“I am an alien, I have extraordinary powers, with more to come, and I can do things that no human would dream of, but I still look like a fool.”– John Smith
Super heroes, they are a staple of American pop culture. The last ten years or so have seen an explosion of super hero enthusiasm, with the relaunching of comic book series, several super hero Hollywood films, and the veritable slew of products that come from these films. Most people love the idea of super heroes, people gifted with amazing abilities that allow them to do incredible acts of bravery. These extraordinary powers are what James Frey & Jobie Hughes, who write the I Am Number Four series under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, use to develop their lead character John Smith, or Number Four. John is a young alien from a planet called Lorien that was ravaged by another alien race known as the Mogadorians. John and eight other Lorics are chosen to continue their heritage and save their race by fleeing to earth. They are enchanted so that the Mogadorians, who have followed them to earth, must kill each Loric in order from One to Nine. These nine have been gifted with powers, known as Legacies, which do not manifest until around the age of puberty for humans. Each Loric must train so that one day they will be able to fight the Mogadorians and reclaim their planet.
Using the first-person narrative style, Frey & Hughes are able to get the reader inside the head of John Smith and have them follow the anxiety, fear, and lying that he must deal with on a daily basis. The reader quickly connects with John because of his loneliness and his inability to get close to teens his age and open up about his past. John and his Cepan, a father/guide figure, have constantly been on the run their whole lives, fearing discovery by the Mogs, so John has had a very stunted childhood. This is a very engaging aspect to the story, as the reader feels John’s pain, as many teens have dealt with the inability to fit in, to connect with others, or to open up to those around them. As John develops relationships with his friend Sam, a conspiracy theorist loner, and Sarah, John’s love interest, he begins to open up to them and trust humans for the first time. But this also leads to conflict between John and his Cepan, Henri, who does not trust easily. John goes through the familiar struggles of a teen, friction at home, rebellion, and the inevitable reconciliation, but it is this trope that helps make the story more engaging for teen readers.
Hope and trust are some of the significant themes that develop out of the story. It is the life of fear and lack of faith in those around them that lays the foundation for John and Henri to develop and change their attitudes over time, with John putting a lot of faith in those around him, including trusting his bully, Mark, from earlier in the story. The theme seems to say, you cannot trust everyone, but it is the friends in your life that are the ones you are meant to trust. It is the hope of someday making a difference for his planet that John continues to fight, and it is trust in his friends that allows him to survive the continued attacks of the Mogadorians.
I Am Number Four is a fast-paced, engaging story. The prose is not overly challenging, so struggling readers can follow the story fairly easily. I recommend it for grade 9 and up, and have used it with my students that are not overly excited about reading, and they have taken to the storyline. There is not a lot of deep content in the books, but there is good character development and enough meat to allow students to write meaningful responses. I would pair this book with Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, or James Dashner’s Maze Runner, as all deal with the concept of the protagonist trusting those around them and developing that reliance on them to survive. It is a great book for those who love to live vicariously through the over-powered world of super heroes.