Monday, July 25, 2011

Aliens and Toxic Waste: A Review of "I am Number Four"

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.
Back cover, I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Nine aliens and their guardians are hiding on Earth … protected by a charm that means they can only be killed in numeric order, three are already dead. John Smith is Number Four.
John has to keep moving: he’s got to outrun his past; escape his mortal enemies the Mogadorians; and blend into normal student life. But above all he must pray his newly found powers – alien legacies from home Planet Lorien – don’t give him away before he can complete his destiny, unlock his powers and protect his future.

            An alien novel – oh yes, my X-Files loving self was hollering on the inside. Love Alien stories. Especially angsty teenaged alien stories. 

         I am sure this book needs no introduction – after all, I could never hear myself think due to all the creaming fan girls all up about Alex Pettyfer (I will admit – pretty baller actor, liked him in Beastly – have yet to watch I am Number Four), however for the sake of uniformity, I will try and make my brief summary understandable: There was a planet that was invaded by this bad planet, and the good planet sent 9 kids and their guardians to Earth so they could somehow save their population. These nine kids have special legacies – that is, powers – like flashlight hands and super speed and strength etc. They are still running from the bad aliens – but there is a catch – a charm was placed on the nine, and as long as they stay away from one another, the bad guys will have to kill them in order if they can kill them at all. Confused? Okay, it gets denser. 

            The nine are all separated like, and e are following John Smith – a new name for him, he has to change it every time he moves – and he moves often, what with the being on the run thing. He longs for a normal life, and has a few select memories of his old life black on Lorien. He lives with his guardian, Henri. They just moved to Ohio from Florida, and of course, John meets a girl – and a best friend. The girl is Sarah – a photographer with a heart of gold and a bad ass for an ex-boyfriend. The friend is Sam – heart of gold and a knack for UFO theories – much to John’s astonishment. 

            We get a pretty good back story of Lorien and why John has come to Earth, but it’s in bits and pieces – my preference by the way, I like to discover tings with the characters. We come to understand that the Mogadorians are pretty bad ass – they ruined their own planet … then immigrated to Lorien and ruined that, and now are targeting Earth – the only other life sustaining planet in the near galaxy, so it can use up all its natural resources and kill off the humans. Mogadorians are tall creatures, and their description reminded me a bit of those old Spy vs. Spy cartoons. Anyways, suffice to say – they kill people and are therefore not cool. 

John, of course, cannot tell anyone he’s on the run or that he’s an alien. But in the way of any good story – his two closest friends find out anyway. Pretty dramatically as it turns out. And once you tell one person …

            I wasn’t sure what to think of this book when I picked it up (or rather when I downloaded it off Audible). I was pumped at first, but then all I heard about for two months was Alex Pettyfer and I lost interest. It sat on my iPod waiting to be read out loud to me. Finally, one cold March morning as I was driving over to my friend K’s for All-You-Can-Eat Sushi, I saw it there and popped it on. And I was hooked! 

            Like I said, it begins strangely – and it took me a good fifteen minutes to get hooked, but once things started to happen, I had to know where the story was going. And the character of John – or more specifically to me, the interactions of the character John and the humans around him made the book. Yes there are secrets and intrigues and tons of action – but what made the book really worthwhile were the friendships. 

            Sam and John just click. John at first does this purely on a calculating level – he needs a friend so he won’t stand out, but he also needs a friend who won’t make him stand out – so the jocks are out, the real geeks are out, etc. That leaves Sam, who may be afraid of his own shadow but can name all the planets in the next four solar systems without blinking. The thing of it is - about Sam anyway – you expect him to just keel over with fright every three seconds, but the farther into John’s world he gets, the more he rises to the occasion. He is a pretty awesome sidekick, and personally I would love it if he had his own story, too, but there you go!

                Sarah is harder to interpret. I hate damsels in distress unless they are in distress for a reason and get themselves out of it because they are awesome. Sarah is bit of column A and a bit of column B – she helps John overcome the people after him, fights for him and Lorien, but then she lies back calmly and lets John make all the crucial decisions … I am not sure what I think of her except that she is – what? Sixteen? I guess that counts for something.

            John’s relationship with Henri is interesting, even if I am left wanting more. The only real authority figure in his life has been Henri – he has taken care of John since before coming to Earth, and he holds all the information John needs to remember Lorien. Henri has no special power himself, just a lot of empathy and some good decision making skills. He keeps the angsty teen under his charge in check, and somehow manages to sound damn sexy while doing so. He is, essentially and for intents and purposes, Johns’s father – by deed if not by blood. The tension between a security –conscious Henri and a love addled John is fun – and frustrating, because you know that either way, no matter which of them wins, something will be lost.

            The plot is harder to nail down: it oscillates from tense action scenes where John comes close to being caught by his enemies or exposed somehow, to scenes that are very tender between John and Sarah. This oscillation is tricky, but for the most part it flows nicely, especially when peppered with scenes of Sam’s curiosity and flashbacks to Lorien as Johns powers develop. That being said, all the things that are going on, don't really detract from the main storyline - which is nice.

          In the spirit of full disclosure there was another reason why I was hesitant to read this book. It has to do with the author - no, not Pittacus Lore, which is merely a pseudonym, but rather, James Frey - yes, that guy, the Oprah Winfrey's black book for A Million Little Pieces guy. I won't really talk about it, but I am including the link to the New York Magazine article that started this whole controversy. Suffice to say, if the allegations are true - I do not approve.

Next to Review: I Love this Bar by Carolyn Brown 


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