Review: I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore

January 11, 2011

The cover of the YA novel I AM NUMBER FOUR, written under the pen name Pittacus Lore. The cover shows a design with concentric circles in white and yellow ringed in fire, the rest of the cover orange. The title and author's name appear on the front as well as the tagline, "Three are dead."

I Am Number Four
Author: Pittacus Lore
Publisher: Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Pages: 448
ISBN: 9780061969553
Publication date: 3 August 2010
Review book source: my own copy

Summary
From the jacket flap: 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.

My thoughts
I thought I was going to like this book. At least, I thought I was going to like this book when I saw it in a book store and remembered reading some favorable reviews and purchased it; after I learned that it was a product of James Frey’s YA lit book packager, I was more skeptical. I already owned it at that point, though, so I gave it a read. So I thought I was going to like this, but I didn’t. That’s not to say this book is objectively bad: I think it fulfills what it’s trying to do pretty well. It’s just that what it’s trying to do isn’t very interesting or skillful.

From the start, once I actually started flipping through the book, it just feels like it’s trying too hard. The cover with the super-intense tagline! The embossed symbol on the cover under the dust jacket! The printing on the edges of the pages that spell out “LORIEN LEGACIES”! The integration of a symbol on the spine into the QR code on the back jacket flap! The Lemony Snicket-like author photo and bio! The book being “written by” a character from the universe in the book! (Only the actual narration is done by the protagonist and not the character who is supposedly the author.) Each of those pieces might not have been so bad, but when you put it together, it just seemed like the marketing department threw everything but the kitchen sink onto the book in the hopes that it’d grab as many people as possible.

When you get to the actual content of the story, there’s not much new here. Giving aliens credit for humanity’s achievements, the idea that aliens are walking among us but look like us and pass for us every day and have secret superpowers, most elements of the plot (including the former cheerleader who was dating the quarterback and has now sworn off her former ways, vowing to be nice to everyone–including the new kid, of course!), the dumb name of the evil race out to kill everyone (Mogadorians? Really?) and the fact that every representative of that race is completely one-dimensionally pure evil, the way the ending just turned into a big aimless battle–not much here felt fresh or interesting or like someone wanted to create this world and tell this story. There’s nothing complex in who the Loric people are, in who the Mogadorians are, in their conflict.

The writing is also awkward and strange at time, especially in the inconsistent use of contractions. One short example from page 224:

“[...] I don’t even know if he is there.”

He nods. “Do you think he’s okay?”

It’s not that the writing is bad, just that it’s inconsistent and not very interesting–and both of those were really distracting for me.

However, for as much as I don’t like the packaging and think a lot of the ideas and tropes are too familiar and didn’t care for the writing, the plot is tight and moves quickly and is full of action. The bad guys are surprisingly sadistic. The charm that requires the Mogadorians to kill the Loric teens in the order of their numbers intensified things. The emergence of John’s abilities isn’t at all surprising, but it’s the stuff that action story dreams are made of.

This book feels exactly like an action movie that’s shiny and full of explosions on the surface but doesn’t have much going on underneath. But it does do the action movie thing very well. 2/5.

Bonus: a movie adaptation is due out next month. At least I know they’re not going to mangle the book in the adaptation.

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2 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Erin  |  January 26, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I have seen commercials for the movie… and now have no desire to see it, or read this book. Thanks for the warning.

  • 2. Gretchen  |  January 26, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    The thing is, we have two copies of this book and they are always checked out at my library. I’ve heard from other librarians, too, that this is really popular among kids who normally don’t read, so I am sure it has its readers. I mean, it reads exactly like an action movie! I was just really disappointed with the writing and structure and I felt like I needed to call this book out for it. It may not be a well-written book, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Our circ stats say it’s not!

    I’m kind of curious about the movie, though. The source material was already such an explosiony action movie that I wonder if the movie will actually be really exciting and good. Not intellectually engaging or anything, but a good action movie, maybe?

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