Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Girl Named Digit (book) by Annabel Monaghan

Release date: June 5, 2012

This is one of the ARCs I got at ALA Midwinter. The title used in my ARC is Digit: She's Got Your Number. The cover of my ARC is plain red, which, while boring, at least isn't as completely wrong as the cover the publisher finally decided upon. I'm guessing the girl on the cover is Digit/Farrah, but Farrah would never, ever have worn a shirt like that - it would have given her a mental breakdown.


Farrah Higgins can act as a human calculator and can look at a group of numbers and see patterns that no one else can see. Her abilities can be so overwhelming that it's sometimes hard for her to function, and one particular freak-out period at school earned her the nickname Digit. Her parents moved her to another school, somewhere she could make a fresh start. She tried her hardest to blend in and be like everyone else, but being like everyone else meant suppressing her mathematical abilities.

While watching a TV show with a group of her friends (none of whom know about her math skills), Farrah spots a set of numbers during the opening credits. In later weeks, she spots more sets of numbers in the opening credits of the same show. Unable to help herself, Farrah puts the numbers together and starts considering what they might mean. The next day, her theory about the meaning of the numbers is proven correct when a suicide bomber blows up a plane at the JFK International Airport.

Shaken, Farrah goes to her dad, who takes her to the FBI, but John Bennett, the young agent who speaks to her, doesn't take her seriously. Farrah opts to do a little investigating on her own, only to get chased by a scary guy who isn't happy she managed to figure out the numerical code. Back at the FBI, Farrah finally manages to get John to really listen to her. It turns out Farrah has cracked a code used by a group of dangerous eco-terrorists who love Fibonacci numbers. In order to protect her and enlist her help in deciphering future codes, the FBI sends Farrah into hiding with John, who has more in common with Farrah than she first realizes.


I found a good chunk of this book to be highly addictive, even as I realized it was basically wtf reading for teens (see my Pregnesia post for an example of something I consider to be wtf reading for adults). I loved the early descriptions of Farrah as a girl who could be completely derailed by a bunch of randomly-placed tiles or sequins that aren't arranged in predictable patterns. I liked that all the terrorist stuff started with a bunch of numbers unobtrusively placed in the opening credits of a popular TV show – the eco-terrorists love Fibonacci numbers!

Unfortunately, I felt things slowed down a bit as soon as Farrah ended up in FBI custody. When I originally picked this book up, I was hoping for lots of math-related deductions that only Farrah could help out with. Instead, for a long period of time just about anybody could have been helping the FBI. John was the one doing most of the skilled work, busily translating a bunch of transcripts into English. All Farrah did was read through them along with him and act out certain scenes with him in order to relieve their boredom.

When they located a bag full of papers with numbers on them, I figured the math stuff would be coming back. Again, not so much. Farrah and John spent some time running from the bad guys, Farrah lusted after John, John acted like he wasn't interested...until they escaped to John's parents' hidden home. It was off both the FBI and CIA's radar, and, what with all the privacy, John started to cave a bit (no sex, just kissing), and suddenly Farrah and John became a gooey happy couple. John's parents were mildly disapproving, until they saw how happy he was. I'm pretty sure Farrah's parents showed even less disapproval than John's.

Farrah is 17, soon to be 18. I think Farrah guessed John's age to be 21, so the age difference isn't that great. However, there were a few things that bothered me about their relationship. One, the entire relationship sprouted up while they were both in danger. They were in close proximity, and they landed in several adrenaline-pumping situations. I wasn't entirely convinced that their relationship could survive in normal, everyday life. Two, while their ages may have been similar, their maturity levels weren't. John seemed much more mature to me than Farrah did. One scene that still sticks with me is a party Farrah went to. She spotted a guy who was passed out and dumped head-first into a garbage can. He was there because he refused to let a popular student copy his geology report, so the popular guy made him do beer bongs until he passed out. This same popular student was the one Farrah was about to let kiss her, so that she would fit in with all the other girls who thought he was hot.

I understand that Farrah wanted to be seen as normal, but she could have been a normal girl who didn't hang with the kind of people who did things like that. The book was written in the first person from Farrah's perspective, so, if she had even thought about going to check on the passed out guy, it would have been in the text. All she did was look for movement and then head off with the jerk who did it all in the first place. I liked Farrah's voice, and I liked the “Digit” side of her, the side that wouldn't get her invited to parties or let her hang with the popular crowd. I really didn't like the things she did in order to fit in, though, and I wonder if John would have liked her so much if he had known her prior to her visit to the FBI.

