July Book Review: The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey

*There is a film adaptation of the first book starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Alex Roe, and Nick Robinson. It was released in 2016 and there were speculations about a sequel making it to the big screen, but nothing has been confirmed (I suspect because the film may not have made enough money at the box office).

 

The 5th Wave is about a teenage girl named Cassie who finds her world invaded by aliens known as The Others, and must fight to save herself and her family as five waves of invasions ensue. The first wave: no power. The second wave: a swell of natural disasters. The third wave: a deadly plague. The fourth wave: Silencers – the Others assassinating survivors. The fifth, they have yet to figure out. In a world of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness, Cassie strives to hold on to her humanity and save her little brother, Sam. Along the way she has to figure out who she can trust, if anyone is even left.

I read these novels a couple of years ago now, and enjoyed them enormously, which is why I decided they were worthy of a review. The way Rick writes kind of reminds me of John Green – the way he crafts such beautiful sentences and has such a wonderful rapport with language.

…‘The Hum of all our things and all of us. Gone. This is the sound of the Earth before we conquered it. Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky.’…

It’s enough to make anyone jealous.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this series was that I went into it expecting a conventional end-of-the-world story, and I got so much more than that. Yes, Cassie’s world is ending, and yes, her family is in danger and she’s terrified. But the only way I can describe this story is that it’s unapologetically human. It throws all our faults and discrepancies right at us. It calls us hypocrites and shows us everything we’re still doing to cause damage to the Earth. It shows us just how selfish we are. And yet it gives us hope. One of the things Cassie struggles with the most is her loneliness and her fear of losing her humanity. As she scours a deserted gas station one day, she ends up shooting a man out of fear that he’s about to shoot her. From that moment on she carries around the guilt of what she did, and begins to question what the invasion is really doing to the humans left. And then she puzzles it out: How do you rid the world of humans? You rid the humans of their humanity. Fear turns people into impulsive kill-or-be-killed creatures, and Cassie fights against letting them succeed with her. Sam is the thing she clings to throughout the novel, and I think he’s the reason she doesn’t crumble because of her actions. The thought of fighting for her brother is what makes her put one foot in front of the other each day.

Something Rick handles really well in the series is the idea of corrupting a generation. Sam, along with Ben and so many other surviving children find themselves being trained up as soldiers to fight the Others, and in the process, are robbed of their childhood innocence. Sam’s transformation throughout the series is, arguably, one of the greatest, but also one of the most unnerving. He’s been hardened by his military training and acts out against Cassie, gradually distancing himself from her. I found this loss of innocence a really intriguing part of the narrative. In a dying world, the remaining humans have no qualms in corrupting younger generations if it means their survival, and I think this really speaks to the way we as a species often sacrifice things in pursuit of bigger goals. Arguably, the children are the only people left to fight the invasion, but still, there’s something troubling about the way Sam changes. Perhaps is speaks volumes about the way our world today expects children to grow up too quickly.

I was slightly disappointed by the ending to the series. As an eternal optimist, I had hoped that Cassie and Evan would have the happy ending they deserved just as Ringer and Zombie do, but I also (annoyingly) understood why not. Even though he proved himself to the humans, Evan was still part of the invasion, and had to make up for that by sacrificing himself to destroy the ship. But still. I found his and Cassie’s relationship heart-breaking and heart-warming and frustrating, and it was honestly one of the reasons why I finished the series so quickly. I like that they didn’t have a perfect relationship. Instead it was filled with betrayal and confusion and uncertainty and resentment and compassion. It was a real relationship, and it didn’t feel like the typical star-crossed lovers tales I think we’ve all grown so accustomed to.

As a protagonist, I found Cassie to be quite grumpy, for which she obviously had a very good reason. She’s heroic – not because she was born brave or selfless – but because she’s afraid and uncertain and guilt-ridden, and despite all of this, she still gets back up and keeps fighting. She has a very strong sense of loyalty, to her family but also to the survivors, and she’s really well grounded. I found I could picture her quite clearly in my mind because she seemed so ordinary like the rest of us, so I suppose that’s why I liked her so much; a good protagonist always makes you feel like you could be them or know them.

Most of all, I loved the philosophical aspect of the series. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be me? What does it mean to love? I love all these big, unanswerable questions, and I love it when writers weave them seamlessly into their narratives. It helps to give clarity to this thing we call life, and it also helps to keep the narrative grounded in the midst of an alien invasion. Rick has a wonderful way of fashioning scrumptious sentences, complex characters, a genius plot, and a series of life questions in a stunning series of novels that I have already re-read several times.

I don’t think I have to give a recommendation for these books. They sell themselves.

 

August Book Review: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

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