This book review contains some spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Rachel Ward's first novel for young adult, Numbers, is a quick and accessible read. It begins with an apathetic and detached main character, Jem who could see the death dates of people. The book, for me at least, begins a bit slow but builds up pace in the middle. In the end, it packs an emotional wallop that made me speculate on life, love and loss. Indeed, this generation's YA novels have come a long way since Richard Peck, Judy Blume and SE Hinton.
Back then, a dysfunctional family is an issue dealt with sensitivity and nuanced writing (e.g The Unfinished Portrait of Jessica by Richard Peck). Now, it's a reality that teenagers have come to painfully accept. It finds its way in novels like Numbers and I am not complaining. There was a time when sex (e.g. Forever by Judy Blume) and violence (e.g. The Outsiders by SE Hinton) were described with so much care, its treatment is direct but cushioned. In this day and age, sex and violence exist side by side that to sugar coat its existence would be a disservice to teens and young adult readers. For these points, I am giving Ward's debut novel four book marks over five book marks!
I like it that Numbers has a good balance of adult characters who care and who do not care at all. Karen and Val, Anne, the vicar's wife and Simon are my champions. Karen and Val stood by Jem. They helped see her through the confusion and loss. Simon fought for her sanctuary at the abbey reminding the vicar of God's magnanimity. Anne, though brief in appearance and did not affect Jem the way Karen and Val did, was a window of faith. I sort of predicted the book's end. I was comforted.
I have to press the like button for Rachel Ward for throwing in solid and compassionate adult characters to look after the teenage character. This is what our teen readers need to see. Out there are people who care for them despite their resistance and stubborn nature.
I also like the way Ward described and maneuvered the sex scenes between Jem and Spider. It was sweet and tender, and yes, it was all about love. Not just pent up libido. It is essential to the trilogy. No wonder, Ward gave Jem, and me as its reader, fond memories of Spider's spawn. Now I will be rooting for Adam in the next book!
What did not work
I just wish Spider didn't die the way he died. It was pretty stupid. I was reminded of Romeo and Juliet. Then again, like Shakespeare, Ward is British. Tragic end, yes, but it leaves me wondering on life's moments and how these little events matter more than the big accomplishments we so dream of achieving.