the 5th wave

Thursday, June 13, 2013 |
Usually if a book is going to hit it big, I begin noticing press and blogger excitement several months in advance.  Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave proved that wrong (or maybe I’m just paying attention to the wrong news outlets?).  It was only about two months before release that I started seeing extremely positive reviews from all quarters – media, authors, and bloggers.  With that in mind, I tried to stay away from reviews and wait my turn for a library copy to become available.  I didn’t want to spoil what everyone was saying was a fantastic read.  Here’s what I knew going in: aliens, a fight for survival, multiple viewpoints, and lots of terrifying moments.  No wonder that I chose to read this book poolside, drenched in sun and heat!  I try not to court nightmares, after all.

the 5th wave by rick yancey book cover
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.

The Others arrived, and humanity tried to make contact.  The Others didn’t respond.  Then came the first four waves – wiping out ninety-seven percent of the human population.  Cassie survived, but now she’s alone, and she stays alive by staying alone and not trusting anyone else.  She has bent, but so far she hasn’t broken.  Or maybe she has broken - she doesn’t know.  The only thing that keeps her going in the midst of this alien extermination is a promise she made to her little brother Sammy.  That promise and her wariness won’t be enough.  Because the 5th wave is coming.

While Cassie is the clear focus of the book and at times the narrator, the author also skips into other characters’ heads and voices to tell the story.  And what is that story? It’s a Hunger Games-esque, survive-at-any-cost thriller (to say any more would be too much).  There are children fighting, deadly stakes, and no true sense of who/where the enemy is.  It is that aura of dangerous mystery about the Others that creates an atmosphere of menace.  I was not surprised by any of the twists, possibly because by the time I was thirty pages in, I had internalized Cassie’s distrust.

As for the sci-fi aspects of The 5th Wave, I had a couple of doubts and questions.  The first being: how does everyone (read: Cassie) know there will be a 5th wave?  If the underlying message of the story is that hope and love are unquenchable symptoms of the human condition (and I believe that was the point), the standard awareness/anticipation that a 5th wave was on its way doesn’t make sense.  I mean, every character seemed to think the same way.  I identify that as rushed characterization.  Another red flag was the widespread knowledge of what each wave was, and how it was caused.  If a true communication breakdown was in effect as postulated in the book, I would expect a lot more rumor and supposition, especially among kids, who know less of the mechanics of society’s infrastructure (especially if they're from the first world).

There’s no doubt that The 5th Wave is a riveting read.  I’m just not sure it was GOOD.  Let’s go over the pros: the writing was excellent, the plot moved at breakneck speed, Cassie was a well-developed character.  Beyond that, I felt that there were holes in the world-building and secondary characterization that were patched over in part by action sequences and scenes meant to shock and awe.  At the end of a book, I asked myself: Did the story feel authentic?  And my answer in this case was yes/no. Cassie and her fear were real.  It was the rest that I had qualms about.

Recommended for: fans of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Neal Schusterman’s Unwind, and anyone looking for pulse-pounding young adult sci-fi/apocalyptic fiction.  Be ready for a menacing thrill.


Shane @ItchingforBooks said...

Good review. I might give this a try.

Liviania said...

Good review - I'll admit to not being surprised by most of the reveals, but I still enjoyed them.

Y'know, I never thought about how everyone knew there would be a fifth wave? I just went with it. But you bring up some good points.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I just bought this yesterday. I've heard a lot of good things, so I'm certainly curious. A friend of my sister's said it's one you either love or hate. LOL Sounds like you're inbetween, but I'm glad you enjoyed it overall.

Unknown said...

I've seen all the "OMG THIS BOOK IS AMAZING" reviews, but now it appears that more and more people are posting some that are just "eh". I guess I'll have to read it myself and figure out which category I fall in!

-Taylor @ Reading is the Thing

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this one. (It was my first Yancey read and I'm excited to get to his others.) I didn't pick up on the common thinking and assumed everyone was just prepared for the worst by wave 4. (And perhaps Zombie was told about one coming in his training?)

Anyway, one thing that seemed strange to me was how certain phrases repeated. Cassie's "mentor character" teaching her how to shoot uses almost the same phrase as the person training Zombie. Sloppy edition? Hidden message? Clue of what's to come?

Ryan said...

I've seen a few others reviews around for this one, and I will admit to be tempted by it, eventhough I normally don't like YA. After reading your review, I think I'll stick to my guns and pass on it.

On a side note, the title keeps getting my attention because of the TV show First Wave. Loved the show and it was about alien invasions as well.

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