Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four
Pittacus Lore

HarperCollins (2010)
440 pages
YA / Science Fiction / Action

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Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books - but we are real.

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in. We have lived among you without you knowing.

But they know.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.

I am Number Four.

I am next.

I have issues with the creation of this book. The entire system that resulted in its publication bothers me, but I’m going to put that aside and judge it on its own artistic merit or lack thereof. Because the process or the creator shouldn’t affect one’s outlook on the final creation, right? Yeah, something like that.

I went into I Am Number Four having seen (and laughed at) the movie adaptation, but a bad movie adaptation of a popular YA title is nothing new so I decided to give the book a shot. This is all to say that I knew for the most part where things were going, who all the characters were and what would ultimate go down. This means there would be no twists or secret foreshadowing, but that’s okay. I knew that going in.

Space Rhinos who Police the Universe!I Am Number Four is about an alien boy who has been raised on Earth by an alien guardian in hopes that he, along with the other eight children smuggled off their home planet, will discover superhero powers that will allow him and the other children to avenge their race. It’s a good idea with a lot of potential, but half of the book squanders it on puppy love and what could only be a thinly veiled metaphor for one of the more embarrassing moments of male puberty (his hands glow whenever he gets worked up about something). In the moments with the massive bad guys – who, despite having seen the movie and the description in the book, appeared in my head as members of the Judoon (or space rhinos) from Doctor Who, don’t ask me why – well, when the bad guys show up, things get fun. You can’t go wrong with a catastrophic confrontation that decimates a high school and the surrounding forest area.

The smaller concepts inside the story are pretty awesome too. John/Four can withstand fire, he has dreams and visions of his planet’s demise, and his guardian has a magical mobile of the universe with an orb that reflects the conditions on their home planet. And Four’s friends don’t buy the excuses for all the strange superhuman things Four is capable of or at least they don’t for long. I liked seeing the human element and how the aliens had to adapt around having their real identities known. It’s all quite fascinating and fun, concepts and qualities I wish could be transferred into a better book.

Unfortunately “Pittacus Lore”, who is supposed to be an elder of this alien race who somehow got off the planet in order to record the history of these alien refugees that happen to look like humans, is not a very good writer. The story is told first person from Four’s point of view in the present tense. Quite often it starts reading something like this: I woke up when my alarm went off. I decided to get out of bed. I put on a clean t-shirt. Henri made breakfast, so I ate it. Then I went to school. See Jack run. Jack runs fast. Sally trips Jack. Jack hurts his knee, so he pulls Sally’s hair.

It’s very… immature writing at times, like something a good writer might have started out with in their junior high short stories. I’m not expecting Shakespeare in a YA science fiction title where the alien race just happens to look completely human, but something a little more complex or even just varied in sentence structure and word choice would have kept me from rolling my eyes more than once at the quality of the writing.

I Am Number Four is a mediocre book with a lot of fun science fiction-y ideas that aren’t used to their full potential due to the quality of the writing overall. I don’t know if the same writer is behind the Pittacus Lore name for the other books in the series, but if it is, I hope that whoever this author is developed more as a writer. There’s so much potential in the story if only the writing can stand up to the challenge.

 

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins in return for an honest review.