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Review: Numbers by Rachel Ward

Numbers by Rachel Ward

Rating: D



The premise behind Numbers sounds like and interesting and relatively original one but the novel itself fails to use the concept in an interesting way. Jem, 15, discovers that when she looks into someone’s eyes, she sees a series of numbers that later turn out to be their date of death. The way she discovers this is in itself, sort of stupid. She realized at a young age she could see numbers and one day looks at her Mother’s and sees 10102001 and we’re lead to believe she just didn’t think about it any further. Later, into the future, her Mother over doses on drugs and Jem realize that the date is indeed 10/10/2001 which is what leads her to realize, the numbers are date of death.

I find it hard to believe she would just dismiss the numbers so easily and the idea of a date wouldn’t come into her mind any sooner. She clearly had to have noticed a pattern at one point with the numbers and maybe even start to think about what they could mean.

The novel progresses with Jem randomly meeting Spider, someone who we are told she knows but isn’t friends with. Since her Mother’s death Jem has lived in foster homes and remains a sort of “trouble maker” at school. She “hangs out” with Spider, realizing he has feelings for her but she knows his death date is only a few weeks away so she attempts not to have a relationship with him. After meeting his Nan, it seems she reconsiders. The character of his Nan is sort of a weird one, she comes across as someone who Jem can seemingly relate to and yet we know nothing about her besides the fact that after her husband died she can see people’s aura. At this point in the novel, it feels to me as if the book can’t decide if it’s a supernatural themed novel or not, there’s no real focus on Jem’s “powers” or why Spider’s Nan seems to have something up with her.

Spider gets kicked out of school for attacking a student who makes fun of Jem and then Jem herself soon follows in a move I can only call stupid. Having brought a knife to school to ward off a bully, after she’s verbally attack by one, she takes out the knife only to be discovered by the principal. Instead to of explaining herself, she’d rather keep quiet as she gets sent to jail and has to deal with social workers and her foster Mother. To be honest, I hate this type of teenage stupidity. Instead of telling the police, principal, social worker or even her foster Mother that she was being bullied by the young man, she stays stubbornly silent and gets herself into a load of trouble.

That sets off the main event in the novel, when Jem and Spider take a day trip down to London. While in line for the London Eye, Jem notices everyone’s death date is indeed that day, panicked she makes Spider flee with her seconds before a bomb goes off, killing about a dozen people. The two run back to Spider’s house to lay low and eventually Jem lets her secret out. Spider doesn’t seem bothered at all or all that interested in knowing anything about the powers, something else that I found annoying. The real trouble begins soon after, the cameras caught the pair running from the Eye seconds before it explodes and the police now are looking for them.

Instead of going there and telling them the truth of their involvement, they go on the run. This is the stupid mistake of the novel that truly got to me. While I understand both Jem and Spider are young 15 year olds who are already “in trouble”, they don’t do the sensible thing. Instead they steal the principal’s car and drive off to the beach Spider went to as a kid. Even Spider’s Nan sends them on the run, understanding they need to escape. From there, the novel seems to forget what it’s actually about and spend the entire time talking about Spider and Jem’s adventures in the wild. They run out of cars to steal and set off on foot from town to town. Eventually they sleep together but Jem still doesn’t seem to really even like Spider all that much. They end up being recognized (their faces plastered all over newspapers) and a “Tattoo Man” gets after them for money Spider stole from a drug dealer earlier.

Spider ends up caught, Jem ends up making friends with a young girl who finds her and lets her stay at her house for a night. After that Jem is on the road again, going where her and Spider planned. Although, she doesn’t seem to have any sort of plan what so ever, besides going to this beach. Maybe it’s truly a 15 year olds way of thinking, but Jem doesn’t seem to know what to do at all and suddenly realizes how much she loves/misses Spider and his protection. She randomly ends up at a Church, where they let her in to claim sanctuary. In another sense of how the hell, the police are right on her tail. It doesn’t seem believable that the police are able to track her well but not able to actually get her on the road. They always seem to be one step ahead of her and yet, never actually able to get her.

