Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave
Rick Yancey

Putnam Juvenile
Releases May 7, 2013
480 pages
YA / Sci-Fi / ALIENS!

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The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Based on promotional materials, The 5th Wave is being touted as one of the biggest releases of the season. I mean, it was optioned for a movie before the book was even finished, and the publisher sent me an actual press kit along with a finished copy of the book. A press kit! Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve gotten an actual press kit? A really long time.

So anyway, I was skeptic as I always am with “Hey, this is the next big thing!” books. My skepticism grew as the beginning of this book lagged… and then suddenly I got punched in the face with awesome and it kept getting better from there. By the end, I wanted to throttle Rick Yancey with his own book for stopping where this book ends. Because, of course, The 5th Wave is the beginning of a series.

This book is told in several different sections with a rotating set of narrators. It starts off with Cassie living in the forest alone, seriously considering whether she’s the last human being alive on Earth six months after an alien mothership appeared in the sky and several waves of awful things killed off the majority of the human population. This was the slow part as Cassie pondered her own existence, whether any other humans existed and went through the setup of all the things that have already happened. I don’t know why reading about events that have already happened to a character seem so slow to me even when they involve mass murder, alien bombs and conspiracy theories. Yancey uses this first section to set up his world, to describe the devastation of the human population and to embed you with fear and the paranoid inability to trust any other characters that may appear at any point.

Then Cassie gets shot, and the story from then on is told as it happens. Suddenly Yancey shifts us to an army base where children are being recruited as soldiers to fight off the alien invasion. After being stuck inside Cassie head through the slow bits, being surrounded by people – even not so nice ones – is a nice change. And yet the same feeling of creeping paranoia remains as nothing can be taken at face value. Eventually Evan Walker is introduced and I giggled like a crazy person. Yet still the paranoia remained.

Yancey creates several very vivid yet different characters. Cassie is strong, determined to keep her promises to her little brother, and lonely. She might also be descending into Crazytown when she’s introduced. Sams, her 5-year-old brother, somehow is not irritating, which is an achievement for any writer putting small children in their books. Instead he is surprisingly resilient while being absolutely terrified. Evan is an adorable bundle of contradictions that somehow make sense – strong yet emotionally shattered, confident yet nervous, trustworthy yet completely shady. Then there’s Ben, the former high school football stud who Cassie loved from afar, now set in the middle of a chess game disguised as war. There are others – like Ringer and creepy, creepy Vosch – who have little screen time and yet are vivid characters, just with plenty of room to hide their secrets.

The whole last 100 pages or so is a heart-pounding thrill ride. That is such a cliché and I wouldn’t use it except for the fact my heart was pounding through the whole thing. I also punched my couch several times instead of yelling, “RUN! RUN YOU CRAZY PEOPLE RUN!” at a book. I figured that was the less “crazy” of the two options. By the end, my heart had calmed down just in time for me to reach the last page and turn into a ranting crazypants because of certain things not being resolved. I mean, there is a solid story and it feels like a complete book, but the fate of certain things are left open for the sequel and my ranty crazypants showed up to complain.

The absolute best part though? There are answers! Perhaps not complete answers, but by the end, the aliens are just this spaceship in the sky terrorizing the remaining people. They are real thinking beings with a past and a potentially complex social system that are also terrorizing the remaining people.

So forgive me for doubting your promotions department, Putnam Juvenile. You do in fact have an awesome product soon to be on the market, one that should rightfully get everyone’s attention and become the next big thing. It’s time to move away from monsters and have some proper aliens take over. Just, you know, without all the murder-y stuff. This is epic in story-telling, if not in scale. There are characters to cheer for and others you want to stab with a rusty scalpel. Every page is one step closer to an insane conclusion. So if you find the first part slow, stick with it. It gets soooo much better.

Easily one of my favorite books this year.


I received an advance copy of this book (and a press kit!) from the publisher. Thanks so much to Putnam Juvenile and Penguin for thinking of us. The opinions in the review are all my own.