Author: Rachel Ward
Publisher: Chicken House (Scholastic)
Pub. Date: February, 2010
Read an excerpt here!
Imagine, for a moment, that ever since you were a little kid you could see people’s numbers. Not just any numbers, mind you, but numbers that signified the date of their deaths.
Now imagine that one day you’re wandering around, minding your own business, when you start to notice peoples’ numbers. But it’s strange, because all their numbers are the same. The date they’re all reading is today.
This is the concept that drew me to reading Rachel Ward’s debut novel Numbers. The first book in a trilogy (the last of which, Infinity, was released this past June in the UK. The second book, The Chaos, was released in March here in the US), Numbers follows the story of Jem, the girl who sees these dates. It’s because of them, ever since her mother died and she learned what they meant, that she has cut herself off from others, refusing to get to know people.
Until she meets Spider.
Spider is a guy that Jem knows has less than three months to live, and yet he is the one that teaches her to open her heart. Now it's a race against the clock (and the law, who thinks she and Spider were behind the terrorist attack that rocked London. The one where everyone's number was the same). Jem needs to know if she can change the numbers before time catches up.
Perhaps it's because I read and watch so many supernatural-based stories, but the one thought that kept flitting through my mind as I read this book was this: Self-fulfilling prophecy.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is the idea that, due to some foresight (actual prophecy, premonition, a gut-feeling that something bad is going to happen, even—or, in this case, the numbers) you know, not necessarily what, but that something is going to happen. You then try to do everything in your power to find out what it is, how to avoid it—whatever—only to discover that what you do is what causes it to happen in the first place.
Think Voldemort, from the Harry Potter series. He learned from a prophecy that one of two wizarding boys born on a given date would be the only person able to defeat him. So he hunted down the one he thought most likely to do so, killed his parents and tried to kill Harry, too, when he was only an infant. His curse backfired, however, and in so doing he managed to provide Harry with the protection and connection that ultimately led and helped Harry to bring him down. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
Jem didn't fully understand this concept, and that, I believe, is part of what fueled Numbers' plot line, even though the story, as a whole, was so much more. When you are faced everyday by something so grim, it stands to reason that at some point you're just going to want to do something to make it stop.
The problem arises when you don't know when it is something you can stop, when it's something you can't stop, and when it's self-fulfilling. The truth is you can't ever truly know for sure which case it is, and that can be maddening in itself.
Jem couldn't tell. She was faced with each of these scenarios at least once throughout the novel, whether she recognized them or not, but she couldn't tell. So, instead, she focused on her fear of the numbers, and decided that the numbers were caused by her. She clung to the self-fulfilling prophecy idea when it flitted through her head, and in so doing caused another to occur.
Perhaps the self-fulfilling prophecy idea isn't very original, but this story most definitely is. It's captivating, it makes you think, and it gives you an exhilarating ride on the run.
Numbers is not paranormal fiction. It's one of those stories with supernatural elements, but the elements do not override the story. As such, I would recommend this book even to those not fond of paranormal fiction.
The heart of the story does not lie with Jem's strange gift, it lies with Jem—a young girl with a not-so-nice past, on the run for a crime she did not commit with her only friend in the world.
Overall I'd rate this book 3.7 Crazy Hearts, with a hope that you Pretty Readers pick it up and give it a chance.