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Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (reviewed by Chris Dahl)

Sometime reviewer Chris Dahl sent me this review with the subject heading: 5th Wave review, here it is if you dare.  I dare.  It was so interesting to watch Chris read this book because 1) he is a huge Rick Yancey fan and 2) he was bothered because he was having such a different reaction to it then others are.  So here is what Chris has to say about The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.
I was very excited to receive an advanced copy of the new Rick Yancey book, The 5th Wave.  I think The Monstrumologist series is excellent and I recommend them to anyone interested in books with horror, violence, supernatural beasts, and fantastic writing (and I have a few kids at my school reading them).  One of the many things I liked about the series is his use of language and harkening back to the late 19th century vocabulary and “gentlemanly” dialect and discourse.  I always had a dictionary beside me and learned a bevy of new words.  So I was interested to see how his writing style would change when dealing with a more modern setting and characters.
                To be honest, I had no idea that this book was about aliens and their invasion and eradication of human-kind.  Frankly, aliens scare the #(*& out of me.  Without going into too much detail and to avoid strange looks from co-workers, I will simply say it’s because I can’t completely rule out the possibility of their existence and/or discredit their potential nefarious alien plans for the people of this planet.  We as a species are used to being at the top of the evolutionary ladder and I believe the possibility of being at the mercy of a vastly superior creature is terrifying to just about everyone.  I imagine it’s what the antelope must feel when it knows there is no escaping the lion.  But I’ve seen mostly all of the alien movies and have read a fair number of novels on the subject (Whitley Strieber’s The Grays, being among the creepiest.)  Films like Independence Day and Battle: Los Angeles don’t frighten me… It’s the “Fire in the Sky”, “The Fourth Kind”, “Signs”, “Dark Skies” aliens that keep me up at night.  You know, the big-eyed, thin-armed, little evil geniuses that stand over your bed while you sleep.

