In The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, Cassie Sullivan finds herself alone after four waves of an alien invasion leave her parents dead and her brother carted off to supposed safety by the military. Most of the Earth’s population is dead after aliens cut off all electricity and power, caused a tsunami, spread a deadly virus, and sent out snipers/hit men known as “Silencers” to wipe out the straggling human survivors. Cassie has learned to trust no one and stay alone to survive, eking out a living in the woods and cautiously gathering supplies when she can. She’s learned her way around a Luger and an M16, her only defense against a world full of enemies. Her only companion is her little brother Sammy’s stuffed bear, a token Cassie clings to on her way to fulfill her promise to find Sammy.
“Zombie” is the boot camp alias of a teenaged boy who has lost his entire family, which makes it easy for him to dedicate himself to his military training at Camp Haven with other rescued children. His driving force is revenge against the aliens who destroyed his life, and he uses this desire for revenge to encourage the other members in his squad: Flintstone, Oompa, Poundcake, Dumbo, Tank, and 7-year-old Teacup. When 5-year-old Nugget and teen markswoman Ringer enter his squad, Zombie begins to question his mission and the military.
Evan Walker, a farm boy and great shot, rescues Cassie when she’s left for dead after a Silencer injures her. Fiercely protective and alone in the world, he makes Cassie feel safe for the first time in months. However, for someone who brags about his hunting prowess, Evan never brings back any game from his nightly hunting excursions. What secrets is he hiding?
Cassie must find her brother amid a world with new rules for survival and retain her humanity while doing so. Will she succeed?
The 5th Wave is quite a doorstop for a YA book, which is why I’m shocked I’ve finished it after starting to read it only four days ago. It sucks you in, making you want to keep reading. You always have at least five questions about what’s going on, even after you get answers. Who are the aliens? Why are they here? Who can be trusted? What secrets are being kept?
It’s a scary look at what humanity turns into when the going gets really rough. During the 1st Wave, all electronics, communications, and power are knocked out. No cars, no cell phones, no Internet, nothing. Society quickly devolves and this is only the FIRST wave of the alien takeover. This isn’t a far stretch from reality. After Hurricane Sandy, I was without power for nine days, and I was able to go to local stores to recharge my phone. Even then, I was going out of my mind because I couldn’t get my daily internet fix. People had to wait on lines for gas every night, and the situation felt like it was on the brink of being dire. On day ten the power came back on and we were like fussy babies having a bottle shoved back into our mouths: totally calmed. We’re so used to constant communication and ease of travel that we take it for granted. When we have to do without it against our will, we turn into monsters.
As subsequent waves kill off most of the population, the characters’ psyches are so shaken they lose the ability to trust others. It’s rumored the aliens look like humans, so lone survivors take a “shoot first, ask questions later” mantra for survival. After she witnesses the murder of her father and the abduction of her brother by people she is supposed to trust, Cassie realizes she has to stay alone because anyone who crosses her path could be the enemy. This makes it difficult for her to trust Evan when they first meet. She eventually warms to him but never completely abandons her questions of his motives.
Zombie is so rattled by the loss of his family and the genocide going on around him he easily pledges allegiance to Camp Haven with the promise they will help him get revenge. He has a hard time questioning his saviors when forced to examine the nonsensical nature of their operation. When horrible things happen, horrible on a mass death scale, our first instinct is usually to get revenge. After 9/11 and other terrorist attacks the knee-jerk reaction is “LET’S BOMB THE CRAP OUT OF THEM!” This usually proves to be a poorly thought-out reaction that ends up leading to more hardship, and we’re easily taken advantage of when we’re in this state of mind. The enemy relies on people losing their heads because this makes people easier to manipulate. When Ringer starts to privately question their mission, Zombie is forced to step out of his grief and look at the situation with clearer eyes.
There is a moment where the aliens, portrayed for most of the book as hell-bent on murder and destruction, get a closer look. Was the decision to wipe out humanity unanimous? Why are they taking over Earth in the first place? It might not excuse their actions, but the answers to these questions are a reflection on dehumanization of “the enemy” without any thought for the motivation behind their actions. In some cases, evil is pure evil, but there are cases when evil actions arise from valid motivation. Dismissing people/institutions/groups/etc. as evil without exploring what lead them to be “evil” won’t help us cure future evils. I mean sure, on an alien scale there’s not too much we could do, but this book serves as a greater metaphor for how we handle conflict in the 21st century. Without our technology, we’re angry; in dire situations, we completely lose our heads and put our emotions over logic. This kind of mindset only leads to further wrongs and digs us into an even deeper hole. This was an easily digestible reminder to re-evaluate our priorities in life and look deeper into conflicts. I will definitely read the sequels.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Bears
2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Categories: A Dystopian Novel, A Book That’s Becoming A Movie This Year