The Chaos is the sequel to Numbers, and is a much better book. The way the numbers work is explained better and the plot is more consistent. The Chaos also has the effect of making Numbers feel like a prequel. Jem is long dead in this installment, and her son’s story has a much larger scope.
It’s the year 2026, and things are a little different: climate change has led to many towns being flooded, and the government microchips people for identification and surveillance. Adam has been raised in a country town by his great-grandmother, Val. When their town is flooded, they move to London, despite a warning from Jem before she died — that vast numbers of Londoners are destined to die on New Year’s Day, 2027.
Adam soon sees these dire numbers too, and the nitty-gritty of his ability is explained. He can, and Jem could, only see the numbers if direct eye contact is made. It doesn’t work with photographs, TV, or mirrors. Adam has an additional dimension to his power that Jem didn’t have: Along with the person’s death date, he gets an impression of how the person will die, and so he learns that most of the New Year’s deaths will involve fire and twisted metal.
He meets Sarah, a pregnant girl with plenty of trouble of her own. She instantly recoils from Adam – she has a recurring nightmare in which he does something horrible amid a fiery cataclysm – yet life keeps throwing them back together in spite of themselves.
One of the strengths of Numbers was its realistic, gritty portrayal of how society spits out teenagers who don’t fit in. This continues in The Chaos, and Adam and Sarah face real-world obstacles as they try to warn people about the coming catastrophe and, perhaps, change a few numbers. How do you warn people, when most of them think you’re just crazy? How do the police treat you when you’re seen as a juvenile delinquent and all of your forebears had a rap sheet too?
The disaster, when it comes, is frightening and the tension nearly unbearable. Rachel Ward does a great job of keeping it personal and showing us intimate, human scenes rather than “panning out” and going for spectacle. It’s rather predictable that Sarah’s dream comes true rather differently than she thinks it will, but it works anyway.
The only disappointing aspect of The Chaos is the ending, which is abrupt and leaves many questions unanswered. I wonder if it’s the setup for a third book…
Numbers — (2009-2012) Young adult. Publisher: Ever since she was child, Jem has kept a secret: Whenever she meets someone new, no matter who, as soon as she looks into their eyes, a number pops into her head. That number is a date: the date they will die. Burdened with such awful awareness, Jem avoids relationships. Until she meets Spider, another outsider, and takes a chance. The two plan a trip to the city. But while waiting to ride the Eye ferris wheel, Jem is terrified to see that all the other tourists in line flash the same number. Today’s number. Today’s date. Terrorists are going to attack London. Jem’s world is about to explode!