One of the issues I had with Siskel and Ebert (and other long-running critics like them) is a critique along the lines of, "Nothing original, I've seen it before, so I'm giving it a thumbs down." Drove me batty for two reasons. First, not everybody has seen the canon of movies either of them had and so are new to the concept/plot/whatever. Secondly, it never answers the question, is it well done?
Which brings me to I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. The movie version of the book didn't do boffo business last year. But I liked it well enough to go and get the book. And you know, it's VERY familiar and pretty well done. But the target audience, the YA crowd, aren't going to get that re-warmed cliche feeling at all. THEY don't have the backlog of previous books to compare it to. To them, this is probably a five-star book. I mean, compare it to the Twilight books and it looks like this book is top-shelf stuff, only without the vampires and swooning and stuff.
I should also mention that Pittacus Lore is a pen name. And that part of the writing team behind the name is James Frey. Of A Million Little Pieces infamy. He apparently can write fiction. (Oh, that's catty. But true.)
If you didn't catch the movie, here's the gist. A group of alien kids with their bodyguard mentors are hiding out on Earth. The bad guys arrive and, for whatever reason, have to catch and kill the kids in a specific order. As each dies, the rest on the hit list actually feels that death. And they know when his or her turn is coming up. Like the title says, the focus of this book (the first in a series), is kid number four. He's been know by several names over the years as he strives to remain below the radar of the bad guys.
He becomes John Smith, a student at a high school in Paradise, Ohio as the book gets going. He also becomes target number one at about the same time. Normally, that would have him and his keeper/mentor/pseudo father figure Henri on the move again. But this time, John's got motive to stay and fight. Her name is Sarah. And there's a friend who eventually learns all the secrets, but is a true and good friend even before then. John wants to stay and stand his ground.
Which is foolhardy of course. But his kind have powers. Slowly developing powers, but the kind of powers super-heroes are made for. Henri tries to force the development of the powers in time for the inevitable arrival of the bad guys. It's a race. With tragic consequences if John's a slow developer.
Lore develops the tension quite well. The battle with the bad guys predictably turns out mostly well in the end. And introduces the next target (but one). I have every intention of getting The Power of Six.
Because I look good craftsmanship and a page turner. Even if it appears a little familiar. After all, Vin Scully once said, "The reason I try my best on every broadcast is because I know that somewhere out there, this is the first one for somebody. I owe it to them never to just go through the motions."
So thumbs up to this book.