Book Review: The 5th Wave

“We told the stories of our lives before the Arrival. We cried openly over the ones we lost. We wept secretly for our smartphones, our cars, our microwave ovens, and the Internet.”

Written by Rick Yancey and originally published in 2013, The 5th Wave is a young adult dystopia and the first in a trilogy of novels.

Centred around 16-year-old Cassie Sullivan, the story is premised during an alien invasion after an unknown species have executed four waves of increasingly deadly attacks, leaving most of Earth decimated. The first wave saw an EMP wave take out all electronics and technology, the second saw massive tsunamis around the world take out every coastline, the third saw an infection kill off most of the remaining survivors, and the fourth saw “the people in charge” turn their guns onto those left. But there’s still another wave to come, and it’s bound to be lethal. On the run, Cassie teams up with a young man who may be her final hope – if she can trust him – in a desperate attempt to save her younger brother.

The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.

Young adult dystopias are a trending topic at the minute, but it’s such a crowded genre that they will always be compared to the likes of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent, and other young adult fictions such as Twilight, depending on their quality. The young adult genre is perfect for exploring identity and relationships, but when combined with a dystopian setting, they also need to be filled with fast-paced action, threatening situations, big moral dilemmas, and strong lead characters who we want to be standing beside in the revolution.

So how does The 5th Wave compare? The first chapter (the longest chapter in the book), at least, is incredible. This opening section details Cassie’s present day situation by giving us some background information about her life, moving on to when the alien invasion began. Detailing the first four waves, as Cassie writes in her diary from the present day whilst on her own and on the run, this first chapter really draws you in. The premise is clever, the story feels original, and as Cassie describes her mother dying and how she came to be on her own, it’s even quite emotional.

At this point, her high school romance is presumed dead, and, if you’re like me (tired of sucky love triangles getting in the way of a good dystopia!) you think, “What a great start, at least this boy she’s swooning over won’t get in the way of some good action!”. But it doesn’t last long. As Cassie’s story catches up with her into the present day and she finds a companion on the open road, you know the greatness isn’t going to continue for much longer.

Whilst the story is really well paced, which should make the adaptation work well on the big screen, and there’s a lot of action combined with some darker moments that almost convince you that the book could pick up, the characters have very little depth.

There are a number of different narratives in the story, which is mainly told from Cassie’s point of view, but also from another male lead (I won’t spoil who!) as their two stories come together. Cassie leads most of the story, and it’s always great to have a female leading a dystopia/young adult book (although this is something else we’re seeing as the ‘trendy’ thing to do), but the purpose of having a female lead is so that she can defy our expectations. For a little while, you do believe that Cassie is a strong and determined character, but as soon as she comes into contact with a male, all of her morals go out of the window. Whilst the first few chapters explore her mindset as she convinces herself to go on and make a difference, and persuades herself to kill others to ensure her own safety, as soon as she meets Evan all she thinks about is how every part of him smells like chocolate.

Like with most young adult books, this horribly unrealistic romance gets in the way. There are no real emotions behind such relationships, just desperation from both the author and the characters they have created. But it’s not just Cassie as “the girl” of the story falling head over heels for a mysterious stranger, as the male lead isn’t any better, either. In the middle of his combat training, this character is more concerned with thinking about how he can impress his only female squad member [of his age] rather than how he can defeat the enemy, or even finding out who the real enemy is.

Maybe I’m growing too old for young adult books, but I don’t know what’s with the fascination of having to fit in some kind of romance whenever possible. All these romances do is distract the characters from what’s important. And by the end of the book, it looks like a love triangle may be in the works, as well. Why do young adult fictions do this? If the romance was any good, then maybe my opinion would be different. But these characters and their relationships feel so one-dimensional that they become unrelatable, as they’re all set on finding true love rather than fighting for humanity.

If I had to make a comparison, it would be to Stephenie Meyer‘s The Host. This book also had a female lead, it was set around an alien invasion, and it had a love triangle that quickly ruined its potential. Like Meyer’s book, The 5th Wave isn’t overly well written, but it does have some insightful moments.

When you’re not reading about Evan’s chocolatey breath or Cassie’s trust issues, the book also has a big military focus. At first, it seems like an odd place for the story to go, but the story is set around such naive characters that the unrealistic progression of this apocalyptic setting becomes justified. But these scenes also open up some of the darker tones in the story, many of which are the book’s only real highlights. By the end, the story does start to come together a little better, but it’s a story that you’ll always be a few steps ahead of.

At first, you’re curious, but it just doesn’t satisfy your hunger for power, strength of character, or ass-kicking action. It’s all far too sugar-coated and ends with a big group hug rather than an ominous cliff-hanger.

The 5th Wave was adapted onto the big screen in 2015, which you can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here, and watch the trailer for below:

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