Penguin, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-241-95357-0
Sci-fi, 2011 (Reissue)
I read I Am Number Four only after watching the movie based on this book. I know, I know, but come on, you can’t blame me for not catching up on books targeted at people more than half my age. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought that this book is some rushed movie tie-in delivered to cash in on the movie. It’s that underwritten.
In this one, we have some young kid, currently known as John Smith, who is cute, awesome, and more, only he’s naturally an outcast because we can’t actually have an ordinary guy actually being an ordinary guy, oh no. John is from the planet called Lorien. He has a Cêpan called Henri who acts as his tutor and bodyguard. When the story begins, we learn that there are nine of these awesomely super-powered adolescents out there in the world, and yet, they are going down one by one. Useless kids one to three are dead before this story begins, and John is the number four. Henri relocate them to Tuscaloosa, Ohio, where John gets into a most clichéd high school drama involving one-dimensional “shockingly beautiful” girls, jocks, nerds, and aliens who could somehow defeat awesomely powered beings despite being portrayed as bestial fiends.
After catching up with the sordid story of this book started life in James Frey’s fiction mill, where the only reason this book is written is to cash in on and produce a movie aimed at teenagers who adore the Twilight franchise, I am not too surprised to discover that this book is written in a lazy and passionless manner reminiscent of the authorial skills of underpaid technical writers of IKEA manuals. Descriptions are scanty as the story relies on my familiarity with high school clichés to fill in the blanks. The pacing is all over the place, with the hero getting awesome powers when it’s convenient for the plot. Revelations are dropped when the author feels like doing so, therefore for a long time there are no proper descriptions of the enemies or even back story about the hero’s flight from his planet. The author probably believes that kids are too dumb to care about such things.
The movie, believe it or not, is a far superior product than this book, because the scriptwriters actually reorganized some scenes so that the story is more coherent, the characters are far more well drawn in the movie, and there are plenty of fancy visual effects to distract me from the more ridiculous moments in the movie. Not to mention, those scriptwriters succeed in capturing on screen the glorious melodramatic rapture of young love, untainted by cynicism that can only come with age. In this book, the characters are flat, the romance comes off as plain insipid, and the narrative is utterly pedestrian. What else can I say? Watch the movie if you must, but ice the book.