At the Church she meets Simon, the only sensible character. He convinces her to take refuge in the Church and then eventually talk to the police. He’s the true voice of reason, trying to get Jem to take what’s happening seriously and actually gives the police a chance. Jem’s foster mother, Karen, who seems reasonable and caring, arrives to try and convince Jem to come home and just talk to the police. They end up agreeing to let Jem sit in the Church and sleep there, until she’s willing to leave. I have a hard time treating anyone in this novel, the police and Karen included, as bad guys. Their motives in finding Jem and Spider are completely normal and in realm. The only ones making anyone out to be a bad guy is Jem herself, telling Simon the police will frame her for murder, she knows it. What annoys me the most is the fact that none of his has anything to do with her powers. Sure, finding out about the deaths were because she saw them but who’s to say she couldn’t just have gotten a “feeling” or hell, decide NOT to ride the London Eye at the moment. Nearly anything could have brought Jem and Spider running from the London Eye that day and her powers haven’t helped her at all. In fact, no one is even after her or knowledgeable about her powers to begin with. In a novel called, Numbers, I was thinking that numbers might have something to do with the overly plot of the story.

Jem ends up telling Karen her powers and Karen has the only sensible reaction which is that Jem’s clearly gone insane and has some sort of issue. She eventually “accepts” the idea and seems to move on, wanting to know why Jem wants Spider out of jail so badly. At this point Spider has only a few days before he is to die and all we know is he’s in jail somewhere.

Jem’s big plan is seemingly to tell the police everything, including her power, which just is a big mess. She spouts of that she can “solve their case” and ends up making her seem like she was actually PART of the bombing instead of an innocent bystander. She just digs herself deeper, claiming to be able to tell them everything, just as long as they bring Spider to her. At this point, it feels like she’s all but set up Spider’s death. Maybe if she just sat down and explained what happened without demands, Spider would end up safe, but that isn’t the case, of course. After she tells all to the police, they tell she’s going back to London and then she’ll see Spider. She’s even talked to by several people, all wanting to know when they are going to die. She refuses to tell them, runs away and is generally annoyed that the cat is out of the bag in terms of her secret. Her “battle within” is more or less, woe is me, I know people’s death and I have to deal with death every single day, despite the fact that she’s only actually seen one person actually die besides the bomb victims.

Karen convinces her to hold a press conference of sorts in the Church and admit she’s made the entire thing up. And then she does. She rambles on about how she’s lied for attention and that you know, EVERYONE is going to die, so don’t be obsessed with death or anything. This would be slightly more meaningful if she wasn’t lying through her teeth about it. She also has a little “love” speech when Spider randomly comes running down the Church’s hallway. Since it’s the day of Spider’s death, Jem seems to think the police will let her run off with him now that she’s signed an agreement with them. Spider doesn’t seem to think so and instead tries to convince her to chill out and see what happens with them.

Jem comes to the best conclusion she could, which is if she doesn’t SEE Spider’s number, then he won’t die. Therefore, she takes off the to the Church’s top and threatens to jump off, killing herself and somehow magically sparing Spider’s own death. The stupidity level in this line of thought is off the charts. If someone is going to die, wither or not Jem knows about it, is not going to stop it.

Spider gives her a big speech about love and doing thing together and how jail won’t be so bad and happy endings. Jem finally agrees that, yeah it’ll be okay only to have Spider come over to help her from the edge of the roof. And of course Spider falls to his death in a matter of seconds. Afterwards, to our understanding, Jem had some sort of psychotic break, could barely talk and ended up in the hospital. But now we pick up with her bringing Spider’s ashes to the beach they never made it too. And wouldn’t you believe that she’s knocked up now too? Spider’s baby and all. The novel ends there, with Jem pouring his ashes into the ocean and feeling, well safe for the first time in a long time.

The novel picks up 5 years later, Jem as her son, Adam and apparently lives with Karen now. She takes care of her after she suffered a stroke and somewhere along the lines loses her power to read numbers. There’s no explanation as to what happened about the London Eye. There’s no bit about police and jails, just that she suffered psychotic breaks because of Spider’s death but is all better now. Karen dies, just like Jem knew she would one day and that’s about it. Until her son draws a picture of her and guess what? He can see Mommy’s special number too!

Over this entire novel is a good laugh. The concept is fantastic but the execution is beyond poor. There’s nothing wrong with how it’s written, the problem lies within the novel’s own plot. What would have been exciting is if someone was actually after Jem for her powers, not just for what happened. Or even if the actual threat was real, since the police were after them for extremely valid reasons. If there’s some sort of message here, to not worry about our own deaths, I think it’s completely lost in Jem’s sea of bad decisions and poor choices. Maybe if she would have saved Spider, or hell, even came to a little bit of terms with her powers, it would be different. Instead Spider dies because of her and her powers magically disappear. The novel misses its mark, misses its bad guys and certainly doesn’t miss the overall stupidity of a 15 year old girl.

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