Skip to main content

“I Am Number Four,” by Pittacus Lore

I really wanted to read I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore after I read a review of it a few months ago. I remember the reviewer saying that the author’s name is obviously a pseudonym, then just filed the title away. (I actually have a “book book” – a little book in which I write titles of books I want to read, organized by author. My kids tease me about my book book, but when you’re a motherboard with limited RAM, you need to write things down.) More recently I heard that it’s already been made into a “major motion picture” (due out in February!), so I knew I had to read it soon.

And it was OK. The idea – aliens living among us, waiting to get strong enough to go back to rescue their home planet from horrible monsters who now might be coming to conquer Earth – was rather interesting. But the book was just OK. I liked it enough to keep reading it, but probably not enough to bother with the sequels.

It’s certainly not as good as Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, which is also being made into a movie. If you haven’t read the The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, read them now. (Yes, I know, I haven’t read Mockingjay yet … I’m procrastinating because I don’t want the series to end.) I Am Number Four isn’t even as good as The Maze Runner (the first book in a new series by James Dashner). But it is often a page-turner and I can see some teens wanting to follow the series. On the other hand, there are some huge plot holes and clichéd characters (the principal only interested in sports, the bully jock, the nerd, the beautiful blond (former) cheerleader with a heart of gold … played in the movie by Dianna Agron of Glee fame, where she plays a beautiful blond cheerleader with a heart of tarnished gold).

Then, yesterday, I remembered something I read recently. Something about James Frey and I Am Number Four … and I got sad. Back in November, New York Magazine featured a story called “James Frey’s Fiction Factory.” I Am Number Four was produced by this factory.

James Frey, infamous for his semi-fictional autobiography and subsequent praise and then butchering from the almighty Oprah, has started a publishing brand. He hires young writers to help him produce “commercial ideas that would sell extremely well.” Sometimes the idea comes from Frey, sometimes from the young writer. Jobie Hughes was tasked with writing I Am Number Four from a concept given to him by Frey. Frey was looking for the next big thing. According to the New York article, “Frey believed that Harry Potter and the Twilight series had awakened a ravenous market of readers and were leaving a substantial gap in their wake. He wanted to be the one to fill it. There had already been wizards, vampires, and werewolves. Aliens, Frey predicted, would be next.”

Sigh. You can’t really disagree with him on some of that. There is a market here. Our kids may not read enough, but when they get hooked on a series, they read. And parents, librarians, teachers, publishers, and even booksellers should encourage that. Reading really is fundamental.

And he’s not the first one to use a factory-like system. Think of artists and apprentices. Look at all the Matt Christopher sport books for preteens. They’re branded with the Matt Christopher name even if Christopher didn’t write them.

But I’d like it if we librarians and parents could at some point help steer our kids away from the schlock, which factories like this turn out, and toward books with more literary merit. We know they're out there. First and foremost, of course, kids should read. And if that means reading schlock first, and then reading better stuff, let them have the schlock. After, we can suggest other, better, books. 


  1. VC Andrews has made a living on having her name put on the covers of books that someone else has written...and she's been dead for how many years now?

    Still, we're clearly in a time when telling a story is superfluous to making a buck.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What I Haven't Read in 2017

I made an odd sort of promise to myself this year: Read fewer books. The past few years, I been reading at a pace of about 100 books per year – a mix of children’s (but not counting picture books), young adult, and adult – and I felt as if I was reading too quickly and perhaps forgetting what I was reading. (Thank goodness for Goodreads.)
However, I consider it a very important part of my job as a librarian to keep up with what’s published, even if it’s a daunting task. Hundreds of thousands books are published each year in this country, so obviously it’s beyond even a superhero librarian (and I’m not one of those) to keep all those titles straight. But I try to at least know something about some books. We have two public-facing desks in my library – one is called the information desk; the other, reference. If you are working at the information desk, you will be asked for book recommendations. You will be asked, have you read this book? You will be asked to help select a book for a r…

"Beartown" by Fredrik Backman

I’m about to be overly effusive: I loved Beartown by Fredrik Backman and I think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. (See Tangent 1.)

Backman lured us into his Swedish world of curmudgeons and the neighbors who love them with A Man Called Ove and his other novellas. But this isn’t A Man Called Ove. This book has a much larger scope. This feels like the book Backman has always wanted to write but had to wait to give to us until he developed an audience. You got it, bro. I will read whatever else you write in the future. This book more deeply develops his ideas about communities. It is also about parenthood and all the responsibilities that go along with it. It’s about family and best friends who are like family. It’s about belonging. It’s about sorrow and happiness. And there’s some hockey. (Tangent 2.)
You will hate some of the parents (Kevin’s, William’s). You will love some of the teens (Amat, Maya, Ana, Benji, Bobo, Leo...). Be prepared to feel emotions. The characters – a…