It seems only fair to warn you that, should you pick up Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, whether in innocence or with deep intent, you will lose all sense of time and self. Your sleep will be invaded by the urgent compulsion to read and your need to communicate with other humans will degenerate to ‘shhhh’ sounds. I picked it up on one day and finished it the next with big bags under my eyes. It’s not a short book, not that that makes any difference to the drive to finish it once you’ve started. The longer the better.
The 5th Wave is a story about alien invasion (and not about waves, which was my pre-reading mistake), told by a number of youngsters who have survived the initial four waves of terror which have wiped out most if not all of their families and left so few alive to fight the threat. They all live in dread of the fifth wave. What will it be and when will it happen? They all know it must come because it is horrifically clear to the few left that no human is meant to survive this cleansing of the planet. This sounds exciting and blimey it is!
Young Adult science fiction done well is unbeatable in my eyes. But Rick Yancey has not only raised the bar, he’s also removed some of my difficulties with YA fiction on the strength of his superb characterisation. I don’t expect YA fiction to be aimed at me (I am more youngish than young) but I do want it to be populated by believable characters, including the teens. I was one once, after all. The central figure of The 5th Wave is Cassie, a 16-year-old young woman who worries about her self-image, boys, seeming vulnerable, at the same time that she worries about whether The Silencers will kill her dead. The beauty is she knows how this would seem. She worries about it. She is a witty, warm, living, breathing young woman on the page and I empathised with her completely and liked her very much indeed. There is a little romance here but it’s fragile, fraught and full of feeling.
Cassie is such a strong character and we see so much of the story through her troubled eyes that she’s hard to compete with but there are others too who have left a strong impression here. I’m mentioning no names – I would really like you to discover the people of this novel for yourself.
You expect sound worldbuilding in a good YA SF novel and you certainly get it here. We follow the decay of daily and family life, of normality, through the waves. You also expect a thrilling plot and you’ll find it here by the bucketload. Rick Yancey has written a story so tightly plotted and packed with imagination that it’s almost impossible to put the book down at the end of a chapter. The structure and plot are designed to pull you in and the characters ensnare you deeper. The prose balances perfectly the action of the story with the thoughts of the characters. The tension between the two is superb.
If I read a YA novel I enjoy more this year, I’ll be very happy indeed. The 5th Wave is published today. Buy it.