I Am Number Four was written for teenage boys. Five years after publication, it still scores in the top couple percent of its Amazon sales categories. I like a lot of Young Adult books, and I’m in touch with my inner male, so I had high expectations.
You may recall the book was made into a movie in 2011. From comments I read, the movie was forgettable. But that’s not unusual for a movie adaptation, so I don’t hold it against the book.
I guess I’m just too-much-not a teenage boy. My reaction is a more modest “meh.”
Magical swords mean fantasy
Despite being tagged as science fiction, this is a fantasy story – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It may have aliens but – come on – it opens with swords. Magical swords.
The fifteen year old hero comes from a world where some kids – called Garde – are super-strong and super-fast. But that’s just the beginning. They develop specific superpowers in their teens, like becoming invisible or fire-proof. An alien race of monstrous beings has slaughtered the inhabitants of their home world. (Because the monsters destroyed the environment on their own home planet – a little message there.)
Despite having killed a whole planet’s population of super-powered people, the monsters feel threatened by nine Garde who escaped to Earth as young kids. The monsters are therefore hunting them and their adult companions – each kid has one Cepan, or guardian. The Garde/Cepan pairs scatter and hide. Fortunately, they look exactly like humans and fit in perfectly. Of course, they don’t reveal their alien nature to anyone on Earth or ask for help.
There’s more magic
Because of a “charm” the monsters can only kill the kids in a certain sequence and if they kill one, a scar magically appears on the ankles of the others. Three scars have appeared on Number Four, so he knows he’s next. He and his Cepan move and assume new identities twice a year anyway, so when that third scar appears, they run – to a tiny rural town with a surprisingly well equipped high school – the home ec lab has ten kitchens and there’s a class in astronomy.
None of that is a spoiler because it’s all explained in the first few pages. Then the story can begin.
As the August 2010 “Amazon Best Books” review says
“I Am Number Four is a breathless page-turner of a sci-fi novel that will have readers rooting for the teen alien who must unleash his fire power to save himself, his human friends, and the planet.”
At fifteen, Number Four, going by the name John Smith, is due to develop his superpowers any day now. But his first concern is with the stereotypes at his new school – a pretty girl who makes him nervous when she’s nice to him (which leads to a lot of kissing), a bully jock, and a geek in a NASA tee-shirt. At least John gets to adopt a strange stray dog.
I was indeed turning pages quickly, scanning rather than reading every word after John’s first couple days in his new school. Some of the story I expected but there was also a quirky twist I liked. I think it’s not much of a spoiler to say there’s a climatic battle.
BTW – the author is shown as Pitticus Lore – a name from the Garde’s world. Cute.
With over 1,000 Amazon reviews averaging four stars, and still ranked number three in its kindle Best Sellers category of sci-fi aliens, you don’t need me to tell you this book is hugely popular. The follow-on books in the series are, if anything, more highly rated and close behind I Am Number Four in sales ranking. I’ll just add that this book is most likely to appeal to tween and teen readers.