The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave
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(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.”

This book is a lot more complicated than the description leads you to believe.  While Cassie and her struggles are certainly a major part of the novel, they’re not the only storyline that readers follow.  Equal time is given to a teenage boy who goes by the nickname Zombie, a boy who finds himself conscripted into one of humanity’s last armies.  There’s also a little time given to Sammy, Cassie’s younger brother.  Yancey does a good job at not only keeping these voices unique, but also making them appropriate for their age.  Sammy definitely sounds like a young boy caught in a situation that he’s not equipped to understand, and the older kids have that combination of confusion and bravado that some teens display.

The author has put a lot of thought into exactly how the alien invasion was accomplished, as well as the mechanics of the human extinction.  The ruined cities filled with rotting bodies, the roads clogged with abandoned cars, the looted stores, all ring true to what an apocalypse of this kind would probably look like.  I liked how the story was mostly kept down to a personal level, showing how individual people were affected and how they reacted to the conditions in which they found themselves.

But Yancey took pains to also include the mental toll taken by the invasion.  When the enemy looks like a human but most certainly is not, who do you trust?  How can you trust anyone?  And what does that kind of strain do to a person?  The novel digs into the deeper questions of hope and faith and courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  In fact, I was more captivated by the characters’ internal struggles than anything else.  You really feel their emotional anguish, the pain at having lost so much and now having to deal with the isolation brought about by fear and doubt.

As a main character, Cassie is one of my favorites.  She’s a realistic combination of tough and vulnerable.  It would have been easy to make her the kick-ass heroine of the human resistance, but she’s mostly just a scared kid who has been forced to grow up far too quickly.  Zombie was a little shakier to me, as he seemed to fall in with the “party line” of the military too quickly, but otherwise manages to retain some compassion in the midst of all the horror he’s exposed to.

My only slight concern with this novel was about the pacing of how information is revealed to the reader.  Since Cassie and Zombie are in two very different locations, they learn the truth about the invasion at different times.  This means that the reader learns these things far ahead of one of the point of view characters, and I found it a little frustrating to watch that character operate without that knowledge.

Other than that, I found this book to be an excellent read.  There’s lots of tension, plenty of action, and time given to the moral and philosophical issues that are raised.  I hope that the author doesn’t wait too long to get the next book to us eager readers, because I do want to see what happens next.  The 5th Wave one of the better teen sci-fi novels out there and should appeal to a broad audience.

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 4, 2013.

Series: n/a
ISBN: 9780399162411
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Page Count: 480
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Acquired: Provided by the publisher
Author Website
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