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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Victoria Reviews: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

I picked up The 5th Wave because it was sitting on my shelf and it looked kind of interesting. The cover and book description didn't tell me much, but it did give the impression of mystery and danger (and the promise of aliens), which caught my attention. I didn't have anything to do that evening, so I sat down and flipped open the first page. The first thing I read was a quote from Stephen Hawking: "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." Suspicion confirmed: this was not going to be a cheerful, good-guys-always-win book. Curious and rather excited, I dove in. By that same time the next evening, I had finished.

The 5th Wave was incredible. It takes the reader through a deadly alien invasion that blows other alien stories I've read out of the water. When the Others came, they weren't the little green men everyone was expecting, and they didn't shoot laser beams or fly Star Wars-like ships. Instead, they used the humans' own nature against them, taking out electricity, destroying major cities, and making the very idea of being around other humans an incredibly dangerous thing to consider. We join Cassie, the book's protagonist, after the 4th wave has hit and she's been separated from all other human life, unable to trust anyone or anything. The only thing she has left to cling to is the idea of rescuing Sam, her little brother, and she latches onto it like a lifeline. It is her purpose, her one reason to survive.

The book doesn't just follow Cassie, but instead the POV jumps around to several different important characters. One of the fascinating things about this book is seeing the threads of the different storylines all slowly join together. There was a very distinct sense of dramatic irony throughout the whole book; reading the different POVs keeps the reader much more informed than the characters, leading to some very tense and exciting moments. A desperate need for sleep was the only thing that could make me put this book down.

Cassie, the main character, is an excellent example of a strong and well-rounded protagonist. Witty, intelligent, and cynical, she is able to take care of herself and survive in the dangerous world into which she's been thrust, for the most part without any help. But she's also young and human, and she can't do everything on her own. She fully feels (and so does the reader) the terror and awfulness of her situation and experiences, and - like any normal person - she can't always handle what has happened to her. Her two prized possessions - an M16 rifle and an old teddy bear - symbolize both the harshness she's been forced to adopt and her soft side that still clings to lost innocence and youth. Spurred on by the need to rescue Sam, Cassie is also equipped with a noble quest that just about anyone can sympathize with. She's an easy character to love and admire, and I quickly found myself rooting for her.

I've been reading a lot of science fiction lately, and once I finished, this book immediately topped my recommend list. Many people are reluctant to read it because of the science fiction label, but I'm telling you it's worth it. Even if you're not a sci-fi person, you should read this book. It doesn't focus on the aliens but the human reaction to them. Rather than focusing on technology or futuristic ideas, it explores levels of humanity and what it means to be human. One slight warning to potential readers: though this book is technically young adult and the main characters are mostly teens, there is quite a bit of violence and cursing (it's not excessive, but it's there). Just know this: if you want action and adventure, if you enjoy suspense and danger, or if you like a book where innumerable bad things happen (even to good people), read The 5th Wave. You won't regret it.

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