Book Review: I Am Number Four

Pre-apology: If you are the writer of this book, and you are an individual human being, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings. I pull almost all of my punches and there are a few things that are good about this book. Keep working and you will see how much better you can become.

I am leaving the pre-apology in for Jobie Hughes’ benefit. But I have recently discovered that Jobie actually decided to work with James Frey and the fellow’s Fiction Factory project. This book is in fact a collaborative project between Hughes and Frey. Thus, I have pity for Jobie in that she/he decided to be taken in by the shyster that is Mr. Frey. And Mr. Frey, once again you have disappointed. Go away and find a new career. Perhaps linoleum floor installation.

I just finished I Am Number Four because I’m a sucker for films about super-powered teens and I thought I ought to read the book before I got the DVD through Netflix.

I really dislike writing bad reviews, so I am going to try to do a good review about what I can only call, to not be mean, a very disappointing book.

The premise of the book is that there are some very special beings wandering the world unbeknownst to regular humans. These are selected progeny from the planet Lorien, and they are called the Garde. The Garde are very similar to humans but are an older civilization; indeed, they helped build the pyramids apparently.

So the Lorien kids ended up having to leave their planet with their devoted keepers because the Mogadorians had attacked and conquered suddenly. Now, these nine Garde apparently will be able to bring their planet back from the brink of total destruction when the right time comes. But in the meantime, the Mogadorians have also infiltrated the people of Earth and are actively hunting the Loric kids.

Fortunately, the Loric folks had some kind of magic- whose source we never learn anything about- which made it so that as long as the Garde kids stayed separate, the Mogadorians could only kill them in a certain order. So if they tried to kill #4 before #3, it wouldn’t work out.

And each kid gets a scar on their ankle when another Garde is killed. That way they know when the Mogadorians are hunting them.

So that’s the basic premise. Add suspicions that the Mogadorians are planning to wipe out humanity, a nerdy kid coming in to his own, a second ship inexplicably blasting off from Lorien when the Garde escaped, and, most importantly, a serious romance, and you have a very intriguing story.

The Garde in question for this book goes by John Smith currently and he is, apparently, 15. His keeper is named Henri, he acquires a faithful dog and shows up in a small town and instantly falls for the most beautiful girl in school. She, handily, falls for him.

The first fundamental issue with this book is the question “Why?”

Why does Sarah fall for John? Why does he get surprised by his powers manifesting? Why, if he’s been around and prepared for 10+ years, does he seem to have so much trouble controlling himself? Why does his training almost completely desert him when the action gets going? Why does he sound like a teenager sometimes, but most of the time he sounds like teen poetry that should never see the light of day combined with someone still trying to master English?

It doesn’t work to say that John is an alien and of course his language will be off, because Sarah’s dialogue is no better and besides, John grew up speaking English.

Another issue can be presented as a question as well: The author of this book is listed as Pittacus Lore, a gimmick author, since Pittacus Lore is a character in the book. The question: Is Pittacus Lore the pseudonym of a cadre of writers at Walt Disney Pictures? Because this book feels like it was written by a committee. It is uneven in pacing, the characters are horribly inconsistent, the dialogue (as mentioned) is ungainly, forced and at times so awful that I had to avert my eyes so my writer brain wouldn’t be tainted.

What 15 year old is actually going to say, “My heart is breaking”?

Look. When I was 17, I had to say goodbye to my first girlfriend, whom I loved very much, because she had to go back to Germany. She was an exchange student. As I recall, saying those three special words was difficult. I think I also said, “This sucks.”

Neither of us, and this was a very difficult goodbye, said, “My heart is breaking.” I have to say, however, if Diana Agron was playing my first girlfriend, maybe I would have said something like that.

Point being, the dialogue in this book was uneven to say the least. There were some golden moments, but they were rare. Either a committee wrote this and didn’t have a single editor look it over or a single author wrote this and didn’t take any time to rewrite it and use some craft to make it better.

The action was visually interesting, but had no tension. I think the author(s?) tried to add to tension by making the book in present tense and artificially varying sentence length- but there was no natural rhythm.

I should stop now. All in all, the book felt forced, cobbled together and seriously like it was written by a bunch of people who had a REALLY good idea but then had very little idea of how to see the project through. Given the fact that not many people had heard of the book before the movie came out, I’m fairly confident that the story sold as a book and movie idea and then it was fleshed out. I would love to have someone confirm or deny that.

I think the premise of the book is good and its plot is very nice, as is the back story. The rest falls flat with an audible ‘thud.’

1 out of 5 pens.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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