Chicken House is one of my favorite British children’s book publishers. I’ve enjoyed many of their novels immensely, including Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, and the Inkheart Trilogy; Elizabeth Kay’s Divide series; Stuart Hill’s The Cry of the Icemark; and The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I have a whole bunch of Chicken House books still waiting to be read on my shelves.
Chicken House was founded by publishing great Barry Cunningham (as in the subject of J.K. Rowling’s quote, “If it wasn’t for Barry Cunningham, Harry Potter might still be languishing in his cupboard under the stairs…”) in 2000, and it specializes in new writers, artists and ideas. Chicken House joined the Scholastic group in 2005, further cementing their hold in international children’s book market.
I’ve always found Chicken House books to be quirky and highly original, so I received a review copy of Numbers by Rachel Ward, I knew I was in for an interesting read.
Numbers is a young adult novel featuring awkward, fifteen year old Jem Marsh, a ward of the state since age eleven. Jem is a troubled teenager with a dark and terrible secret: everytime she looks into someone’s eyes, a series of numbers flashes into her head — numbers that spell out the person’s date of death.
Jem is constantly assailed by the grim figures, causing her to isolate herself from the world, afraid of forging relationships for the fear of losing the people she loves. But when tall, gangly Spider enters the scene, Jem finds herself unable to distance herself from his offer of friendship, despite the fact that she can see Spider’s number and the date is fast approaching.
One day, Jem and Spider ditch remedial school and find themselves spending the day in London. They are about to get on the London Eye when Jem notices the numbers of all the people around them are all the same. Foreseeing an attack on the area, Jem rushes Spider and herself away from the London Eye just as an explosion goes off.
Witnesses reported seeing Jem and Spider fleeing the area and the two are wanted by the police, so they decide to run away in a stolen vehicle. Jem slowly lets down her guard and a romance brews between her and Spider, but she can see his number, and she knows they don’t have much time left together.
The premise of the novel is truly unnerving, and I get shivers down my spine at the thought of possessing the ability to foresee when other people will die.
The novel is grittier than I prefer, with a lot of angst from at-risk youth and some adult content (sex and violence). I also think the main characters could have used a little more likeability (Spider’s grandma is the only character I really warmed up to), but Numbers is sufficiently compelling for a quick YA read.
It may be a case of cold feet, as I hear the second book, Numbers 2: The Chaos is a vast improvement. That gives me optimism for the rest of the series.
Numbers, hardcover with dustjacket, courtesy of Scholastic Inc., 3/5 stars
Book #135 for 2010