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OK, I Am Number Four first came to my attention because of the movie based in the book.  And I can’t tell you how much I hated the title.  As ambiguous as titles are anyhow, I felt this was even further afield.  As though I should know the answer to the question that kept popping into my head: “four what?”  It even crossed my mind to wonder if it was a reference to something I should know.  Like if a movie was titles “I Am 24601”, I’d know it was Les Mis.  But no – The title, and the book has the same title, is a reference only to the itself.

And so I avoided the movie, as even the trailers I saw didn’t help explain what it was about.

Now a couple of years later, I happened to see the book as I was trying to decide what I should listen to next on my commute.  And I was struck with the same though, “four  WHAT?”  And I decided that the title bothered me enough that I was willing to listen to the book to find out.  Mental note: start giving my books irritating titles.

The answer is that he is the fourth of nine aliens, who escaped their home world’s destruction by coming to earth as children, and has been living incognito.  (Each has a mentor, as well – more on that later).  Maybe not the most original idea, but it kept me listening.  He’s being chased, naturally, by the bad aliens that destroyed his planet.  But wait – they have to kill the nine IN ORDER.  So it’s significant that he’s number four (especially as we learn in the opening scene that number three is killed).  This seems like an unnecessary complication – almost like the title came first and the story was written to fit it. 

At the start of the book, we find that the four and his mentor have been moving around all his life, never in one place long, always changing identities – so although he’s referred to as John Smith for most of the book, it’s not his real name.  This is to avoid the bad aliens finding him before his powers have developed.  Yes, the aliens and the bad guys (but not the mentors, conveniently) have magical powers that they can use to fight.  It’s through some sort of this magic that they must be killed in order.  The blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements, isn’t done well in my opinion.  The magic isn’t consistent – each will have their own abilities – and unpredictable.  There doesn’t seem to be any underlying rationale for who can do what.  In my own opinion, this would be easier to accept in a straight-up fantasy.

Despite all this action-related background, it seemed like an enormous amount of the book was spent dwelling on teenage issues.  Four spends a great deal of the book a) mooning over a girl or b) trying to avoid the move and change of identity that always comes – mainly because of the girl.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this character is a teenager, and teenagers obsess, particularly about the opposite sex, but the book at times seemed more focused on that than the EVIL ALIENS who could be attacking any minute.

I won’t say I hated this book – I didn’t.  I liked it well enough not to stop halfway through.  I just didn’t think it was all it could have been.


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