I was a little baffled by this book until I learned that it was going to come out as a movie in February 2011, directed by Michael Bay of Transformers fame. And then I learned that I Am Number Four was the first in a six-book series penned by James Frey (yeah, that guy) and Jobie Hughes. I immediately had flashbacks to an aborted attempt to read James Patterson's first Daniel X book, wherein I kept looking at the page and seeing cartoon dollar signs instead of words.
Because who doesn't want to cash in on the glorious vats of money known as Twilight, let alone the book-and-movie-buying power of all those 12- to 20-something boys who play video games like it's a religion?
In their honor, I think we need a new term: BOOVIE. That would be a novel-length work written even as the Hollywood producer and the action figure and video game designers get to work. A publishing project that's ultra-planned, a sort of SIM version of a book. I'm guessing it won't surprise you to learn that Hasbro is also involved in this enterprise. (Note: I am differentiating this type of book from movie novelizations, which tend to get less respect and marketing in their own right and often come out just after the movie is released.)
The word "commercial" springs to mind, but you have to understand: it's a term that's only considered pejorative by dusty, bespectacled literary types these days. Publishers are pretty happy to hear it!
Now, does all this snark on my part indicate that a boovie is, by definition, bad? Not necessarily, though I would argue that heavy-hitting commercial planning increases the chances a book will lack heart, as well as a certain independence of spirit.
In the case of I Am Number Four, the writing is fine, though not outstanding. We do get some predictable dialogue and plotting (e.g., SPOILER: By page 15, I was predicting that the boy hero's adult guardian would die in his arms during a big final battle scene with the evil aliens, and I was so right! END SPOILER).
The premise? Nine good-looking teens are sent to Earth for safety after the mortal enemies of their civilization decimate their home planet (Superman times 9!). Now they are being hunted by those enemies. The catch is that the baddies can only kill the kids in numeric order. This sounds really cool as long as you don't think about it too hard—especially considering the convenience of having all nine kids sport special ankle scars that appear one by one to indicate the deaths of the other kids in the group, who are scattered across the planet.
As the title suggests, three of the nine have been killed when our story begins, and hero John Smith (his current alias) is on the move again with mentor Henri. He settles into a small-town high school, where he adopts an unusual dog, clashes with a bully, makes friends with alien invasion conspiracy buff Sam, and falls for a girl named Sarah.
John is on the cusp of developing a set of superpowers, and as they kick in, Henri trains him to use them. Meanwhile, the bad guys start to close in. All it takes is John letting his powers show in public, and his enemies attack in a very big way.
The theme, of course, is how John deals with feeling like an ordinary kid while having to acknowledge his legacy and his destiny.
I Am Number Four is not a bad book, and it achieves its goal of appealing to the video game-playing, Transformers-watching crowd rather handily. Still, six books? I dare these guys to step it up and make the series more interesting and unpredictable! They might want to start by watching old Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.
FYI: The movie version of I Am Number Four will star tall blonde dude Alex Pettyfer, who also stars in the movie versions of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider spy series and Alex Flinn's book, Beastly. Outside of the Twilight cast, he appears to be the go-to guy for YA film adaptations these days.
Note for Worried Parents: There's some bullying and a lot of video game-type violence involving evil aliens. Plus orphans.