One thing he did know, though, was that Farrah sometimes did stupid things even though she was told not to, even though she was in a situation where she, as the inexperienced one currently in danger, should have listened to the FBI agent charged with protecting her. When she was explicitly asked if she had a cell phone, she remembered that she had one on her, and she chose to keep it with her anyway, without telling anyone, because she didn't want to be without the photo that could help her snap out of a math-related freak-out (couldn't she had asked someone to bring her other photos of trees?). Even I know that it's possible to use a cell phone to track someone, and I found what she did to be boneheaded, especially considering that all she ever did was check for text messages from one of her friends. Which, I want to point out, was not the original purpose for which she kept her cell phone.

As addictive as some parts of this book were, overall it wasn't really what I was hoping for. Farrah's math skills were only used maybe a couple times in the book. At other times, she seemed fairly ordinary, aside from her ability to quickly do calculations in her head. Despite everything she said about having difficulty being around things that weren't in regular patterns, she didn't seem to have any difficulties at all with this during the story.

As far as the FBI and eco-terrorist stuff went, that seemed a bit lackluster and oddly-paced. After an exciting beginning, during which Farrah was on the run from a terrorist who realized she'd seen and probably cracked his code, things got a little boring as Farrah and John were closed up together. Then they spent some time on the run again (because Farrah made herself cry in order to get John to take her with him – yet another thing that made me feel she wasn't mature enough for John), and then things slowed down again when John and Farrah hid out at John's parents' place. The big twist near the end wasn't all that shocking to me, because I figured out that person's involvement with the terrorists long before everyone else, after coming across an enormous clue early on.

This book had potential, and it was still an exciting read a good chunk of the time. I just wish Farrah had had more of a chance to use her math abilities, and I wish she had spent a little less time thinking about how hot John was.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Midnighters, Vol. 1: The Secret Hour (book) by Scott Westerfeld - This is a YA fantasy book. Jessica moves to a new town, where she learns she is one of a small group of teens who can exist in the 25th hour that is squished into the exact instant of midnight. For some unknown reason, Jessica attracts the attention of dangerous slithers and darklings, so the other Midnighters try to protect her. I added this to the list because one of the main characters, Dex, has abilities tied to mathematics, which makes her exceptionally good at constructing weaponry that can be used against the slithers and darklings. I have written about this book.
  • Addition (book) by Toni Jordan - This book is intended for adults. Grace, the main character, is witty, charming, and incapable of living a normal life. Because she must structure everything around numbers, she hardly ever goes anywhere and rarely sees anyone, even her own family members. Then she meets Seamus. When he discovers her counting problem, he decides to try to help her. Grace wants to get better and live a normal life, but is there a way for her to do that and still feel like herself? I added this book to the list because this is sort of like what I imagined Farrah to be like when she was younger: at times completely paralyzed by the numbers in her life. Like Monaghan's book, there's a bit of romance, although readers looking for action scenes may want to try something else. I have written about this book.
  • Geek High (book) by Piper Banks - I haven't read this. I added it to the list because it's a YA novel, stars a math geek, and features some romance. 
  • The Givenchy Code (book) by Julie Kenner - Those who'd like something else with action, code-breaking, and a bit of romance might want to check this out. I haven't read it and have no idea how well it would work for a YA audience. It sounds like it counts as both chick lit and thriller. It stars a grad student who's a math genius.
  • Pattern Recognition (book) by William Gibson - I hesitated to add this one to the list, because it's not a YA book and has a much different overall tone than Monaghan's book. However, I thought it may appeal to those who liked the "Digit" side of Farrah and would like to try out a world that's much more complex and dangerous. The main character of this book is a "cool hunter" - she's allergic to brand names and uses that allergy to tell marketing people whether their ideas are on track. Privately, she is obsessed with mysterious fragments of footage. Her hobby and work intersect when she's hired to find the creator of the footage. If she's not careful, her newest job will get her killed.
  • Numb3rs (live action TV series) - I've only seen a little bit of this show, but I think I was kind of hoping that Monaghan's book would be something like the YA version of this show crossed with Alias. In this series, an FBI agent enlists the help of his math genius brother in order to solve crimes.

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