Every once in awhile a book launches itself onto the reading scene in kind of a spectacular style. I Am Number Four was one of those books. The rights to the film were sold to Dreamworks in June, before the book was even released, and the film was done and out in theatres a mere 7 months after the book hit the shelves. As if that wasn't publicity enough, then there was the whole James Fray controversy. Well if one thing is guaranteed to cause a literary stir these days it's naming James Fray in conjunction with a book.
You would think his spectacular Oprah kerfuffle over A Million Little Pieces would have been the end of his notoriety right? Well then you've underestimated the unpleasantness that is James Frey, because his new low is his writing group "Full Fathom Five" set up with the intention of group ghost writing books for profit. Think Andy Warhol but in books, and then think sweatshop, because the kicker to this group is what the actual authors get paid. 250$ advance, and 250$ when the book is completed with 30% of future revenues (reportedly), with an air tight contract in which their pseudonym is then owned by Full Fathom Five, they cannot talk about writing the book without permission, and Frey's company owns complete creative rights and copyrights to the book. Ouch.
Needless to say the world wide web was humming all fall with proclamations against Frey. Authors were expounding upon the talents of other authors being robbed, Newspapers and blogs were decrying Frey for running a book writing sweatshop and so on.
I, somehow, completely missed all of this. I had picked up a copy of the book in the early days, read the back, thought it sounded totally weird and not my thing, and then ignored every little tidbit I saw online about either the book or the movie until about two months ago. Right after finishing Matched I was reading through Ally Condies blog, and stumbled into a post where she mentions the controversy and some of her thoughts about how the actual author Jobie Hughes was taken advantage of (I can no longer find it to link too and am wondering if she took it down). I was fairly shocked, I had no idea James Frey had anything to do with I Am Number Four, but she didn't mention the bigger issue of Full Fathom Five and I didn't immediately find the connection on line.
I had just been lent I Am Number Four by my good friend in reading Jenna and I thought I'd finally see what the fuss was all about.
You've heard the premise a thousand times before I'm sure, Aliens come to earth, nine of them, fleeing another race of aliens that are trying to kill them. To protect their planets legacy they're hiding on earth in the hopes that they'll grow into their powers and be able to fight the evil alien race and head back to their home planet Lorien and repopulate it again. Very, very sci-fi sounding, and to be frank not a description I found appealing. In fact this is a story of a teenager on the run, who's been on the run as far back as he can remember. Someone who knows he's not like everyone else but who wants to fit in and be a normal teenager all the same. He is number four, and with numbers one through three dead he's now the next to be hunted and killed. Unfortunately he's also just found a place where he can have friends and belong somewhat for a change.
Despite myself I really enjoyed the story. I liked the dry, almost detached first person narrative of number four. I loved his slow discovery of a more emotional life through friends, his legacies and his slowly returning memories of Lorien. The alien thing was downplayed enough that it came across more superhero then other worldly life forms. Think Superman.
And by the end I was so caught up that I both cried and am now eagerly awaiting The Power of Six (book 2). More than anything the mystery surrounding the separated kids and their Cepan's drives the narrative, and the promise of more info and more numbers is what has me waiting with baited breath for the next instalment.
Do I feel guilty supporting a writing sweatshop by promoting this book? Somewhat. But i'll do my part by giving you the resources to decide for yourself before reading, and also give credit where it's due- Jobie Hughes. Being a dishonest ass isn't against the law unfortunately, and James Frey has a right to be as big an ass as he wishes. The fact his first endeavour with The Full Fathom Five sweatshop was a cataclysmic success just reinforces my belief that great things do not always come to those who deserve them, rather to those who'll do anything for them.
I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore (Jobie Hughes ghost writer, James Frey Co-creator)
Published by Harperteen, August 2010
Articles about the hoopla:
The National- Author James Frey stirs up controversy again
The Wall Street Journal- James Frey's Next Act
New York Mag- James Frey's Fiction Factory
New York Mag- Read the Brutal Contract from James Frey's Fiction Factory