I enjoyed Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp books (see reviews here and here), but somehow never made it through the first Monstrumologist book. Still, when I started seeing rave reviews of The 5th Wave, I simply had to read it. I purchased it on Kindle on publication day, and read it within 36 hours. In case this isn't already obvious from the huge marketing push, The 5th Wave is going to be big. I predict a movie, or movies (there are two other books planned).
But let's talk about the book. The Fifth Wave is set in a near-term post-apocalyptic world in which aliens have decimated most of the world's population. The devastation occurred in waves. In the first wave, an electromagnetic pulse took out electricity, engines, computers, etc. The second wave toppled the population centers on the coasts. The third wave sent a deadly plague throughout the world, killing 3.5 billion people.
But the fourth wave is the one that shakes 16-year-old survivor Cassie to the core. Because the fourth wave reveals that the aliens can look just like humans. Which means that she can't true anyone. Well, except for her five year old brother, Sammy. But Sammy has been taken away from her, and it's up to Cassie to find him.
To say that The 5th Wave is suspenseful is an understatement. The narration shifts (via sections of the book) between Cassie and three other characters. This allows Yancey to ratchet up the suspense via the traditional cliffhangers, as well as through conflicting information. The 5th Wave is a book that readers will puzzle over, asking questions like "How can that be true?" and "But why would they do that?" and so on. It is certainly a book that readers will think about whenever they put it down. If they can put it down.
Although the primary action reaches a resolution at the end of The 5th Wave, I was left with questions. It seems like these may or may not be resolved in the remaining books, but I can't share them here without risk of spoilers. I also felt that the choice to include narration from 5-year-old Sammy's point of view wasn't completely successful, even though it wasn't written in the first person. I understood why this was necessary (to convey certain information to the reader), but it's not easy to make narration as seen by a five-year-old feel authentic in a YA novel. Still, this was only a brief section of the book.
Cassie's voice, in the other hand, totally worked. And having the chance to see Cassie via the viewpoint of other characters clarified her image for the reader. She is delightfully sarcastic. While she doesn't really see her own bravery, she is otherwise insightful (if not always polished in her language). Like this:
"That's the hard part, the part that, if I thought about it too much, would make me crawl into my sleeping bag, zip myself up, and die of slow starvation. If you can't trust anyone, then you can trust no one. Better to take the chance that Aunt Tilly is one of them than play the odds that you've stumbled across a fellow survivor. That's figgin' diabolical." (Page 9)
"The unofficial boss of the camp was a retired marine named Hutchfield. He was a human LEGO person: square hands, square head, square jaw. Wore the same muscle tee every day, stained with something that might have been blood, though his black books always sported a mirror finish." (Page 58)
"We told the stories of our lives before the Arrival. We cried openly over the ones we had lost. We wept secretly for our smartphones, our cars, our microwave ovens, and the Internet." (Page 61)
I've always thought that I would really miss the Internet if there was an apocalypse. This sounds shallow, perhaps. But there's something about constant access to any sort of information that you might need that is very comforting. Now that we're used to that, I think it would be very hard to let go of. I was pleased to see Yancey touch on that. He also (and this is something one rarely sees mentioned in post-apocalyptic stories) addresses Cassie's worry about her dwindling tampon supply. Extra points for this realism coming from a male author.
I found Yancey's post-apocalyptic world to be a bit harsher in the details than some, though the world-building is also pushed to the background a bit relative to the action. You mostly just get occasional snippets like this:
"You know how you can tell when you're getting close to one? The smell. You can smell a town from miles away." (Page 39)
There are also some grim scenes involving the use of children to dispose of bodies. Although there isn't a lot of language, and only a fairly tame romance thread, I think that these scenes make The 5th Wave more of a high school book than a middle school book. There are, as you might expect in a post-apocalyptic book about an alien invasion, plenty of guns and other weapons.
Fans of post-apocalyptic novels will not want to miss The 5th Wave. It's a book that will make readers think, both in a "what's going on?" sense and in a larger "what is it that makes us human?" sense. It could be an interesting book for discussion with teen readers, with some parallels to the Holocaust, and the open questions that I wondered about after finishing the book. My only complaint is that I wish I had waited to read this after the second and third books were published, so that I could have immersed myself even more fully in Yancey's post-Arrival world.
Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle
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