Cassie is 16 years old, and alone. Not the kind of alone teenagers are wont to bask in while feeling tortured. Really alone. In the woods, her only possessions a sleeping bag, a backpack of provisions, with an M-16 and a teddy bear for company. It is so quiet that she can hear "the stars scrape against the sky."
What brought her there was the appearance of an alien mothership in the atmosphere above Earth. This was followed by four events — or waves — that one after the other eliminated more human beings. With the world in tatters and humanity on the verge of extinction, what matters? For Cassie, it's her younger brother, Sammy and she is on her way to find him. Along the way, she meets a mysterious boy in the woods and have to decide whether to trust him. And on the other end of her quest is Sammy, in a different but equally strange situation, also deciding who to trust. This is The 5th Wave and you need to read it.
In the post-Twilight era, the name of the game in the in the Young Adult genre seems to be dystopian post-apocalyptic novels, in which the female protagonist takes the lead in fighting back against an oppressing force. To me, this is a welcome change from the milquetoast insecurity, passivity andself-loathing of Bella in the Twilight series. Having a female protagonist be badass when the target audience is adolescent girls is all kinds of good. I've read several of the big ones — The Hunger Games was good, but held back from a full commitment, being a sort of aggressive variation on "girl never does anything truly nasty and gets saved by boy." Divergent took it a step further and I liked that quite a lot, enough to read its follow-up Insurgent right after I finished the first book in the trilogy. It had a good conspiracy going, but although the oppressor is intimidating and very powerful, they are still human. Nasty humans, to be sure, but it limits how far the story can go.
Enter The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. You want an uncompromising, nailbiting story that makes you believe that this is really what would happen in an alien invasion? This is it. You want to feel something, to ache and worry for the characters, to whimper no no no when they are in danger, to care deeply throughout an entire book that is about something real in the middle of a fantastical story? This is it. You want a book that you can't stop reading and at the same time, you can't quite bear to continue reading? Pick up The 5th Wave.
You'll have noticed that I haven't told you an awful lot about what happens in the book. This is on purpose. I don't want to spoil any of what happens for you. Going into this book blind and following along with the characters right next to them, instead of vaguely ahead is mandatory for full effect. And there is an effect. There were times during reading this book that I deliberately also did other things that helped me get some emotional distance from what was happening. Because it's that good. The writing itself is fantastic — it has lyrical, evocative language, while at the same time perfectly capturing teenagers. Yancey’s ability to build tension and a vague (and sometimes intense) sense of unease is stellar and I can't wait for the next book in the series.
I have to also spend some time on the narrators. Phoebe Strole is perfect as Cassie, not so much reading the story as living it. Her ability to convey emotion by information is one of the best I've ever heard, and she completely carried me away. The other narrator, Brandon Espinoza, is good, but not of the same caliber. I suspect this partly the contrast — had it not been for Strole’s excellence, I probably would've given him a higher grade.
I normally recommend that you go out and get the audio book, especially when it's a really good narrator. This time, I'm conflicted. The audio book pulls you more into the story, makes it very difficult to take a break when you need to — and it's quite likely you will need to breathe occasionally. Reading this book the regular way might be more conducive to that. Still, the excellence of the narration, particularly the Cassie character, is enough to push me over the fence to recommend that you experienced this book full throttle. It's written that way, so you should read it that way.
And afterwards, come back and tell me what you thought. Because I really need to talk to someone about this book.