With that being said, I found this book very difficult to review, possibly because I found it difficult to get through.  Perhaps the alien invasion theme of the story filled my brain with so many pre-conceptions that when the story didn’t follow those, I felt disappointed and lost interest.  It took me over two weeks to read this novel, which, for me, is an absurd amount of time.  I would read about 10 or 15 pages and then start to wander off into my own thoughts. 
Cassie, our protagonist, is trying to survive in a world that has been utterly decimated by the arrival of “The Others.”  Her mother and father are dead and only she and her little brother are left to fend for themselves.  They have survived the first 4 waves of the alien “invasion” and now must find a way to survive “The 5th Wave,” each “wave” representing another masterfully-planned campaign to rid the Earth of human-kind.
                Starting with the aliens themselves…I will say I appreciate the way Mr. Yancey handled the “invasion” of our planet.  I’ve always found it incredibly unbelievable that a vastly more intelligent race of aliens, with the technology to travel light-years across space, would then simply pit its military against our military, resulting in massive loss of life on both sides.  I mean come on!!!  Is this your first rodeo!?!  Not these aliens.  They know what they’re doing, they wait patiently in their mother ship, releasing viruses and slowly and methodically destroying billions of lives, trying to break our will to resist.  Pretty smart, if you ask me.  But one complaint.  Why are they here?  They sit in their ship and the reader has no idea what their motive is.  Are they here for our delicious resources?  Do they think that human kind is a scourge in the universe?  Do they not like our treatment of the planet?  More than halfway through the book and the reader is still completely in the dark as to any details about the alien invaders.  (Pre-conception #1?)
                Secondly, Cassie is barely surviving in this post-alien invaded world.  Billions of people have been killed, including her own parents.  But the second she meets a handsome, young man she turns into a stereotypical, jealous, teenage high school girl?  The dialogue between the two was agonizing for me to read and she just comes across as a complete snot.  I guess I feel as though her words, actions, and thoughts (snotty, high school girl) don’t match up to her circumstance (POST-APOCOLYPTIC ALIEN DEATH).  Flat out, I don’t like her as the protagonist of this story. 
                Next, and I’ll put a spoiler alert in this one.  Cassie’s little brother is transported to a military base, Camp Haven, where the military is protecting the children in the hopes that they will survive to rebuild the human race.  At this point we are introduced to Ben Parish (Cassie’s high-school crush, pre-arrival) and a drill instructor named Reznik.  I can’t tell you how much Reznik’s character infuriated me.  Not because he is a “cruel, unfeeling, sadistic bastard.”  But, because he is a carbon-copy of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.  Where do you know that name, you may be asking, well… he is the classic marine drill instructor played by the great R. Lee Ermey in the movie “Full Metal Jacket.”  Reznik’s character is such a cliché and so unoriginal that some of the insults he hurls at the recruits of Camp Haven, are word for word verbatim quotes from Ermey’s character (minus the profanity.)
I’ll give you just one example, when Ben Parish stands up to Reznik for picking on Cassie’s little brother, Reznik (not knowing who challenged him) asks, “which one of you scum-sucking maggots just signed his own death warrant?”  When Ben admits it was him, Reznik then promotes Ben to squad leader, for standing up to him and “not being soft.”   Sgt. Hartman has the EXACT same encounter with Private Joker in “Full Metal Jacket.”   At first I thought I was mistaken, that surely I was combining military movies or getting one confused with the other, but sadly no.  I even watched “Full Metal Jacket” again to make sure I wasn’t crazy.  At the very least it’s a terrible cliché, at the worst it’s a blatant rip-off of a classic character.
In addition, I really struggled to keep track of everything that was going on, with the shifts in perspective and the flash-backs; I found myself a page or so into a new chapter before I realized I had no idea from which character’s perspective I was reading.   I also felt there were a number of plot-lines and characters that did not affect or play any significant role in story.  I kept wondering why a seven-year old would have a gun in her hand and be sent off to war, only to never fire a shot or really have anything to do with or add anything to the story.  All in all, I felt confused by a fair number of things in the book.
Doing research on the internet and trolling the blog-o-sphere, this book is poised to be a blockbuster when it’s released.  I can honestly say that by page 250 I was done and wanted it to be over.  I hope it does great and that loads of people enjoy reading it, it just didn’t do anything for me.  The alien invasion was done extremely well, with the efficiency one would expect from a vastly superior race.  But I couldn’t reconcile the good with the fact that I flat out hated Cassie.  I do think this is an interesting case of a male writer using a female protagonist and trying to write from a female perspective.  I felt the male characters (Reznik being the exception) were simply done better.  I know there are tons of people that have loved and will love this book.  It just wasn’t for me.

Please note: Chris is not the only one to make the Full Metal Jacket connection.  Check out these posts on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/user_status/show/24639272) where Jaime from Two Chicks on Books says, “Hello “Full Metal Jacket”! Actually pg 214 through 216 were quoted pretty much word from word from that movie!”

So, have you read The 5th Wave? What did you think? What are your favorite alien invasion books?


  1. Great review. I have no intention of reading the book, and yet I was drawn into the reading the entire review. Nice writing.

  2. I am reading this book now, and have just finished the section with Reznik. I heard that entire conversation in the voices of Pvt. Joker and Sgt. Hartman! I can’t believe the entire section was ripped off from a phenomenal movie! I’m thinking that since this book is for young adults, author Rick Yancey probably thought they would have no clue. It disappointed me and I’m not sure I’ll pick the book back up to finish it.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      So I asked The Mr. who Pvt. Joker and Sgt. Hartman were because I thought they would be from Full Metal Jacket, a movie he quotes all of the time. I have not, however, actually ever seen the movie – much to his dismay – and so when I read the book I didn’t get these vibes at all. Interesting. Now I want The Mr. to read it and see what he thinks. The Teen is very excited about the movie and wants to read the book before the movie comes out.

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