Release Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Amulet Books
Age Group: Putnam Juvenile
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
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 5th Wave and I started off on the wrong foot. I first heart about it at BEA 2013, when it was recommended to me by Emily of Emily’s Reading Room. Even better, the author was doing a signing, so I could get it for free. That’s what we call “epic win,” kids. Emily and I had it all planned out: a meeting place, a general time, and a detailed strategy for hopping in line. I arrived at the meeting place at the designated time. No Emily. The signing started and still no Emily. I waited for Emily. Apparently, she saw the line while on the way, panicked, and hopped into line. In the end, the mix-up resulted in an amusing story. Little did I know that it would also be a microcosm for my time with the book, which is a somewhat amusing story that starts off poorly and has a few serious issues.
Let’s start with the book’s strength: the alien plot. At least up until the titular fifth wave, the alien plan is rather clever. I especially enjoyed how the plan proceeded through well thought-out stages. Too many alien stories are content to have the alien plot consist solely of shooting giant space lasers at Earth. In The 5th Wave, each stage a solid tactic by itself and is enhanced by the stages that came before it. Yancey could have easily gotten away with making any single stage the entirety of the aliens’ plot and had a perfectly competent alien story, but it was interesting to see so many ideas layered on top of one another.
The character motivations are also well done. The author takes the time to illuminate each character’s reason for not just giving up, but actually running towards the fire, and they’re all believable motivations. While all of their reasons are convincing and realistic, the character voices drove me insane. For one, both characters have a tendency to restate things they’ve just said not a page before, resulting in quite a bit of maddening and pointless repetition. Cassie in particular seems to have a penchant for statements that are supposed to sound deep and original, but almost always elicit a roll of the eyes. The best way I can describe both characters’ voices is as a poor imitation of Buffyspeak.
To be honest, I think the novel would have been better if Cassie for Cassiopeia had been excised entirely. While Ben’s story is somewhat clever, Cassie’s is straightforward and tends to dive into cliche. We’re are almost explicitly told that her only friend is going to end up being an alien. Of course he’s going to fall in love with her, because every action story requires that a forbidden romance be shoehorned in. The romance may have worked had it not felt like a plot point whose sole purpose is to give Cassie a hope of saving her brother. Cassie’s story also makes the details of the 5th wave obvious even before we meet Ben. Without Cassie, we’d be spared a storyline that’s littered with cliches, the twist in Ben’s story would have had devastating impact instead of none at all, and we could have avoided the laughable convenience of our two characters independently deciding to assault the alien stronghold at the same time over a year after the invasion.
I do think there’s a good story buried in the book. The problems are the result of both stories being in the same novel. The shifting perspectives almost always reveal the plot-twists of the opposing story. If the twists actually fostered new and interesting questions about the survivors’ humanity or situations, that we be okay. Unfortunately, there’s none of that to be seen.