The short: 3.5 ✦. A fascinating page-turner with a really cool plot (aliens!) that is soured by a terrible romance arc and logical inconsistencies.
I love stories about aliens.
I love apocalyptic stories.
I love stories that explore our humanity – what it is that makes us human.
I think Yancey really tried to do this in The 5th Wave, which is what the title refers to in the story . . .
But he unfortunately fails to live up to that intention.
Don’t get me wrong, this book starts off really strong. We’re introduced to Cassie, who (par on course with other YA heroines) is short and sassy and capable of surviving on her own, though incompetent enough to ultimately wind up getting injured. I’m not the biggest fan of this type of character, but she felt realistic enough to me that I could overlook the stereotyping. She was a good narrator in providing all the exposition necessary to understand what was going on without it feeling like an info-dump. She is strong, smart, and emotionally present enough in the situation to feel remorse for the decisions she’s had to make and how to proceed from where she is now.
Then her character took a total heel-face-turn, and I ended the book really disliking her.
And yeah, it was because of instalove. As usual.
I think I’m more disappointed because I was expecting something better from this book. I’m not saying crushes or romance can’t exist in a dystopian world, but there’s a right and wrong way of doing it, and Cassie’s “love” was totally wrong and awkward and terrible. For one thing, the guy is a stalker at the very best and at worst, he’s – well, to go on would be a spoiler, but whatever Yancey was trying to say about humanity with this awful love set-up does not work at all. And it unfortunately takes up a great chunk of the book, and I thought my eyeballs would pop out of my skull, I was rolling them so much. It just really doesn’t make sense, not from her perspective (I don’t know why she became a twelve-year-old giggly girl when confronted with handsome kindness) nor from his (just a total logical fallacy there). Cassie acknowledges that she’s being silly, which maybe is supposed to make it not be so creepy, but that she stays with him, even after all that happens, is just plain stupidity, and the only reason I wanted her to live was for Sammy’s sake.
I have a huge, squishy soft spot for little kids in books, especially ones like this where there’s no holds barred, and they could easily die with any teen or adult. I get very emotional and ragey if anything happens to them. (I think it may have to do with having much younger siblings – and Sammy totally reminded me of my own little brother.) I was terrified when the books switched POVs to that of Sammy, particularly because it wasn’t in first person, and I tore through those pages because I was so desperate to find out what happened to him.
The other perspectives were from a Silencer (which, to talk about him would be spoilerific) and from Zombie (real name also a spoiler). I found Zombie both interesting and annoying, which makes for a good character, I guess. His story is rocking along during Cassie’s romantic liaison, so I’m not sure if I liked his sections better because of that, or if they were genuinely more interesting. He’s tied up in the titular 5th Wave, which itself doesn’t make that much sense given what we learn about the aliens (again, spoiler), but those scenes were indeed heartpoundingly suspenseful. The other female character, Ringer, doesn’t get enough development beyond super tough girl, but I’m hoping she gets better. The whole ending, where all the characters finally come together, was probably the best part, and I admit to being totally eager to find out what happens in the next book.
Basically, it’s a pretty darn good novel that has all the right elements – alien threat, loss of humanity, terrible deeds done for the right reasons, etc. – but it’s ruined by the instalove (UGH) and the fact that the 5th wave itself makes no sense in the context of the story, along with a few other things. I do recommend it, especially since the movie is coming out soon, but with a grain of suspension-disbelieving salt.
Header image: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, published May 7th 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.