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Numbersthe debut novel for teens (and up) by Rachel Ward is a book very much concerned with life and death, and the quote above by Tennyson, seems to me to capture its essence in a nutshell perfectly.

Told in the first person, this is Jem’s story of the time spent with her friend Spider. Fifteen year old Jem doesn’t really have friends, she doesn’t like to look at people, as she has a unique ability that she sees as a curse – when she looks at someone she sees the date when they will die.

Jem’s Mum died of an overdose when she was seven. She was taken into care and lived in a succession of foster homes. Since she worked out what the numbers meant though, she has tried to tune out of normal life, preferring her own company, and ending up being branded as difficult by the system. Then, one day she meets Spider, both skiving off school, and despite the numbers over his head, they click and become friends. Then one day when they’re in London something terrible happens and due to the circumstances, they run …

That’s enough of the story! This is an absolutely tremendous novel. It’s not without its faults though – the last section of the plot before the end and subsequent coda, is rather contrived and unlikely. Where it succeeds really well though is in its depiction of teenagers and understanding of their problems. The growing sexual awareness between Jem and Spider is handled sensitively. Other issues such as knife crime, drugs and violence are introduced in a way that makes it easy to see how kids get into this cycle of behaviours, when doing things like listening to them before things get out of hand could make a lot of difference. Both Jem and Spider were very credible characters, and you desperately want things to turn out well for them, although adult readers will probably work out the ending well in time. It was totally gripping from page one – and a novel to really make you think. Highly recommended. (9/10)

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