Contest Book #6
Before we begin, a small disclaimer: I have never read James Frey's notorious “memoir” A Million Little Pieces, but any man who compares writing a falsified autobiography to Picasso painting a Cubist self-portrait is the kind of guy who I think deserves a solid punch to the face. I don't know much about Jobie Hughes, either, but I note that the two books he is currently writing are called Agony at Dawn and At the Gates of Pyrrhus, and only one of the eighteen authors listed as favorites on his website is a woman. Clearly, I find both writers obnoxious, but I attempted to set my personal prejudice aside and judge their novel I Am Number Four on its own merits...
...if only it had any.
I Am Number Four is formulaic to the point of becoming self-parody. I spent the first half of the book looking for a sign that the authors (who co-wrote under the pseudonym "Pittacus Lore") were in on the joke, but eventually realized the story was meant to be taken seriously. Lore's protagonist is "John Smith", a teenage alien hiding out in an Ohio high school. John is a refugee from an interplanetary war between Mogadore and Lorien, two Earth-like planets from a galaxy far, far away. When the greedy, planet-snatching Mogadorians launched a surprise attack on Lorien, John was one of a handful of Loric children who were sent to Earth, hidden amongst the human population, and given a protective charm that forces their enemies to kill them in a particular order. Unfortunately for John, three of his fellow survivors are dead, which means his number is up.
Hughes and Frey have cobbled together a collection of clichés borrowed from Superman, Twilight, and every B-grade drama aired on The WB in the late nineties. There's a brooding hero, a nerdy sidekick, a meathead jock, and an implausibly perfect love interest. (She used to be a cheerleader, but now she's into photography and kitten rescue, because she's deep. No joke.) Profitability—not originality—is clearly the authors' main concern, and they're well on their way to making a zillion dollars*. I can't remember the last time I read a book so relentlessly trite, or more clearly written with a future TV/movie adaptation in mind, but I suspect Frey and Hughes will be able to soothe the pain caused by negative reviews by rolling around in their massive piles of cash.
*In addition to the upcoming movie adaptation and the contract for four to six more books, there's the five weeks I Am Number Four spent on the Times' best-sellers list.