Title: Numbers
Author: Rachel Ward
ISBN: 9780545142991
Pages: 325 pages
Publisher/Date: Chicken House, c2010.
Release Date: Feb. 1, 2010

I’d always seen the numbers, for as long as I could remember. I thought everyone did. Walking down the street, if my eyes met someone else’s, there it would be, their number. I used to tell my mum people’s numbers as she pushed me along in my buggy. I thought she’d be pleased. She’d think I was clever. Yeah, right.
[…] She looked me straight in the eye, the fury clear on her face. “Listen, Jem.” The words came spitting out of her face. “I don’t know what you’re going on about, but I want you to stop. It’s doing my head in. I don’t need it today. OK? I don’t need it, so just . . bloody . . . shut . . . up.” Syllables stinging like angry wasps, her venom fizzing all around me. And all the time, as we sat there eye-to-eye, her number was there, stamped on the inside of my skull: 10102001.
Four years later, I watched a man in a scruffy suit write it down on a piece of paper: Date of Death: 10.10.2001. (3-4)

Fifteen-year-old Jem literally sees death everywhere she looks, being privy to the when but not the how of everyone when she looks them in the eyes. She refuses to tell anyone her secret or their number, which prevents her from establishing relationships with people. She finally finds herself hanging out with Spider, a messed up class mate who lives with his grandmother. When cutting classes together, Jem realizes that everyone surrounding her has the same number in their eyes, and is slated to die that day. An explosion rips through the area, and Jem and Spider are caught on surveliance tape fleeing from the scene moments beforehand. Their individual troubled pasts force them on the run from the police, with new reports portraying them as terror suspects. With Spider’s end fast approaching, will their names be cleared before it’s too late, or can Jem change the future when it matters the most?

The cover is what immediately caught my attention with this book. It looks like a cross between the movie posters for the Matrix (which I have seen and loved the first one) and Godzilla. Ok, maybe I’m the only one who sees it. I like the US cover much more than the UK cover, as it immediately grabs your attention. What is it with mixing numbers and letters for the word “Numbers”? The Tv show about a mathematician who solves crimes with his FBI brother that goes by the same name spells it Numb3rs.

In any case, it’s a thought provoking concept of seeing death and whether you would tell people if you knew they were going to die. I think Jem is right in her views that people shouldn’t be told, because it’s an inevitable event anyways. People shouldn’t be living their lives for tomorrow anyways. Jem comes to striking conclusions, and while I don’t always agree with them, it’s interesting to see her thought process.

Rachel Ward makes it known on the back jacket that the first chapter was entered into a short story contest, and I think I liked that one the best because it was concise in terms of back story and plot. I alternated between liking and hating Jem and Spider, and I ultimately can’t decide. On the one hand, she is a completely different than me, and it’s hard to relate to her rage against the world and the hardships she has suffered. On the other hand, at times it feels she’s completely justified in her reactions as she comes to grips with this secret that no one can help her with. She watched her mother die, and all her life she has been surrounded by death. I admire her impulse to stay away from drugs, especially after witnessing what they did to her mother, but she allows herself to become entangled with Spider and her gift forces her to second guess her every move. Did knowing the death date cause the death date, or is it preventable? That’s the question she’s forced to ask herself. The end is heartbreaking, and the very last page has the plot twist that I’m hoping will be addressed in the upcoming sequel, which is coming to the UK in June 2010 and the U.S. in spring 2011. While certain scenes seemed to drag, the stolen cars and drug money, the hyperactive Spider, the police hunt, and the banter between Spider and Jem save the book from being bogged down completely, and most teens will relish the suspense.