Stimulus: Pittacus Lore – I Am Number Four
Having recently (and regrettably) read one of James Patterson’s teen novels about kids obtaining fantastic superpowers, I’d have to say that I Am Number Four put me in mind of that other work. It probably doesn’t help that Pittacus Lore, like Patterson himself most of the time, is actually two authors: Jobie Hughes and James Frey (yes, that James Frey). Yet while the premise of this book isn’t unique – the titular Number Four is essentially an alien X-Man – the quality of the writing is greater than Patterson’s. Most importantly, the chapters aren’t two pages long, the characters don’t try to act hip and cool, and the plot, while very linear, is fleshed out enough to hold interest.
Number Four got his name by being the fourth in a series of nine alien refugees who escaped the destruction of their planet at the hands of a less enlightened civilization. These kids each take a guardian, split up, and go Clark Kent to evade the monsters. Owing to a mystical charm, the kids are invulnerable unless they are killed in numeric order. Numbers One through Three are dead. Four is next.
The tale is a mixture of teen drama and environmental parable. While Four tries to fit in to his new high school and suffers all the expected angst and desire thereof, the greater conflict unfolds in the course of his real education. The two alien races presented, Four’s enlightened Lorics and the Mogadorians that destroyed them, are positioned as ends of a spectrum in which humanity is right in the middle. When in danger of destroying their planet, the Lorics changed their ways and became Supermen. The Mogadorians did not, and in essence they turned into walking viruses. At times the story feels a bit heavy-handed, all but asking the reader which race they would rather become. But it works well enough.
The book’s greatest flaw is that it’s incredibly predictable. The greatest example of this comes during Number Four’s first day in his new school, in which a dog named Bernie Kosar (because they’re in Ohio – Go Browns!) appears out of nowhere, sprints right up to him, and subsequently follows him everywhere. Since dogs tend not to just show up in school like this, it’s obvious that Bernie Kosar is going to play a big part in what’s to come. Had the authors used a less blatant introduction – say, Number Four meets the stray dog while wandering in the woods – the dog’s importance may have come as a surprise instead of inevitable.
All told, it’s not the best sci-fi story ever, but it may satisfy teen readers or those waiting for the next big epic.
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