Friday, May 03, 2013

"The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey-- Books Like This Are Why I Still Read YA Fiction


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.

Stories about alien invasions never get old. In fact, I'd argue that the more technologically savvy we get the more fearful we become because we know that an advanced civilization could devastate us with one well placed attack-- something that is explored in Rick Yancey's multi-layered new book.

Cassiopeia (Cassie), the heroine of The 5th Wave, might have her namesake immortalized in the stars but her name is the only romantic thing about space in the bleak, solitary world in which she is trying to survive following a cataclysmic alien invasion. The aliens attack in waves that obliterate the world's population and 16-year-old Cassie knows her chances of survival aren't any better than the billions of people who have already been killed. But she made a promise to her brother Sam that they would be reunited and family is something that has become incredibly rare in the few short months since the first attack.

Cassie is my kind of girl. Her life is divided into two parts and she is, predictably, a different person following the alien apocalypse. She instinctively knew, when the ship first appeared in the sky, that they weren't a benevolent presence and the same fierce intelligence that guided her through the early days is what keeps her going in her quest to find Sam. She's not the type of girl who suffers fools easily. Her father's childlike acceptance of the invasion and naive hope generally infuriates her and it's not surprising that Sam's fate ends up in her hands.

"The 5th Wave" spends more of its time exploring the emotional and physical impact of the invasion rather than delve into the minutiae of an alien civilization. In fact we don't know what the aliens look like throughout most of the book. Yancy does a masterful job of taking plot elements that we've seen before in other works of dystopian fiction and tweaking them so that we don't know which characters are the villains and which ones are the good guys. You'll see comparisons to "Ender's Game," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and even "The Stand"-- and in some ways they're all apt. Yancey takes a multitude of end-of-the-world scenarios, including an Ebola epidemic to engineered tidal waves, and fuses them with a not-so-standard alien invasion that is a marvel of interweaving story lines.

My favorite aspect of "The 5th Wave" has to be that it is nothing like the angsty YA fiction that you usually find on the shelf these days. Cassie does sometimes brood about Ben, the boy she had a crush on in her former life; and there is Evan Walker, the mysterious boy who saves her life. But there isn't the typical does-he or doesn't-he-like-me moments in "The 5th Wave" because everyone is trying too hard to survive and trust doesn't come easy enough for relationships to form quickly. Yancey also spends some time pondering the impact of loneliness and isolation and how tough-minded one must be to survive chronic aloneness. Cassie copes by keeping a journal and it serves as a window into her mind and what drives her to keep going when the temptation to give up looms large.

The only thing that keeps me from giving "The 5th Wave" a 5-star review is a fairly extended interlude in Cassie's travels that bring her and Evan Walker together. It's interesting in some ways but Evan's character is a little bit hovering and reminiscent of Edward Cullen ("Twilight"); though Cassie is no Bella (thankfully). And yet that interlude does allow Yancey to break away from Cassie's story for a little bit to focus on Sam and the mysterious military base he's been taken to, along with all the other children, for safekeeping. At that point the narrative takes on a more ominous vibe as Yancey explores the ease in which children can be manipulated to accept, and do, almost anything.

Overall I really liked "The 5th Wave." It's the kind of book that encourages me to keep picking up YA fiction because it explores dark themes without pummeling the reader with explicit violence or sexuality while still maintaining an elegant and intricate plot. Yancey doesn't dumb the story down to meet a YA criteria-- quite the opposite. Cassie is clever and real and a great leading lady- one I believe we may see again (I certainly hope so). There is enough of a reveal to get a sense of what the alien invaders are in "The 5th Wave," but the fate of the last human survivors is largely unknown. There is a hint at a love triangle of sorts, but Yancey doesn't overplay that particular plot point. Basically, there is a lot of story yet to be told and I'm more than willing to back and see how it all works out.

4 out of 5 stars.


Charles Gramlich said...

Excellent. I keep my hand in with YA as well. Some great stuff to be read there.

Pabkins said...

I'm so glad that this one is going to stand apart from the typical angsty teen stuff like you say because there is SO much of that. I find this one fascinating and can't wait to read it. I'm REALLY hoping they have it at BEA so I can grab it!

So neat you don't know what the aliens look like for most of the book i think it probably works well that way.