Just finished…Numbers by Rachel Ward

This is not the book I thought it was going to be. I probably read the blurb wrong, but I expected Jem’s gift to become part of an ‘epic’ story with the “chain of events” mention in the blurb meaning big society changes and impacts. And it didn’t – this is a very small world in a way, centring around Jem and Spider for the majority of the book. But that does not make their story any less powerful, or the impacts of events any less shattering – it’s just all done from a very personal perspective.

Numbers is really well written – the colloquial style that stretches through all the dialogue and Jem’s first person narration fits the story perfectly and adds depth to her character in ways that just saying she’s had a hard life, been pushed from one place to another, never fitted in just wouldn’t manage. She has so much more depth I think because her voice is so distinctive…the orphan girl, special gift, not fitting in, could all amount to cliche amongst YA novels, but because of how Jem appears through the narrative there is nothing cliche about her.

They reality of Jem’s life is not nice and you don’t want it to be that way. You want there to be some magical way for it to be better – but that wouldn’t be real would it? It’s not easy reading a story about someone who’s genuinely difficult teenage life is being played out in cities throughout the UK, because you could quite easily be one of the middle-class dog walkers, passing by either being paranoid or ignoring her. Jem’s point of view is very genuine and realistic and can make for uncomfortable reading. But also, that’s why Jem and Spider’s unplanned romance comes together so authentically.

With Jem and Spider – I could see them as real people. They could have walked off the pages and into some of my high school classes – their behaviour was so true and I could see people I once knew in how they behaved. (The scene where Jem gets excluded brought to mind the memory of a boy who was being excluded refusing to leave site and the chaos of teachers and police chasing him around the school field whilst everyone hung out the windows cheering – ahh good times?!).

Everything about this book was real for me – it was gritty and dirty, could be stinky and sad – very well written with complicated genuine characters. I think perhaps that’s why it’s not a five for me: it was an interesting book, good story, characters and well crafted…I just found it hard to enjoy because the reality of it is quite sad. Until the final chapter – I think the Jem you see there shows the changes you would hope for. So with the last chapter I’d say 4.5!

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