Review: The Fifth Wave, Rick Yancey

On a lonely stretch of highway, she runs from them. The beings that only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered earth’s last survivors.
To stay alone is to stay alive, until Cassie meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope for rescuing her brother and even saving herself.
Now she must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I got  an early version of this book while I was at my work experience at Penguin, and knew right away that it would be right up my street. Aliens, the destruction of humanity, child soldiers – what’s not to like? But warning: it’s also just a little vivid. The whole children trained to kill thing was a bit horrible, but then again, I guess it’s no worse than The Hunger Games.

Rick Yancey’s highly anticipated young adult dystopian novel was preceded by a large amount of hype. £750,000 worth, in fact. Dramatic full-page adverts in the New York Times announcing it as the new Hunger Games, book trailers played before films in the cinema, and its own custom-made website meant that in the literary blogosphere, The 5th Wave was big news. But did it live up to these sky-high expectations?

The answer would be yes. And no.

The plot centres around an alien invasion which has killed most of earth’s population, with the few survivors battling with how to survive, and who to trust in this post-apocalyptic world. Sixteen year old Cassie is on a journey to find her brother who, along with many of the other children, has been taken to a supposedly safe military base. But as you’d expect, nothing is as it seems and there’s a lot that people aren’t telling Cassie.

I have no shame in admitting that this genre is my guilty pleasure, and I was looking forward to reading a book I’d heard so much about. In terms of plot, it didn’t disappoint; The 5th Wave a page-turner full of twists, both predictable and unpredictable, and the kind of pace that wouldn’t go amiss in an action film. I’m a very dramatic reader and there were a fair few gasps and “Whaatttttt?!”s as I was reading. The narrative flickers between characters, sometimes working well to foreshadow climactic meetings between key characters, and at other times confusing and less successful. Frankly, the story isn’t anything that we haven’t heard before, but it’s done interestingly enough, with the Hunger Games-esque use of children tapping into a fan base Yancey must have known would have been popular with the dystopian genre currently at the height of its game.

And yet there was something niggling at me as I read it, and it wasn’t until I reached the romantic scene, when I realised exactly what it was.  Despite her being the lead protagonist of the novel, there was something really insincere about Cassie. And that’s because Yancey can’t write from the perspective of a teenage girl. And I mean really. His description of the first encounters with her love interest were unbearable; his ‘chocolate brown eyes’ and ‘spectacular washboard abs’ a couple of my personal favourites of the awful awful descriptions. Cringe.

There just seemed something wrong with someone thinking like this in the wake of her parents’ deaths, brother’s kidnap, plus, you know, the end of the world. In these parts, the protagonist was less the feisty Katniss Everdeen I wanted her to be, and more insipid Bella Swan, fawning over the first boy to show her any attention, who, plot twist, just like Edward Cullen, may or may not be human.

I think that that’s the ultimate crux of this book: it starts well and it ends well but somewhere in the middle it all goes a bit wrong in Cassie’s perspective, and you simply have to grit your teeth and push past in order to reach the gripping end. Overall, there’s no denying that I enjoyed reading it , but I can only beg Yancey to tone down the cringey soppiness for the next instalment in the series, and stick to what he know best: breathtaking action in a vivid and dangerous dystopian world.

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