Fifteen-year old Jem has had a rough life. Her mother died of a drug overdose when she was six, and since then, she’s been shuttled from one foster home to the next. She’s developed something of a tough-girl exterior along the way. But Jem is different from other disadvantaged teens on the streets of London because she has a unique power: when she looks into someone’s eyes, she sees their date of death.
Everyone’s got one, but I think I’m the only one who sees them. Well, I don’t exactly “see” them, like something hanging in the air; they kind of appear in my head. I feel them, somewhere behind my eyes. But they’re real. I don’t care if you don’t believe me – suit yourself, I know they’re real. And I know what they mean. The light went on the day my mum went.I’d always seen the numbers, for as long as I could remember. I thought everyone did. Walking down the street, if my eyes met someone else’s, there it would be, their number. I used to tell my mum people’s numbers as she pushed me along in my buggy. I thought she’d be pleased. She’d think I was clever. Yeah, right.
Jem is struggling with school, trying to get by and avoiding people’s eyes as much as possible, when Spider comes into her life. She knows him vaguely from school and, as usual, doesn’t want to get to know him better, but he’s very persistent. Soon they become friends, two outsiders who feel a connection to each other, although Jem is very disturbed to see that his number is coming up soon.
Playing hooky from school one day with Spider, Jem foresees a terrible tragedy in downtown London and runs away in fear. That sets off a chain of events over which she and Spider have no control. It’s them against the world, as time is running out.
I found this fast-paced thriller to be so compelling that I had trouble sleeping after staying up too late reading it! It’s a unique concept that is carried out well, with lots of London street slang in the dialogue, well-drawn characters that you come to care about, loads of suspense, and even a touch of romance.
325 pages, Chicken House (Scholastic)