It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book–not because I haven’t read some review-worthy books, but because I haven’t had time or haven’t been able to figure out how to accurately summarize my thoughts.
However, I’ve got one for you now. I Am Number Four has received a lot of attention in the young adult realm lately–mostly because it’s just been made into a film. And, like the good reader that I am, I promised myself that I would read the book before seeing the movie (even though Civil Twilight’s song “Letters from the Sky” is on the soundtrack!).
All right, the premise: it’s science fiction (yay!). The title refers to the novel’s protagonist. He is an alien from a planet called Lorian. He and eight other children, along with each of their Cepans (like Watchers…sort of) and the pilot of the spacecraft, managed to escape Lorian during a global war in which the Lorians’ enemy, the Mogadorians, killed the Lorians to take over their planet. The Mogadorians had used up all the resources and their own planet and needed a new home.
The novel follows the fourth child and his Cepan, Henri. Every few months, Four and Henri move to a new small town in an effort to keep Four’s identity secret. Four changes his name each time (he goes by John Smith during the events of this novel). The numbering of each child is important. The Mogadorians have come to Earth to track down the nine children. Once they kill the nine, they can then begin to take over Earth (a planet much larger and more suited to the Mogadorians’ needs). But there’s a curse on the children for their protection: the Mogadorians can only kill the children in order of their number. (I don’t recall whether the number represents birth order or something else. That wasn’t clearly explained.) Every time one of the kids dies, each of the remaining nine gets a ring burned around his or her ankle as an alert that one of their number is gone. The novel opens with Three’s death, which is why Henri and Four must move yet again.
They arrive in Paradise, Ohio, where John soon meets a beautiful girl named Sarah and befriends a sci-fi geek named Sam. From there on out, it’s just what you’d expect from an alien-pretending-to-be-human, coming-of-age tale. John’s in love for the first time, has a best friend for the first time, experiences the arrival of his Legacies (his special abilities as one of the nine–he’s fireproof and able to employ telekinesis), and struggles to decide how to tell both Sam and Sarah about his true identity. And, of course, the Mogadorians find him. Fighting ensues. People discover his secret. Enemies in his high school become allies in the fight against the Mogadorians.
I expected this book to be epic. My favorite parts of this book, as I also expected, were the backstory: how Four and Henri arrived on Earth; why they left to begin with; folklore, history, and tradition associated with Lorian. In general, what I love most about science and/or speculative fiction is the ability of an author to create another world. And Pittacus Lore (a pseudonym that I’ll discuss more in a moment) sets up an interesting world.
But the execution of this story was merely good. I expected something phenomenal, and I didn’t quite get that. At times, the dialogue seemed a bit off, a bit too adult-trying-to-be-teenager. At other times, minor details in the story weren’t explained enough, and in science fiction, the beauty is in the details. For example, when the Mogadorians arrive, Four flees his school and goes back to his house. His girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend Mark (and, therefore, Four’s high school enemy) is sitting at his kitchen table on Four’s Cepan’s computer. It’s never explained why he’s there or how much he knows, but suddenly, Mark is fighting alongside Four and his friends. I was seriously bothered by the inconsistency in Mark’s attitude.
Nonetheless, the story kept me (mostly) interested. I read the book in a few days, and I’m looking forward to the movie. It may be one of those books that works better visually than textually. And I’ll definitely read any sequels that come out. But I’m not dying to know what happens next, as I did with the Hunger Games trilogy or the Chaos Walking trilogy.
One last thing about this book: Pittacus Lore is a pseudonym (obviously). The name will somehow come into play with the history of Lorian–there are references in this first book. I assumed, at first, that Lore was a new author on the scene and just established a pseudonym to go along with the content of the book. However, I searched him on Google after I noticed the first textual reference to a character named Pittacus, and I discovered that Pittacus Lore is actually a collaboration of James Frey and Jobie Hughes. (In fact, in the book, Henri creates new documents for Four to use in the future. Two of those names are “James Hughes” and “Jobie Frey.” Clever.) James Frey is the author of A Million Little Pieces, the “memoir” that Oprah chose for her book club several years ago that was later revealed to be a total fabrication. Frey had written a novel and published it as a memoir, sparking loads of controversy in the publishing world. It turns out that not only is Frey still publishing under his own name, but he’s also working on tons of projects using a variety of pseudonyms. Pittacus Lore is just one of those. This discovery about the real author may have had something to do with my disappointment with the book. I despise a lack of integrity, and no matter how great the writing or the story is, I already had a bad opinion of Frey.
All this to say, I would recommend this book. Just know that it has a few issues, and I wouldn’t rank it among the absolute best young adult novels I’ve read.
Here’s the trailer for the film. I’ve already spotted some differences between the book and the film, but I’m looking forward to seeing it nonetheless: