Thursday, May 9, 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Rick Yancey’s new dystopian novel for teens, The 5th Wave, was released this week, and coincidentally, its release date was the same day I finally got around to reading the ARC copy I received a few months ago. I wish I had read it sooner than this week (and I really wish I had read it before viewing the movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, which shares much in common with Yancey’s interpretation and extrapolation of a potential alien invasion of Earth), but instead I read it almost in one sitting on Tuesday. I love Rick Yancey’s other works, especially The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo, which are modeled on Victorian novels preoccupied with evolution and eugenics, but written for a contemporary teen audience. The 5th Wave is a departure from these other works, examining a much more present condition and time.

The 5th Wave is told from a handful of perspectives, two of which I won’t share here because it’s really worth it to identify all four narrators when reading the book, but is mostly focused on teenage Cassie, “Not Cassie for Cassandra. Or Cassie for Cassidy. Cassie for Cassiopeia, the constellation, the queen tied to her chair in the northern sky, who was beautiful but vain, placed in the heavens by the sea god Poseidon as a punishment for her boasting. In Greek, her name means ‘she whose words excel.’ My parents didn’t know the first thing about that myth. They just thought the name was pretty.” The book starts in Cassie’s present, where she is hiding in the woods from the Others, aliens who look like humans who are slowly eradicating the earth of its population. If you’ve seen or read The Host, the alien presence there seems very similar to the way they appear in Yancey’s book, that is, a familiar human presence with an alien, or Other, mind. When Cassie explains, “Aliens are stupid,” she means,

The ones we made up, the ones we’ve been making up since we realized those glittering lights in the sky were suns like ours and probably had planets like ours spinning around them. You know, the aliens we imagine, the kind of aliens we’d like to attack us, human aliens. You’ve seen them a million times. They swoop down from the sky in their flying saucers to level New York or Tokyo and London, or they march across the countryside in huge machines that look like mechanical spiders, ray guns blasting away, and always, always, humanity sets aside its differences and bands together to defeat the alien horde. David slays Goliath, and everybody (except Goliath) goes home happy. 
What crap. 
It’s like a cockroach working up a plan to defeat the shoe on its way down to crush it.

Cassie explains the four waves that have taken place already, each wave taking out another chunk of the human population. The first section of the book – told from Cassie’s point of view – was my favorite, as Cassie narrates the isolation and fear that haunts her present situation in tandem with describing life before the invasion. Yancy returns to a normal day at Cassie’s high school, no different from any other, when the 1st wave hit (an electronica magnetic wave that knocks out cars, cell phones, and electricity). Cassie is so likeable as a character because Yancey is careful to show how she got from a high school classroom thinking about her crush and texting her best friend to fighting for her survival in the woods, detailing this transition in a powerful first section. When the perspective changes to another character (Cassie’s younger brother Sam is also a narrator), Yancey is able to build the context and world of his story further, but I always missed Cassie’s voice and narration every time a new character perspective was introduced. Interestingly, Cassie’s first image of the cockroach being crushed by the shoe on the first page of the book continues through, always threading itself back to that original image that Cassie provides.

Consistent with recent sci-fi and fantasy books for teenagers, there is a love story in The 5th Wave, however, it is not as satisfying as I was looking for it to be as a reader. The romance between Cassie and an older teenager named Evan Walker seems incidental to the story, is rushed, and lacks the emotional attachment and empathy that so many fantasy and sci-fi books for teens seem to get so right. In order to keep Cassie’s strong narration and sense of her own self in tact, the romance could have been missed, rather than how it instead seemed to make Cassie an inconsistent and unbelievable character.

The 5th Wave is a strong story by an incredible author of YA books, and gives readers of Divergent, The Hunger Games, and other dystopia books for teens another great addition to the genre. Yancey’s imaginative speculation of an alien invasion is, in its way, very believable and carefully laid-out, and gives the book a sense of veracity that many sci-fi and fantasy books lack. The 5th Wave has already been optioned by Sony Pictures, and so readers who want to read the book before they see the movie should find it in stores soon!

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