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July 8, 2010

Num8ers by Rachel Ward
published by The Chicken House, February 1, 2010

There are places where kids like me go. Sad kids, bad kids, bored kids, and lonely kids, kids that are different. Any day of the week, if you know where to look, you’ll find us: behind the shops, in back lanes, under bridges by canals and rivers, ’round garages, in sheds, on vacant lots. There are thousands of us. If you choose to find us, that is — most people don’t. If they do see us, they look away, pretend we’re not there. It’s easier that way. Don’t believe all that crap about giving everyone a chance — when they see us, they’re glad we’re not in school with their kids, disrupting their lessons, making their lives a misery. The teachers, too. Do you think they’re disappointed when we don’t turn up for registration? Give me a break. They’re laughing — they don’t want kids like us in their classrooms, and we don’t want to be there.

Jem, the somewhat dark, edgy teen-aged narrator of this book, quickly found her way into my heart. I loved her brutal honesty and her commentary on life on the streets of London; I even liked her bleak view of life. And this novel has an intriguing premise. Jem has a horrible gift; every time she looks at a person’s face, she sees numbers. Since her mother’s death from drug addiction, she has realized what each string of numbers means — it is the date of the person’s death.

Not wanting to face this grim, prophetic knowledge about everyone she encounters, and struggling to cope with life in the foster care system, Jem has become a loner. Now she faces suspension from school, and after a series of unexpected, tragic events, she finds herself on the run with her only friend, Terry, aka “Spider.”

I was quickly pulled into this novel, and I loved the quirky characters and the attention to detail that helped me feel I was in Jem’s skin. However, I quickly started losing interest in the story, which seemed predictable. And while I liked Jem and Spider as friends, when they became more intimate — predictable as that was — I just wasn’t feeling it. Their romance felt purely like a plot device. And I disliked the climax of the story, which took place on a clock tower — it seemed contrived.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story was Jem’s evolution as a character. She went from being a wounded child, who distrusts or despises virtually everyone, to a responsible young woman who nurtures others. The key to such a transformation, of course, is for the author to take us along on the journey, letting us see the character’s evolution unfold, making it seem believable and real. I felt this writer took us part of the way; it was far enough to give me a glimpse of her knack for character development. While this novel didn’t really work for me, I am interested to see what she creates in the future.

I borrowed this book from International Book Tours.


Read More Reviews: There’s a Book; Jen Robinson’s Book Page; Reading With Tequila; Book Chic Club; Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf; Carrie’s YA Bookshelf

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2010 10:45 pm

    Too bad this one didn’t quite make it. I’ve had a few reads recently where certain parts I really enjoyed and other parts were seriously lacking.

  2. July 9, 2010 12:22 am

    That quote you chose makes this book sound intense ; too bad the rest of the story wasn’t as good.

  3. July 9, 2010 2:15 am

    That makes two two and a half star reviews in a row. I really hope you can find something you like soon. I get in similar sorts of runs in that respect with films.

    And I thought “Jem” was short for Jeremy! You learn something new every day.

    It sounds as if the author (like Owen Gleiberman said of James Gray) has done some good work and warrants future reading but hasn’t gotten everything straight. Sounds relatively interesting, although the only originality the title has is switching what letter becomes a number from the “e” to the “b.”

  4. July 9, 2010 3:05 am

    Dang, that’s a bummer! It sounds so promising! I might give it a try. It’s been on my TBR list.

  5. July 11, 2010 1:34 am

    I passed on this one and then wondered if I should have, so I appreciated your honest review!

  6. July 13, 2010 12:27 am

    I really loved this book – all of it! Sorry that parts of it didn’t work for you. I enjoyed your very thoughtful review.


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