Review: The 5th Wave

Posted: August 30, 2013 by in Books We Like...and Hate (3/5 single_star) Meta: Rick Yancey, Dystopian SF, Young Adult

The aliens have arrived.

Now mankind is on the verge of extinction, and Cassie is alone, having lost her family and escaped to the forests outside Dayton, Ohio. She can’t trust anyone, even other humans, because she’s convinced that some of them work for the aliens.

But Cassie has a purpose beyond simple survival: her five-year-old brother Sam was taken to a camp where he’d supposedly be safe. She wasn’t allowed to go with him, but promises she’ll find him no matter what.

From the start of THE 5TH WAVE (Amazon), the author Rick Yancey creates a tone of lingering terror as he builds the setting and Cassie’s story with vivid detail. She’s camped out in the forest outside of town, but is afraid of lighting a fire and being seen, she sleeps with an M16 and her brother Sam’s teddy bear, and has learned that staying away from other people is what will keep her alive.

We learn bit by bit about the waves of destruction: a worldwide EMP, coastal flooding, a plague, and then being hunted by drones. We also learn about how Cassie’s life has irrevocably changed from the awkward high school girl she was mere months ago. She’s a great heroine with an engaging voice, who somehow retains her humanity despite the horrors she’s faced. We also see Sam’s PoV, which, while interesting to see the apocalypse from a child’s perspective, he is really only a kid and as a result lacks depth. Then there’s Zombie, the third PoV, another high-schooler who is rounded up with other youth and taken to a military training camp to teach the children how to fight back. We learn his tragic backstory and find him endearing by how he can be kind-hearted despite his situation.

Yancey’s prose is fantastic, especially compared to most YA novels I’ve read. The imagery and emotions draw readers into the immediacy of the story. The pacing is excellent despite several flashbacks at the beginning of the book, Yancey handling them quite seamlessly. We’re carried along from event to event as Cassie tries to find her brother, as Zombie struggles with boot camp, as Sam attempts to adjust to his new life–and we want to know what’s going to happen to these people we’ve become attached to.

After I finished THE 5TH WAVE I set it aside and thought about it. It was a compelling read with an exciting conclusion and I finished it quickly. But there was something holding me back from giving it a love rating and unfortunately it wasn’t a small problem:

THE 5TH WAVE is problematic on many levels, but the most glaring issue is all-knowing aliens who use gimmicks to wipe out humanity. SMH

The plot is highly contrived.

I’m guessing that the main reason why is because we’re limited to human PoVs and therefore we aren’t able to learn much about the aliens. Except we do learn a little, like how they’ve been watching us for thousands of years and know everything about us… so they decide to take over Earth with gimmicky “waves” that don’t make much logical sense. The events are random and ineffective methods of destruction, especially considering that the aliens are an advanced race. So what’s the point of the waves then? Maybe the aliens have a flair for the dramatic. Heck if I know.

Also, while I’m a girl who digs a love story, Cassie’s relationship with Evan was strange and really creepy. The vibe was just off. It was sometimes sweet and at first I liked it, but as things progressed I had a hard time understanding Evan’s motivations and Cassie’s willingness to put up with his odd behavior. The whole thing felt pointless other than Cassie having a helper to find and save Sam. Again, contrived.

Plot holes galore, an impossible climax, unbelievable aliens, a bizarre love story… it was all too much. Despite compelling characters and excellent prose, too many questions were left unanswered, making the story feel forced and incomplete. Perhaps your teen will like it anyway.

  • Recommended Age: Similar in tone and reading level to THE HUNGER GAMES, but more violence is on screen, so 13+
  • Language: A fair amount of all varieties from euphemisms to a handful of the stronger variety
  • Violence: Teens shooting people, blood, some gore
  • Sex: Teenage hormones and innuendo, but no scenes

If you like THE 5TH WAVE and want to try some classic (and more logical) alien invasion books try CHILDHOOD’S END (EBR Review) and/or WAR OF THE WORLDS (Amazon). They may not have Yancey’s finesse with words, but at least they had the right idea.


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