Jem slowly getting to know Spider, when the two of them ditch school to go into London and visit the London Eye (if you're not sure what this is, here's a link).  But the fun stops there --- Jem and Spider are waiting to go up, Jem starts noticing that everyone's number is the same.  Like, everyone is supposed to die that day.  On the Eye.

Understandably, Jem freaks out and drags Spider with her to get away from everyone -- which is a good thing because moments later, the Eye explodes.  Because she and Spider have been spotted in the vicinity, they worry that the police will think they're part of the bomb plot --- and so the two of them take off.   This is where the story really picks up, with Jem and Spider on the move, trying to avoid being spotted, and worrying about where they'll sleep (and where they're going to get some food).   The whole thing with Jem's ability takes a back seat to the whole need-to-survive plot, and while it comes up again at one point, for a while, it's not the main focus.  However, Jem has seen Spider's number --- and it's coming up in a few days.   No spoilers -- you'll have to read the book to see what happens.

That's a little bit more about the story, so here's more about my thoughts on the book.   First off, I liked that this was set in Britain.  I've been there before, and I was somewhat familiar with London, and Bath, and the British-English slang didn't throw me off at all.   Ward did a nice job with the characters, making them pretty believeable, both in how they spoke, and in how they handled the situations thrown at them.  Jem's only 15, so she's not always perfectly cool with being on the run, or not knowing what's going to happen next; she's sometimes whiny, or grumpy (or flat-out pissed off).   Spider's got a few issues of his own, and although he takes pretty good care of Jem, he's not perfect, either.   This is realistic.  And by the way, these kids aren't gorgeous, thin, beautiful --- they're normal-looking (more or less - Spider's really skinny).  Thank you, Rachel Ward!!!     This book has a great pace that seemed to just pick up and then gallop along --- I just sat and read and read and read, because I wasn't sure what was going to happen next (and I needed to know).    I also liked how Jem's ability to see these numbers, while important in the book, wasn't the only focus of the story.   But, there were completely unrealistic elements, as well, like when Jem's in Bath Abbey and people start finding out about her ability.   Didn't quite jive (does that make sense?)

And a few words about the whole death-date, predestination thing -- it's an interesting idea that Rachel Ward has here.  Jem can see the date people will die, but that's all she knows: a date.  She doesn't know how, she doesn't know exactly when.   And, she really doesn't feel like it's something she should tell people (which I kind of agree with).   However, the dates never seem to change -- once she sees a date, it's set.  That means, no matter what the person does, or doesn't do, that it's set.   Does this mean that we're pre-determined to have something happen, no matter what?   If our destiny is completely out of our control, that would be a little depressing, wouldn't it?   And, in this story, there's another question: Do the numbers appear just because Jem can see them?  Or, are they there no matter what?  In other words --- because she sees the number, is she setting that date, and setting events in motion?    It's interesting to sit and think about a few of these ideas after finishing the book.


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