TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
"I Am Number Four" is a teen sci fi / superhero / coming of age / adventure / love story. It's a quick, thrilling read with lots of action and an unexpected amount of emotion. My biggest complaint is more a global teen fiction issue than a specific criticism of this book — why must EVERY teen novel be part of a trilogy these days? Is the standalone teen novel dead?
Eh, so with that griping out of the way, let me tell you why I had fun reading "I Am Number Four." First, I'm still a fan of the sometimes overused first-person narrative in teen fiction, especially when the voice guiding us through the story belongs to a high school guy with authentic insecurities, fears, strengths, and heart. Yes, John Smith is an alien from the planet Lorien who is developing special powers ("legacies") to fight off the bad guys who destroyed his home world, the lethal, brutally strong Mogadorians. But John is still a genuine teen boy, alien or not. He's worried about fitting in at a new school in rural Ohio (he and Henri, his Cêpan, a kind of trainer / Jedi Master, move constantly to stay ahead of the Mogadorians). John's believably frustrated that he's attracted the attention of class bully / football star Mark and believably brave in standing up to him; while John knows fighting Mark is a great way to get noticed — hello, he's got alien super strength! — he won't stand by quietly. And, despite all the chaos of his life, John quickly falls for his beautiful home ec partner Sarah. So while John's first day also marks the onset of one of his legacies (huzzah, glowing hands!), his sense of trepidation and anxiety is very real and, I think, very relatable for the teen audience.
There's also a ton of action here, from training scenes to chase sequences to all out battles with every creepy form of Mogadarian evil. "I Am Number Four" is being made into a movie as we speak, and I can understand why. The action scenes jump off the page in a crisp, cinematic style. On screen, they should be astounding. The book begins with the Mogadarians slaying poor Number Three. There are 9 child guardians who fled Lorien for Earth when the Mogadorians destroyed their world. These 9 have varying legacy levels, which will develop over time into wicked superpowers. The twist here is that the Mogadarians can only hunt down and kill the 9 in precise order. So when John discovers that Number Three has been killed, he and Henri hightail it to Ohio, knowing that John is next on the Mogadorian hit list. From there on out, we readers get a palpable sense of danger, of a fragile, peaceful existence that at any moment can be shattered. We also understand how badly overmatched John is, despite his otherworldly speed, strength, and healing, adding a sense of urgency and desperation to Henri's training and John's predicament.
Although no one is reading this book for its character development — Mark has a pretty quick turnaround from menacing bully to stalwart friend — there are several nice moments between John and the patient, kindly Henri, as well as with John's new friend, geeky alien conspiracy theorist Sam. And while the John / Sarah romance feels a bit paint-by-numbers (she's perfect in just about every way), it's pleasant enough to sustain interest and give John extra incentive to stay alive. Plus, there's a little dog named Bernie Kosar who just about steals the show at the end.
If you're not put off by violence and the sparing use of a few curse words, I'd say "I Am Number Four" is a great choice for even middle school students, both boys and girls. You'll find an exciting sci fi thrill ride with some surprisingly emotional scenes. Keep an eye out for the movie in February 2011 and for the sequel, "The Power of Six," next June. Happy reading!