I AM NUMBER FOUR is actually number four million if you consider the predecessors it is based upon. Meaning? We've been here before. About a bazillion times.
Let's take stock: aliens on Earth disguised as Earthlings. In fact, your neighbor may be a Lorien (the "good guy" planet of concern here) and the haberdasher (way to blend in!) may be a Mogadarian (the "bad guy" aliens who are hunting Lorien-types to the death). Novel idea, eh?
So our protagonist is on his 5,398th alias. It's (steady now) "John Smith" ("John Doe" must have been taken). He is what's called a "Garde" and will get special powers when he hits puberty (I got a cheap Timex). These powers are called "Legacies." Special powers are quite the thing in fantasy YA these days. They go by different names, they borrow shamelessly from Marvel Comics, and they're viral.
Speaking of viral, at 440 pages and at Gate #1 of a projected 6, this book is both too long and too predictable to be extended into a series. Do we blame Harry Potter for this pernicious YA fad? The conceit, you see, is that Mogadarians can only kill the Lorien-types in order. Conveniently enough, Numbers 1, 2, and 3 have been killed before chapter the first. This means (gasp) hold on to your seats action from the get-go as John Smith and his protector (called "Cepans" here) move to a small Ohio town to blend in.
Blending in defined: fall in love with a gorgeous (surprise!) girl named Sarah. Draw the attention and ire of a (surprise!) bully named Mark who happens to also be the captain (surprise!) of the football (surprise!) team and Sarah's ex-boyfriend (surprise!). Get in a fight with Mark and accidentally display your super powers which are supposed to be kept under wraps for fear of attracting Mogadarian attention (remember, one of them could be the janitor, the principal, or even the candlestick maker!).
That's the sort of goings-on you'll get in this book. Characterization? You might as well hunt polar bear in the Everglades. Description and mood? Try finding fine china at Walmart. But oddly, the book will be a big hit with many young readers (especially of the "reluctant" variety) because it's all about plot. Period.
As is often the case with genre reads in YA, I'm torn here. The book's style is choppy and the author's ability to write action scenes filled with inconsistencies and gaps. It's predictable. It's one-dimensional. But it is what it is, and I know a lot of kids will be snapping it up in my classroom this fall -- and liking it, too. Does that mean they have bad taste? Not at all. It means they like action. It means they like plot. It means they are Pittacus Lore's target audience and I should be sure to get this book in their hands.