Last week I tried to plow through all 440 pages of I Am Number Four
so I could have it read before I saw the movie. I didn’t manage to finish it by last Friday, but I’ve finished since. Here’s my spoiler-light take on the book and movie (with bonus YA movie news at the end!)
John Smith looks like any other fifteen year old boy, and has a lot of the same worries – girls, friends, avoiding confrontation with the school bully- but he’s no ordinary teenager. John Smith is actually an alien, one of nine children with special powers who, along with their guardians, escaped from their home planet Lorien during a devastating invasion. The invading aliens, the Mogadorians, are hunting down the survivors and killing them off in order. Numbers one through three are dead, and John is Number Four. He and his guardian Henri need to evade discovery while John develops his powers, and then, hopefully, they will unite with the rest of the Lorien survivors to defeat the Mogadorians.
I Am Number Four reads like the first draft of what could be a fun, fast-paced YA sci-fi novel. Unfortunately, the key to that sentence is â€œfirst draft.â€ John Smith narrates, and his voice is incredibly uneven – it’s hard to tell if he’s supposed to sound like a fifteen year old boy, or like a wise-beyond-his-years alien. The other characters are equally under-developed. I couldn’t get a handle on John’s relationship with Henri, his guardian and father-figure, and Sarah, his blonde and blue-eyed love interest, seems to be notable mostly for being pretty and taking pictures. Bernie Kosar, John’s rather mysterious dog, is the book’s most lovable character by far.
Because the characters are lackluster, it’s hard to get involved in the action, although some of the action sequences are pretty cool (and the high point of the movie – see below!). I did enjoy the sequences where John and Henri practice developing Henri’s powers, and it was fun to witness John’s friend Sam’s reaction to John’s growing abilities. Overall, however, the writing is rough. There’s much more â€œtellingâ€ than â€œshowing.â€ The plot is unnecessarily complex, and important details are glossed over in favor of unnecessary descriptions (do we really need to know, for example, the layout of Sarah’s house?) The novel could have easily been a hundred pages shorter, and might have been a fun read if it were.