“You’re going to keep reading that book even though it gave you a nightmare last night?” My boyfriend teased as I rolled over and reached out for The Fifth Wave.
I’d just finished briefing him on the intense, very scary nightmare I’d had thanks to The Fifth Wave, the book I’d reluctantly put down the night before as sleep swept me away.
I pulled out my bookmark and dove right back into the book. “No,” I answered, smiling slyly at him. “I am going to keep reading this book because it gave me a nightmare last night.
THAT’S how good Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave is – it gives you nightmares but you just don’t wanna stop.
Longtime readers of the blog will know that I am one of Yancey’s biggest fans – I did a series of posts about his fantastic Monstrumologist series, including an interview with him. I love the way he mixes both literary and genre elements in his work – if there was ever a YA writer who proves you can have your cake (write challenging, interesting literary fiction) and eat it too (that also manages to incorporate elements of genre fiction like horror and sci-fi) it’s Yancey.
Imagine my delight when Yancey’s The Fifth Wave was not just announced but given a full-out media, promotional blitz in the face of the book being optioned as a movie. Now, don’t get me wrong. Promotional blitzes usually make ME break out in hives too. But this book? This book deserves all the buzz. Is it because it’s well-written and gripping and an exciting foray into a rarer genre (not just end of the world – ALIENS!) of YA? Sure, that’s part of it. But it’s also that The Fifth Wave has something that no amount of publicity blitzes can buy – this is one of “those” books – the kind you just want to talk about, the kind you want to share.
So, the plot is straight-forward enough: aliens attack and, quickly and efficiently start wiping humanity off the map. There’s plagues and disasters and no attempt at communication. It’s an honestly upsetting and scary set-up precisely because there’s no in-depth discussion of how it all happens. It just happens and you, as a reader, feel as powerless as the rest of the world. We begin in the woods with a single human survivor, a teenage girl named Cassie who fears she might be the last person in the whole world and, to some degree, is afraid of how much she wishes she was. Cassie is afraid of humanity, you see, because she doesn’t know who she can trust and because everyone she loves and known has been ripped violently away from her. For Cassie, human connection is almost as scary as whatever the aliens are up to.
Everything about this works as an opening: you feel Cassie’s ultimate desperation, which really motivates you to keep turning the pages and see how she makes it. And Yancey excels at the details that bring Cassie’s harsh existence to life – when she talks about going into down to get bottled water because she can’t drink from the stream as it might be contaminated from human bodies somewhere upstream – that’s one of those moments that squeezes your stomach with dread and anticipation and the desire to keep burning through pages. The book is full of details and moments like this.
Cassie is a wonderful character. She feels like a real teenage girl who has survived unimaginable things and is now going to keep living and keep surviving no matter what because she just has a very, well, human will to survive. I think teen readers will love this about her – she pushes past all emotional devastation and just keeps surviving. This is compelling in a realistic, relatable way. No matter what, Cassie just keeps on going – a lovely, subtle metaphor for what adolescence can sometimes feel like. As she sets out to find the single family member she thinks might still be alive, Cassie crosses paths with Evan Walker. They forge a tenuous bond that, like Cassie, the reader isn’t sure can be trusted.
Cassie and Evan’s story is just one part of The Fifth Wave. The other major action takes place in a government facility where children and teens are being trained up to be the next generation of remorseless killing machines, sent to wipe out, well, the aliens of course. Yancey creates a whole other world inside the narrative here and it’s just as brutal and unforgiving as the woods where Cassie finds herself. And, naturally, inside this supposedly safe and alien-free government zone there is more going on than it first appears. Here, again, is Yancey’s gift for creating tension that makes it impossible to put a book down. Something is off here, so off … but what and how and why? You just have to keep reading to find out the next brutal twist.
I really couldn’t stop reading The Fifth Wave – even as it was giving me nightmares. It was so detailed and rich that reading it was a pleasure. Not only can I not wait for the next one, but I totally understand why people can’t stop talking about it, even without a giant publicity push, it feels familiar and yet totally new. There are twists but they make sense within the story and they motivate you to keep looking at the narrative from new angles. It’s a story that’s genuinely scary; an end-of-the-world book where I actually felt like the world was ending for the first time in a long time and it filled me with a delicious sense of dread and sorrow. It has characters to care about and invest in and trust.
This book IS going to be the next big thing. The Fifth Wave is available today! If you’re a public library, I recommend you order multiple copies because it’s going to circulate and circulate well. If you’re a reader? I’d be prepared for sleepless nights you won’t soon regret.
[a note about Middle Grade Mondays: this project really is starting this week! Only I’ve decided that instead of Mondays, I’ll be posting on Tuesdays so I can link up with my amazing friend Sarah, aka GreenBeanTeenQueen, weekly middle-grade posts/reviews called Tween Tuesdays. Yes, I loathe the word tween too, but no need to use it with your patrons, just use all our reviews/recommendations! And if there’s anyone else interested in joining us, please feel free to blog/tweet/comment/link along.]