The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Published: 2013, Putnam Juvenile
Series: The 5th Wave, #1
Genre: Young Adult Post-apocalyptic
Source: Library book
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But if I'm it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I'm going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity's last war, then I am the battlefield.
Earth and life as we know it has been completely altered with the arrival of alien spaceships and their subsequent attacks on humanity in the past few weeks. The first wave was an electromagnetic pulse that destroyed basically everything that is reliant upon electricity. The second wave was a tsunami that eliminated all life within many, many miles of any coastline. The third wave was a plague carried by birds that wiped out the vast majority of humans still surviving. The fourth wave was referred to as silencers, or sleeper alien agents down on Earth. The impending fifth wave is anyone's guess (or worst nightmare).
This is the current reality for all humans (fortunate enough to be) still surviving. Against this bleak world, Cassie barely scrapes by, sleeping in the woods, foraging for food and water at dusk, trusting no one. The only thing that keeps her going is her determination to save her little brother Sam, who, along with other children in their refugee camp, was taken away on a bus by strange military men while the adults and older children were left to die. It was luck that allowed Cassie to get away while her father was killed. Luck that she didn't succumb to the avian disease that her mother did. Now Sam is the only family Cassie has left, and she made a promise to Sam that she'd find him - a promise that she intends to keep. Opposed to Cassie, Zombie finds himself training as a child soldier as part of an organized resistance movement. His true identity, as well as all of the other soldiers, is kept hidden. They're told that they're going to fight the alien invaders, but not much more than that.
I think it's best if I start with the obvious here: The 5th Wave has generated a lot of...waves (sorry) in the months leading up to its publication. Many, many people seem to have thought all the hype was totally justified. Many, but not all. After finishing this book and reflecting on it for a while, I definitely found myself in the first camp. I really, really liked it. Do I think it's going to be among my favorite reads for the year? Probably not. But I can't deny how exciting and interesting it was to read.
Part of the reason I really enjoyed this book so much is that everything felt new and fresh to me, since I am not in the habit of reading many post-apocalyptic books, or even those that take place in the middle of an apocalypse. It's just not a subgenre that interests me much. I guess I must credit the marketing and extreme hype that went into the production of this book for making me even pick this up. That, and the fact that Yancey already has a solid fan base for his other series, The Monstrumologist (which I fully intend on reading at some point). My point for all of this is, because I'm not as familiar with these kinds of stories, I didn't find The 5th Wave derivative or uninteresting. Some of the revelations became obvious to me before the characters understood it, but their revelations, when they finally reached them, were no less chilling. The story worked for me as the reader, and Yancey's strong writing style made me enjoy it even more.
It was an interesting choice to have the novel start after the first four waves had already occurred, leaving Cassie's flashbacks to bring readers up to speed on the current situation on Earth. Interesting especially in light of the fact that not much happens in the first section. Yancey could have started his novel with the actual waves, I suppose, or even with events leading up to them. But I like the sense that readers are thrown headfirst into a world where humanity has already lost, more or less. A world where over seven billion humans are already dead, and the survivors have no idea how to survive anymore.
Although the official synopsis doesn't mention any characters other than Cassie, The 5th Wave is also narrated by Zombie, with two short sections narrated by Silencer and Nugget. I think that Silencer and Nugget's parts could have been left out, but I actually liked the focus on both Cassie and Zombie's situations, since they brought to light two very different experiences that humans are enduring after the fourth wave (even if I did have trouble distinguishing their actual voices). Once their storylines converged, I'll admit that the dual points of view felt a little unnecessary. But up until then, I found myself equally invested in the story of each protagonist. Neither Cassie nor Zombie presents a shining example of how humans should behave in this dire situation, as they make mistakes constantly and are unable to differentiate between allies and enemies. But both are resourceful in their own ways and easy to root for.
The strongest part of The 5th Wave is actually in its lack of explicit details. Lots of details about the first four waves of the invasion and the current situation on Earth are rather vague, but appropriately so. Cassie and Zombie don't really understand all that is happening, and, as they are the main narrators, why should readers expect to know anything more than they do? A huge focus of the book is on humanity's isolation and demise. Humans are scattered and without a strong leadership or purpose. As Cassie and other survivors come to realize, Earth is being rid of humans in a way that doesn't destroy the planet itself. And due to the silencers, humans can no longer trust even each other. It's a bleak and depressing world that Yancey envisions in this novel, and one in which the darkness both sets the mood and serves a greater purpose.
My main gripe is the romance that develops. I found myself interested in the two parties involved and wanted to learn more about them as individuals. I even liked that their relationship brought new complications to all assumed/implied knowledge. But it was a bit insta-love, and I think the same questions could have been brought forth through a friendship, rather than a relationship. I'll let this go for now, however, and wait to see where Yancey goes with it in future installments.
Overall, I found The 5th Wave to be an enjoyable read. Well-written and imaginative, I thought it stood up to the hype and am looking forward to continuing with this series.
Rating: 4 stars