Tuesday 17 August 2010

Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

In the beginning we were nine. We left when we were very young, almost too young to remember. Almost. And now . . . Three are gone. We are here to keep our race alive, which was almost entirely obliterated. We’re just trying to survive. Six are left. But we are hunted, and the hunters won’t stop until they’ve killed us all. They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. I am Number Four. I know that I am next.

Heard about this book yet? No? Well that is all about to change as I would not be surprised if I Am Number Four overtakes the Twilight books and becomes the most talked about book in schools across the country over the next few months. Some very big names in the movie industry feel the same (heard of Stephen Spielberg?), so much so that the film adaptation is scheduled to be in cinemas as soon as February 2011. And this is just the first book in a series so expect to be hearing about the Lorien Legacies books for some years to come.

Does the product live up to its hype though? Maybe. This book is being marketed at both adults and young teens in two differently packaged editions. Adults may find the story contrived and less than original but young teens and younger confident readers are going to lap this one up. First off is the premise - nine young people brought to earth to escape the invasion of their home planet of Lorien by the ruthless and merciless Mogadorians. These young 'aliens' are bonded by a magical charm that means that they can only be killed in a certain numbered order, and when this happens all of the others are made aware of this by a circular scar appearing on their right ankle. As the book's title suggests, this story focuses on the fourth of these youngsters, and the book starts with the appearance of the third circular scar, meaning that he is next in line for assassination by the Mogadorian hunters.

Number Four, as a hunted person, has moved from small town to small town, constantly changing identities, ever since he arrived on earth with his cepan Henri, an adult guardian whose job it is to protect him and ensure that he is educated in all the important Lorien knowledge he will require in the future. In this book he and Henri move to small town Ohio, and he takes on the stunningly original name of John Smith - after all, in his situation anonymity is everything. This small town of Paradise, Ohio then becomes the setting for the rest of this first book in the series.

Any of this sounding familiar to you yet? Yes, it does sound a little like stories we have read or watched many times before. Initially, TV series like Roswell and Smallville spring to mind, but then we discover that the Lorien youngsters will also start to develop special powers, and then parallels with series such as Heroes can be drawn. I got the feeling that the authors had borrowed elements from a plethora of science fiction films, TV series and books, mixed them up and given them a slight twist to create a brand new story. As an adult I can spot some of these a mile off, but a younger reader wouldn't, and if they did they probably wouldn't care as the plot has everything they have come to expect from a blockbuster teen title: action, reluctant heroes, ordinary kids stepping up to the plate to help save the day, and a seemingly unstoppable and ruthless group of villains.

This book is all about the plot. The characters are not always well drawn and can come across as rather bland, the dialogue is occasionally a little stilted and not necessarily how we would expect teens in such a story to talk with each other, and adult readers will find themselves building a list of questions as long as your arm as certain plot elements come across as silly and contrived. For overall quality of all of the elements of a good teen book this one certainly doesn't match up to the excellence of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

And yet I do not think any of these weaknesses will affect the reading enjoyment of the majority of the thousands of young readers who will read this book in the next year or so. The constant levels of action will draw them in, as will the agonising choices that John has to make during the story. On the one hand he needs to stay anonymous, not make friends and be ready to move to another small town many miles away should the need arise. However, he is also a teenager and as such the complete lack of lasting social contact he can build is starting to have an huge affect on his morale. So much so that when he arrives at his new school in Paradise, instead of trying to blend in with the background he finds himself falling head over heels for the prettiest girl in the school, and thus falling foul of her bully ex-boyfriend. The tensions caused by this scenario play an important part in the story, although some boy readers may find the romantic element gets a little too sickly in places for their liking.

The book is written in the first person, with John as the narrator. It is also written in the present tense, a prose style that I usually hate, but it seems to work in this book. However, I am a little confused by the name given as the author of the book, and I am sure I will not be the only one in this position. The book is supposedly written by PittacusLorien. I have nothing against the use of a character name as the author at all, but surely the book should then have been written with a third person narrative? At the moment this just doesn't make sense, nor does the fact that a boy who supposedly needs to remain anonymous and keep his alien nature and powers hidden from the human world should then feel that he can write down his story. Again, this is the adult in me speaking, I am sure that many younger readers will not care about this, and anyway, we may be given the answers to these queries in later books in the series.

Supposedly there are going to be six books in total in the Lorien Legacies series. Whilst I am really looking forward to seeing how the authors develop the story arc I am a little concerned about how they will manage to keep the story feeling fresh and without repetition through a further five episodes, especially given that there are already many similarities between this and stories that have come before. However, now is not the time to make judgements on future books; as it stands I Am Number Four is a book that the majority of young teens will devour in a couple of sittings and despite its weaknesses I feel it deserves much of the hype that already surrounds it.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore is published by Puffin (who kindly sent me a copy to review) and is available to buy in stores from 26th August.


  1. I'm really hoping this is one I can hook the boys in my classes with. It sounds like one they should enjoy and talk of the movie will help that as well.

  2. This book is so interesting. It looks like that it is a very intriguing book. I want to read this one. I am sure that I will enjoy reading that wonderful book.

  3. I found the ending to be a bit clotted. The endless description manages to slow much of it down.