What would you do if you knew the day everyone you see is going to die? When fifteen year old Jem looks at anyone, a number flashes into her brain that gives the date that person is checking out for good. She's always seen the numbers, including the one on the day her mother overdosed; for years, Jem's coping mechanism has been to keep to herself as she's shuffled between foster homes. Not a perfect plan, precisely, but one that offers protection from people who disappoint and numbers that are relentless. Until she comes to know Spider, a boy at school, and the two develop a friendship despite the fact that Jem knows his number will be all too soon.
Numbers is a unique look at what a person might do with the knowledge of impending death, and whether anything can be done to alter fate...or even if what you try to do to alter fate is what causes the incident in the first place. Jem's ability leads her to freak at the site of a London bombing--she sees the same date on too many random faces--and she and Spider hit the road when they are suddenly deemed suspects in the explosion. Knowing Spider's days are literally numbered, Jem still comes to rely on his strength and force of personality, allowing herself to be drawn to him despite what she knows and the personal walls she's built. Unwilling to face the knowledge of his impending death, she desperately seeks a solution to holding his fate at bay without being seen as more of an oddity than she already feels she is.
It took me a while to get into Numbers, only because neither Jem nor Spider seem especially likeable at first. But both characters really grew on me as the story unfolded, and Ms. Ward does an excellent job of building toward the ultimate drama. I do think the "on the run" bit went on a little long, but the questions raised for Jem were both challenging and unpredictable. Filled with interesting supporting characters, Numbers gives you much to think about, and an ending you won't see coming. Recommended.