The 5th Wave

Image of The 5th Wave
Release Date: 
May 3, 2013
Putnam Juvenile
Reviewed by: 

“Rick Yancey has written a very different book from the usual alien invasion story. . . . explor[ing] the very nature of humanity . . . creepy good.”

An alien mothership circles the Earth raining down consecutive waves of death and destruction.

The first wave: electromagnetic impulses demolish every form of technology. The second wave: giant tsunamis annihilate coastal cities worldwide. The third wave: an Ebola-like virus kills 97% of humanity.

The aliens need our planet for their own survival and they’re not squeamish about taking it away from us. Ho-hum. Yawn. Been there, read that—a dozen times or more.

Except . . . by the bottom of the first page (no spoiler alert required), it’s apparent that Rick Yancey has written a very different book from the usual alien invasion story. These aliens do not actually invade Earth, rather they are inserted into fetuses for future use. “Now it is only the man, the woman, the baby inside her, and the intruder inside the baby, sleeping.”

When takeover time arrives a few years later, the aliens inside the humans awaken, already prepared for their role as planetary conquerors. They have been watching us for six thousand years. They know us. They are us. How do the remnants of humanity fight that? And how can we possibly survive waves four and five?

Can an alien who lived a normal human life for years retain humanity once awakened to his true destiny? And can desperate, paranoid humans trained to kill anyone suspected of being Other still be human themselves?

Mr. Yancey explores the very nature of humanity through several characters’ points of view. Human? Alien? The reader won’t know for sure because the author provides few clues, instead allowing readers to reach their own conclusions.

Cassie is one of the lucky ones—if there is such a thing following an alien conquest. Wave three killed her mother, but she, her dad, and her little brother Sammy make it to a ragtag refugee camp in the forest. Within a few days military trucks from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base show up and soldiers load the children into a big yellow school bus, promising to return shortly for everyone else.

Cassie slips into the woods, returning only to watch in horror as the soldiers kill everyone and blow up the camp. She pulls herself together and moves on because she promised her brother that she would come for him; she promised to return his teddy bear and to take care of him.

Flash over to the base where we see medics implant trackers into the newly arrived children and technicians downloading their memory and consciousness into the mainframe. We watch drill sergeants train seven year olds to fire assault rifles and see hit squads led by teens dispatched to kill everyone who glows green when viewed through a special lens—a sure sign of alien infestation.

Flash back to Cassie and Evan, a boy who saves her life after a sniper shoots her. He lost his own family and still lives in the surprisingly intact and well-supplied family home, including a cache of chocolate. Evan goes out hunting every night but seldom brings home any game. Even though parts of Evan’s story don’t add up for Cassie, she sets off with him to rescue Sammy from Wright-Patterson.

She soon meets Ben, a former heartthrob from high school, now a skilled assassin trained by the military at Wright-Patterson. He also wants to save Sammy—or so he claims. But how can she be sure he is not Other?

Who do you trust when no one is who he seems to be? And who can you allow yourself to love?

The 5th Wave is creepy good, steeped with a smidgen of classic sci-fi storytelling at its best and infused with fresh perspectives about what it really means to be human.

The book careens from one dangerous encounter to another, part War of the Worlds, part Falling Skies, part Hunger Games, but still unique and true to itself. The twists and turns and surprises continue to the last pages and skillfully set the scene for a sequel.

U.S. and international film rights have been optioned. Mr. Yancey’s book has all the makings of a topnotch movie: thrills, action, a little love. Hmmm . . . I wonder if Jennifer Lawrence could play Cassie?