I had doubts about this week’s book, thinking before I read it, “Oh, it’s another dystopian YA novel with a strong female protagonist who saves the world to protect someone she loves—a knockoff Hunger Games like Divergent was.” However, despite my skepticism, I decided to read The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey because I knew the movie adaptation is coming out this Friday, and I actually enjoyed it.
This isn’t to say I was wrong. Just partly. This is a Young Adult novel featuring a female protagonist (Cassie Sullivan) who must overcome alien obstacles in order to save her brother, Sammy, from the enemy’s diabolical, titular 5th wave sent out to destroy humanity. However, it is more than the trend’s stereotype.
Firstly, it isn’t dystopian. The events happen in present day (if an alien race decided to eliminate us today). A preexisting society isn’t Cassie’s enemy—totally bizarre and trigger-happy aliens are. Also, Cassie’s end-goal isn’t to save the world. She just wants to find her brother. (And yes, this is the first book in a trilogy, so I’d assume the end-goal of the series is to save the world, but who knows? Yancey did a great job with twisting the norm with this one, so maybe he’ll continue that trend down the line.)
So the book’s different from the trend, but it’s definitely trying to follow it, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like it was following a trend. That’s a good thing. It’s full of action and adventure and teenage romance and mystery and thrills and space-y things that made it a really fun story to read. It kept my attention the entire time. I really enjoyed the story and I’m definitely going to pick up the next in the series.
But I still found problems with it that made me feel disappointed. One of these problems is the difference in character arcs of the two protagonists, Cassie and Private/Sergeant Zombie AKA Cassie’s high school crush AKA Ben Parish. Ben gets a really awesome arc being rescued by the nearby military base and then gets to rise through the ranks and then goes on missions to take out the aliens and then does other cool stuff that I would totally write down if I didn’t want to give away spoilers. Meanwhile, Cassie is on her own and almost dies, but then she gets rescued by a dude who’s literally perfect and basically falls in love with him and then when they finally go out to find her brother, she’s constantly being saved by the male characters—which there are many, and female characters, there are few.
I’m not trying to be nit-picky about her character—one of the things I told myself when I started these reviews was that I would review the books as they were, not as what I wanted them to be. But the more and more I read this book, it seemed like Yancey was trying to disguise a damsel in distress as a badass. It didn’t really work, for me anyway.
This didn’t detract from the story. I enjoyed the story. I’d read it again if I felt like rereading it. But it just kinda rubbed me the wrong way. It didn’t sit right with me. The story was great, the characters were great, the voices that told the story were great (alternating POV, mostly Cassie and Ben), but this little detail wasn’t that great. I hope Cassie gets a better character arc in the later books.
Looking past its faults, as any book will have them, The 5th Wave is a great read. It’s fun, entertaining, and leaves you wondering how you’d fare if aliens decided to invade us at any given point. I’d like to think I’d survive like Cassie and Ben, but maybe that’s just because it hasn’t happened yet—and hopefully, after reading this book and seeing what could happen, it won’t anytime soon.