Book Review – The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to start? After reading a series of disappointing books, it was so nice to come across a book that is solidly based on common sense. The irony being that, the plot is about an alien invasion and I normally dislike reading sci-fi.
You name it, The 5th Wave has it – action, mystery, romance, drama – all combined into a deftly paced thriller that leaves you wondering if you’re next. For a book whose premise is set in the extremes of fantasy, it sure is realistic.

Cassie Sullivan is a 16 year old survivor. That is the essence of Cassie. She simply won’t die. She’s lost her home, both parents and her world, her younger brother Sammy is missing or dead, supplies are steadily running out, every day is a struggle to survive against wild animals and assassinating aliens, but Cassie is not giving up. That is what I like about her. She’s pragmatic; she knows the ultimate result is the complete annihilation of mankind, she knows her limitations, but that won’t stop her from trying to keep her promise to Sam to come back for him. As an added plus, Cassie is nearly unmatched in sarcasm and she is actually, really just a normal girl. Oh, and she’s learnt karate and doesn’t hesitate to use it.

An example of Cassie’s snarky dialogues:

“Yeah,” I said. “Somebody should definitely do that. Is that why you’re stalking me? You want me to help you build a nuclear steam cannon?”
“Can I ask you something?”
“No.”
“I’m serious.”
“So am I.”
“If you had twenty minutes to live, what would you do?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “But it wouldn’t have anything to do with you.”
“How come?” He didn’t wait for an answer. He probably figured it wasn’t something he wanted to hear. “What if I was the last person on Earth?”
“If you were the last person on Earth, I wouldn’t be here to do anything with you.”
“Okay. What if we were the last two people on Earth?”
“Then you’d still end up being the last, because I’d kill myself.”
“You don’t like me.”
“Really, Crisco? What was your first clue?”
“Say we saw them, right here, right now, coming down to finish us off. What would you do?”
“I don’t know. Ask them to kill you first. What’s the point, Crisco?”

Cassie isn’t as alone as she believes though. There’s a lovestruck hunter who takes her in when she’s wounded – Evan Walker. Evan isn’t as mysterious and beguiling as the blurb makes him out to be though. He’s one of the rare things in the book I have issues with. Firstly, he’s a predictable character, since it’s easily deduced what he is.
Secondly, his commercialised perfection. If the aliens were inserting themselves into random people, it seems too far fetched that the one Silencer that would fall for Cassie is a handsome 18 year old right around where she is. And I have had enough of chiseled cheekbones in YA.
Finally, his stalkerish tendencies are extremely disturbing. I’m not buying the alien excuse since Evan has been living in the human world for more than 4 years, awakened and seems to grasp the basics of everything else.

On the bright side, he’s a nice guy. Genuinely nice, not mean or abusive.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, because this book has multiple POVs. That’s right, we get to see Cassie’s first crush, Ben Parish, narrate his G.I Joe experiences as a soldier in Camp Haven. As taken aback as I was by the sudden leap into Ben’s narration, I actually appreciate having more than one narrator because it gives me an overall picture that the characters don’t have. This creates tension. Lots of tension. I haven’t been so worried about what would happen next since the day of my History exam.

I’m not particularly inclined towards Ben’s character in any way except to say that, thankfully, there is no love triangle. Ben and Cassie don’t feel very different sometimes. The only distinguishing point may be that Ben thinks he’s the bees knees.

The book is very good at capturing the utter hopelessness and enormity of the situation. It’s got a number of interesting themes going on, including the definition of humanity, how assumptions can be used against us, the idea of society and technology as mere constructs that turned into crutches and equally importantly, the power of being unpredictable due to emotion.

Take Sammy’s realisation that things will never be the same:

“That was their first night in the refugee camp. The hugeness of what had happened over the past few months hadn’t hit him until that night, after the lamps were turned off and he lay curled next to Cassie in the dark. Everything had happened so fast, from the day the power died to the day his father wrapped Mommy in the white sheet to their arrival at the camp. He always thought they’d go home one day and everything would be like it was before they came. Mommy wouldn’t come back—he wasn’t a baby; he knew Mommy wasn’t coming back—but he didn’t understand that there was no going back, that what had happened was forever.
Until that night. The night Cassie held his hand and told him Mommy was just one of billions. That almost everybody on Earth was dead. That they would never live in their house again. That he would never go to school again. That all his friends were dead.”

The writing and pacing are really good. A great part of the enjoyment of the book lies in the author’s interpretation of an alien takeover and what the aliens are. The takeover is told through flashbacks, so you have to keep reading to find out what really happened in the first 4 waves. At the same time, I ended up inhaling the book in an attempt to find out what happens next.

Here, I have to bring up my other two issues with the book: the predictability and the use of SMS language. The former, I think, is a problem that comes with experience in plot twists. The book relies on misdirection, and evasion to create twists, but a careful reader can pick up everything by paying attention. I knew exactly what was coming, so I wasn’t surprised by anything.
For example, though the reader may suspect Evan is not what he seems, there is still a chance he’s human, given how the story unfolds. In reality, he gives himself away the moment he meets Cassie by telling her she didn’t run from the sniper. This is something Cassie wouldn’t have written in her diary, since she got shot and at that point in time, she hadn’t told Evan this.
The Camp Haven secret is also not a secret because of the placement of Cassie’s flashback with Ben’s narrative.

The language thing is minor, but still annoying. It’s hard to reconcile Cassie’s evocative descriptions of the landscape and internal monologues dat go like dis, FYI.

Last but not least, worth mention is the existence of genuine sibling relationships. Brothers and sisters that care about each other, stick together and support one another.

Highly recommended, and not just to YA readers.

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