Num8ers by Rachel Ward is a science fiction novel for young adults set in the not so distant future. In fact, if you wait a few months, it will become a historical novel with some paranormal elements! The main character is a girl named Jem who has the unusual ability to look at someone and know when they will die. She doesn’t actually see the future or how it will happen. Her talent lets her get a sense of the date of when a person’s number comes due. Because of this ability, she has always avoided looking at people or making friends. Since she is a ward of the state and gets bounced around foster homes, she has gotten pretty good at being a loner. However, soon after the story begins, a classmate gets under her skin and becomes one of her first friends … and maybe something more. Spider is a tall, spastic guy her age who doesn’t seem to know how to be still. He is always in motion and usually has something smart to say. The two of them skip class and hang out around town. The book is set in England, mostly London.
Jem and Spider go on the run after they witness a terrorist attack. They run because Jem was able to foresee something terrible happening at the place they hung out at. She was able to sense that everyone around them had the same date of death. The two of them ran before a bomb blew up the place, and because of the timing of their running, they become suspects in this crime. While they’re in hiding, they fall for each other. When Spider is captured, Jem is wild to get him released. He’s her first friend and boyfriend. The cops have him in custody and are questioning him. Jem is worried that he’ll tell about her ability, but worse still that he won’t survive. She’s seen his date and she’s afraid to lose him.
I won’t spoil the ending, but it will definitely make you think. Num8ers is a good book that deals with big ideas. It’s interesting that Ward chose to set her characters in the London projects. Neither character has a bright future nor does anyone expect anything of them. That’s why it’s so easy to cast suspicion on them when they run. Unlike many paranormal or scifi books, the main character doesn’t have a great destiny to fulfill or special charisma. Jem is a regular girl just trying to get by. She’s not popular and her ability really limits her. Ward captured the intensity of first love, and the angst of teenagers. The book is well written. Some slang may confuse readers, but it’s usually in context.