Otherworldly powers have long captivated young readers, empowering them, through fantasy, to believe that anything is possible. One might think that, employed by the likes of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, the permutations of psychic abilities had been exhausted.
Enter Numbers, about a teenage girl in England's foster care system who is able to see people's death dates when she looks into their eyes. This "gift" is the intriguing premise of an action-packed, emotional debut young adult novel from British author Rachel Ward.
Fifteen-year-old Jem has been able to see these numbers as if "they were stamped on the inside of my skull" since she was a child. The first number she saw was that of her mother, who died on cue from heroin addiction, revealing to Jem what the numbers she was seeing really meant.
Ward does an excellent job of tapping the psyche of a teen who's victim to such grim knowledge. Angry at the world and everyone in it, Jem lashes out at her teachers, her foster mother — anyone who tries to help or befriend her. She's completely guarded — until she meets Spider, a lanky black teen who, Jem can see, will be dead in a mere two weeks. But there's something about his sense of humor, his nihilism, that draws her. So they bond over their lack of a future, and it quickly buds into romance.
One day, Jem and Spider find themselves at the center of an imminent terrorist bombing. Jem notices that everyone around them has that day's date as their number, so the two flee. Caught on camera and later televised as suspects, the two go on the lam, and Jem has to learn to trust someone for the first time since she was a child. Jem is entirely believable, even if the situation in which she finds herself is not. But that's not what makes this book such a page-turner. What starts as an extrasensory gimmick grows into an engrossing plot line involving terrorism, class tension and youth. While peppered with "poxy" and other English slang terms whose meanings aren't clear, one thing is certain: Ward's Numbers is ace.