The 5th Wave, written by Printz Honor-winning author Rick Yancey, is a compelling read. The book follows a girl named Cassie Sullivan who is surviving on her own after aliens, called the Others, invade earth. The Others are intent on claiming the earth as their own, and have been methodically disposing of the human race.
The Others’ plan comes in waves— in the first wave they set off an EMP that rendered all technology on earth useless; in the second wave they caused floods which wiped out all of the coastal cities in the world; in the third wave they decimated the human population with a terrifying new virus carried around the world by birds; in the fourth wave they started picking off the few surviving humans with sniper rifles.
Cassie is a survivor. Her parents are dead and her little brother, Sammy, was taken by military personnel who may be more than they seem. Her one goal in life is to get Sammy back and to keep him safe, but she faces insurmountable obstacles. One of the major obstacles that she faces is the fact that in the fourth wave, aliens who had taken over human bodies are killing as many humans as they can. The aliens aren’t green and they don’t come to earth in flying saucers. They look just like humans and are lethal, which means that Cassie does not know if she can trust anyone she meets along the road to finding Sammy.
The road is treacherous. There are Others lying in wait in the woods to kill any humans they find, there are wild animals who could also easily kill her, and Cassie needs to find food and clean water to survive in a now barren landscape. But what waits for Cassie at the end of the road may be the most dangerous thing she has faced since the Others came.
The 5th Wave is a page-turner, which makes it an ideal summer read. I read this book in about six hours because I couldn’t put it down. It’s If you are craving something to read that is reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, this is the book for you. Cassie, the primary narrator in the book, is an intelligent and plucky character with enough grit and sarcasm to make reading the book fun even though her environment is bleak. Like Katniss, Cassie has to find a way to survive in a hostile environment and has to decide who she can trust.
The book is also similar to post-apocalyptic narratives such as AMC’s The Walking Dead (which is also an awesome graphic novel, by the way) and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in which the setting is dangerous and the people who populate the world are even more so.
I will say, however, that the writing in The 5th Wave is not of the same caliber as Cormac McCarthy’s beautifully sparse prose in The Road, and I had a few issues with the book. I tore through the book, reading it quickly and really enjoying it. But, as English majors are wont to do, I started analyzing the book as soon as I finished. While the heart of The 5th Wave is Cassie’s search for her brother, the book bounces between several narrators.
One of the narrators is a boy connected to Cassie’s past, who goes by the name Zombie. His narration shows another side of what life is like for the humans who have decided to stick together in groups after the Others begin their attack, as well as insight into what the new fifth wave is.
There are two other narrators, however, that I had some problems with—Sammy and Evan, a boy that Cassie meets along the road. While Cassie and Zombie’s chapters are told in first person, Sammy and Evan’s chapters are written in third person. The switch between first and third person is jarring and grating. I also had trouble suspending my disbelief in Sammy’s section because Yancey did not write convincingly from a five year old’s perspective. Sammy sounded the same as Cassie, who is sixteen, and reasoned in the same ways. I am not trying to discredit five year olds, who can be incredibly intelligent and prescient, but there is a big difference between five and sixteen.
My other issue with the book is one that I have with many young adult novels. Evan Walker is a mysterious boy whom Cassie meets on her journey to find Sammy. Evan helps Cassie to recover from a serious injury, and the two bond as they have both been alone for a very long time. Cassie, who has been wary of everyone she meets since the fourth wave began, has to decide whether or not to trust her new friend. Quiet and mysterious Evan is described as being incredibly hot and having “chocolate brown eyes”, a phrase that is used so much in this book that it was ridiculous (Yancey really likes describing eyes, apparently—Sammy has “teddy bear eyes”, whatever that is supposed to mean). Cassie is attracted to Evan, of course, and it’s love at first sight for them both. But Evan has a Big Secret that may jeopardize their instalove relationship.
The problem with this relationship is that the adjective that Cassie uses the most for Evan, besides “hot” and “gorgeous”, is “creepy”. Evan lurks outside her door a lot and is always watching her. This kind of fixated behavior reminded me way too much of Edward Cullen, which is never a good thing. I know that Cassie and Evan are two of the last teens on earth but… aspects of their borderline obsessive relationship, which is built on the foundation of how hot they are, troubled me. The sad thing is that this is prevalent in young adult literature, where protagonists overlook disturbing flaws in their significant other because of how attractive he or she is.
Despite those qualms, I enjoyed the book overall. Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it going to win the Pulitzer Prize? No. Is it a fun, compelling read? Yes. The 5th Wave is being marketed as the Next Big Thing in the young adult publishing world, and GK films and Tobey Maguire have acquired the film rights for the book. This is a great book to read on vacation this summer for those who are hankering for something to fill The Hunger Games void.