What does it mean to be human? That’s the central question of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. Normally I like my apocalyptic fiction to focus on human characters, even if they have turned into zombies or somesuch. However, I really enjoyed this book as it made me think about questions such as: What does it mean to be human? Does trying to survive justify the means? Are the people who survive apocalyptic events lucky or unlucky? And what does it mean to love?
The main character Cassie amused me with the way she described the alien invasion and how it resembled nothing like the cuddly character of ET, nor the scary machines in Star Wars. It’s funny that the media has such on influence on our modern society that people can only imagine the Others in terms of fictional works they are familiar with; these aliens will be both better and worse than anything imagined so far.
The title of the book refers to each event once the Others, aliens, appear in the sky. Between the ship appearing on satellite images and the 1st Wave, there was time to prepare, yet in a swipe at our current government, no strategy was developed to deal with the arrival of the aliens. The 1st Wave was a massive electromagnetic pulse that killed approximately 500,000 people, which in many ways seems like a massive loss of life, but when you compare it to the Earth’s population it is almost miniscule. The 2nd Wave wiped out entire cities as the aliens manipulated the weather to cause weather disasters. The 3rd Wave was a genetically altered virus which killed 97 out of a 100 people. The 4th Wave is that the Others look and act like humans in order to hunt down their prey, which means what is left of the survivors of the other waves can’t band together for strength in numbers to survive without taking a big risk.
Cassie knows that a 5th Wave is coming, she just hasn’t figured out what it will entail yet. She has been too busy turning from a teen with a schoolgirl crush into a survivor, and she has made a promise to reunite with her little brother Sammy. Her mission to find him is interrupted when she is shot by an Other and then rescued by a boy named Evan Walker who complicates Cassie’s way of thinking and plans, even while she fights her reaction to him. Many romances in apocalyptic novels are a detour from the central plot, but it’s Cassie’s relationship with Evan that is the true heart of the story.
I enjoyed Cassie’s ‘voice’ throughout the story, the sarcasm as she describes how slow people were to grasp the new reality. She is vulnerable and honest, scared, but brave. This isn’t about a book about aliens, this is a book about what it is to be human, and Cassie exemplifies the struggle to really understand what that truly means.
The way the book ended made me think this was a one novel story, it ends in a way that left me completely satisfied, so I have mixed feelings that I am reading online that this is a trilogy and one that has acquired movie rights. I am not sure I want the answers to what happens next, nor do I want to see some Hollywood boy toy wooden actor cast in the role of Evan…