The 5th Wave has received much praise since its release, and after finishing the book, I can say that praise is well-deserved. This is one of the best young adult novels I’ve read, blending elements of post-apocalyptic, dystopia, and science fiction into one adventurous, provocative, and suspensefully gripping reading experience.
When the story begins, aliens or “Others” have already invaded Earth, and their attacks have come in Waves. When the novel opens, readers learn four Waves have occurred thus far. The 1st Wave was similar to an EMP taking out the power; the 2nd Wave brought an influx of natural disasters; the 3rd Wave was in the form of a deadly airborne virus; and the 4th Wave created dissension and distrust among those who’ve survived so far.
I think it’s sickeningly effective that the aliens use multiple means of assault, each Wave more terrifying than the last, to keep humans confused and off balance. It also leaves readers wondering about the aliens’ ultimate objective. Do they want to annihilate all humans? Enslave them? This is just one of several mysteries Yancey builds into the plot that kept me turning the pages.
Yancey has done an excellent job in creating a cast of well-rounded, dynamic main characters who are presented with daunting moral dilemmas that will test their humanity over and over again. When readers are introduced to the protagonist, Cassie Sullivan, she’s all alone, hiding from the Others and searching for her younger brother, Sammy, who was taken into “protective custody” along with other youth by the military. Her motto is to trust no one and stay alone: “In the 4th Wave, you can’t trust that people are still people. But you can trust that your gun is still your gun.”
Cassie is on my list of favorite YA heroines. Before the aliens arrived, she was an average teenage girl whose life was filled with the typical angst most adolescents experience, trying to fit in with her peers and get the attention of a popular boy she’s had a crush on for years. Now, after everything that has happened, Cassie has become cynical and hardened. I knew I was going to like her in the first paragraph when she describes how naïve everyone was about the aliens when they first attacked:
“Forget about flying saucers and little green men and giant mechanical spiders spitting out death rays. Forget about epic battles with tanks and fighter jets and the final victory of us scrappy, unbroken, intrepid humans over the bug-eyed swarm. That’s about as far from the truth as their dying planet was from our living one.
The truth is, once they found us, we were toast.”
I like Cassie’s realistic perspective and wry attitude. For the most part, she’s logical and practical. Her cautiousness and distrust of others is easily understandable after all that she has experienced. Cassie’s POV reveals her introspective and intuitive nature. Her internal monologues are effective in helping me, the reader, understand her struggles to hold on to her humanity and her sanity in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
What I most admire about Cassie is her ability to harness her fears and keep moving forward in her quest to find Sammy. It’s in the midst of these extraordinary events that have taken everything she loves from her that Cassie realizes how strong and courageous she can be:
“I might be – no, I probably am-doomed.
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, not staying, 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.”
Cassie’s POV is not the only one readers are given as the plot unfolds. Ben Parrish aka “Zombie” narrates the events that occur at “Camp Heaven,” an ironic name for this sinister military camp where teens and youngsters have been rounded up and are being trained to fight the enemy. In addition, I also appreciated getting the perspective of one of the alien “Silencers,” an assassin hunting humans and the moral struggles he faces since infiltration onto Earth required him to become “human” first. These multiple perspectives, though limited in their scope of understanding of the big picture, do give readers greater insight into the frightening post-apocalyptic world Yancey has created.
What makes this book such an outstanding read is that Yancey cleverly flips everything these main characters think they know to reveal an even darker more cunning assault: the 5th Wave. Ben effectively sums up the shock of this discovery:
“I feel myself falling into a completely different kind of wonderland, where up is down and true is false and the enemy has two faces, my face and his, the one who save me from drowning, who took my heart and made it a battlefield.”
Just like the onslaught of Waves the aliens have inflicted upon humans, readers slowly become awash in a wave of surprising and horrifying truths.
My only quibble with the book is the romantic angle in Cassie and Evan’s relationship. What I see as merely a crush gets elevated to a more significant status too quickly. However, this is minor in comparison to all the other aspects that make this book so fantastic. It’s a novel that delves into themes of endurance, self-preservation and sacrifice, and the fight to hold on to one’s humanity as it’s slowly being stripped away.
Link to Blog Post: