Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who 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, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
The Others arrived, and humanity tried to make contact. The Others didn’t respond. Then came the first four waves – wiping out ninety-seven percent of the human population. Cassie survived, but now she’s alone, and she stays alive by staying alone and not trusting anyone else. She has bent, but so far she hasn’t broken. Or maybe she has broken - she doesn’t know. The only thing that keeps her going in the midst of this alien extermination is a promise she made to her little brother Sammy. That promise and her wariness won’t be enough. Because the 5th wave is coming.
While Cassie is the clear focus of the book and at times the narrator, the author also skips into other characters’ heads and voices to tell the story. And what is that story? It’s a Hunger Games-esque, survive-at-any-cost thriller (to say any more would be too much). There are children fighting, deadly stakes, and no true sense of who/where the enemy is. It is that aura of dangerous mystery about the Others that creates an atmosphere of menace. I was not surprised by any of the twists, possibly because by the time I was thirty pages in, I had internalized Cassie’s distrust.
As for the sci-fi aspects of The 5th Wave, I had a couple of doubts and questions. The first being: how does everyone (read: Cassie) know there will be a 5th wave? If the underlying message of the story is that hope and love are unquenchable symptoms of the human condition (and I believe that was the point), the standard awareness/anticipation that a 5th wave was on its way doesn’t make sense. I mean, every character seemed to think the same way. I identify that as rushed characterization. Another red flag was the widespread knowledge of what each wave was, and how it was caused. If a true communication breakdown was in effect as postulated in the book, I would expect a lot more rumor and supposition, especially among kids, who know less of the mechanics of society’s infrastructure (especially if they're from the first world).
There’s no doubt that The 5th Wave is a riveting read. I’m just not sure it was GOOD. Let’s go over the pros: the writing was excellent, the plot moved at breakneck speed, Cassie was a well-developed character. Beyond that, I felt that there were holes in the world-building and secondary characterization that were patched over in part by action sequences and scenes meant to shock and awe. At the end of a book, I asked myself: Did the story feel authentic? And my answer in this case was yes/no. Cassie and her fear were real. It was the rest that I had qualms about.