Tuesday, March 9, 2010

High School Pick

by Rachel Ward
Chicken House/Scholastic, 2010.
325 pages.

In this gritty debut novel, Ward leads readers into the underbelly of the London slums. These are the mean streets, and the author doesn't sugar coat anything. Jem is 15 and being raised in foster care. When she was 8, Jem discovered her mother's lifeless body, a needle nearby. Since then, Jem has avoided people. She doesn't want to get close to anyone because one thing she knows for sure--all people die. Her mother's death is not the worst thing that has ever happened to Jem. The living nightmare that is her every waking hour happens when Jem looks at a person's face and sees a number--the number of their death date.

Jem soon finds a friend in loner Spider. A dysfunctional childhood causes Spider to seek out trouble, and he usually finds it. When Jem and Spider have to flee London, they are forced into terrible perils. Teen readers will like Jem and root for Spider. This novel is not a "feel good" read. It is gritty and grimy and ugly. Ward paints London in harsh colors--not the pretty, well-maintained streets with a "bobby" on every corner, but a dark London with alleys full of trash and drug dealers and creeps. Readers who like a story that is compelling and rough will probably like this novel.

Some sex, though not graphic, langauge, adult situations. Recommended for YA collections grade 8 and up.

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