The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

the 5th waveThey’re coming for us.  All of us.

“You’re going to keep reading that book even though it gave you a nightmare last night?” My boyfriend teased as I rolled over and reached out for The Fifth Wave.

I’d just finished briefing him on the intense, very scary nightmare I’d had thanks to The Fifth Wave, the book I’d reluctantly put down the night before as sleep swept me away.

I pulled out my bookmark and dove right back into the book.  “No,” I answered, smiling slyly at him.  “I am going to keep reading this book because it gave me a nightmare last night.

THAT’S how good Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave is – it gives you nightmares but you just don’t wanna stop.

Longtime readers of the blog will know that I am one of Yancey’s biggest fans – I did a series of posts about his fantastic Monstrumologist series, including an interview with him. I love the way he mixes both literary and genre elements in his work – if there was ever a YA writer who proves you can have your cake (write challenging, interesting literary fiction) and eat it too (that also manages to incorporate elements of genre fiction like horror and sci-fi) it’s Yancey.

Imagine my delight when Yancey’s The Fifth Wave was not just announced but given a full-out media, promotional blitz in the face of the book being optioned as a movie.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Promotional blitzes usually make ME break out in hives too.  But this book?  This book deserves all the buzz.  Is it because it’s well-written and gripping and an exciting foray into a rarer genre (not just end of the world – ALIENS!) of YA?  Sure, that’s part of it.  But it’s also that The Fifth Wave has something that no amount of publicity blitzes can buy – this is one of “those” books – the kind you just want to talk about, the kind you want to share.

So, the plot is straight-forward enough: aliens attack and, quickly and efficiently start wiping humanity off the map.  There’s plagues and disasters and no attempt at communication.  It’s an honestly upsetting and scary set-up precisely because there’s no in-depth discussion of how it all happens.  It just happens and you, as a reader, feel as powerless as the rest of the world.  We begin in the woods with a single human survivor, a teenage girl named Cassie who fears she might be the last person in the whole world and, to some degree, is afraid of how much she wishes she was.  Cassie is afraid of humanity, you see, because she doesn’t know who she can trust and because everyone she loves and known has been ripped violently away from her.  For Cassie, human connection is almost as scary as whatever the aliens are up to.

Everything about this works as an opening: you feel Cassie’s ultimate desperation, which really motivates you to keep turning the pages and see how she makes it.  And Yancey excels at the details that bring Cassie’s harsh existence to life – when she talks about going into down to get bottled water because she can’t drink from the stream as it might be contaminated from human bodies somewhere upstream – that’s one of those moments that squeezes your stomach with dread and anticipation and the desire to keep burning through pages.  The book is full of details and moments like this.

Cassie is a wonderful character.  She feels like a real teenage girl who has survived unimaginable things and is now going to keep living and keep surviving no matter what because she just has a very, well, human will to survive.  I think teen readers will love this about her – she pushes past all emotional devastation and just keeps surviving.  This is compelling in a realistic, relatable way.  No matter what, Cassie just keeps on going – a lovely, subtle metaphor for what adolescence can sometimes feel like.  As she sets out to find the single family member she thinks might still be alive, Cassie crosses paths with Evan Walker.  They forge a tenuous bond that, like Cassie, the reader isn’t sure can be trusted.

Cassie and Evan’s story is just one part of The Fifth Wave.  The other major action takes place in a government facility where children and teens are being trained up to be the next generation of remorseless killing machines, sent to wipe out, well, the aliens of course.  Yancey creates a whole other world inside the narrative here and it’s just as brutal and unforgiving as the woods where Cassie finds herself.  And, naturally, inside this supposedly safe and alien-free government zone there is more going on than it first appears.  Here, again, is Yancey’s gift for creating tension that makes it impossible to put a book down.  Something is off here, so off … but what and how and why?  You just have to keep reading to find out the next brutal twist.

I really couldn’t stop reading The Fifth Wave – even as it was giving me nightmares.  It was so detailed and rich that reading it was a pleasure.  Not only can I not wait for the next one, but I totally understand why people can’t stop talking about it, even without a giant publicity push, it feels familiar and yet totally new.  There are twists but they make sense within the story and they motivate you to keep looking at the narrative from new angles.  It’s a story that’s genuinely scary; an end-of-the-world book where I actually felt like the world was ending for the first time in a long time and it filled me with a delicious sense of dread and sorrow.  It has characters to care about and invest in and trust.

This book IS going to be the next big thing.  The Fifth Wave is available today!  If you’re a public library, I recommend you order multiple copies because it’s going to circulate and circulate well. If you’re a reader?  I’d be prepared for sleepless nights you won’t soon regret.

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[a note about Middle Grade Mondays: this project really is starting this week!  Only I’ve decided that instead of Mondays, I’ll be posting on Tuesdays so I can link up with my amazing friend Sarah, aka GreenBeanTeenQueen, weekly middle-grade posts/reviews called Tween Tuesdays.  Yes, I loathe the word tween too, but no need to use it with your patrons, just use all our reviews/recommendations!  And if there’s anyone else interested in joining us, please feel free  to blog/tweet/comment/link along.]

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But What About The NON Reluctant Readers? (this is actually a give away post!)

As librarians we bend over backwards for our reluctant readers.  We salivate at the idea that a book is perfect for reluctant readers, that it’s so appealing that kids who don’t like books will LOVE it.  We preen with delight when non-readers tell us “I loved this book and I never read books.”  We feel an indescribable thrill when we talk about how we connected reluctant readers with the right books.  We champion books that are not all that well-crafted because we know, we know, that they will speak to a reluctant reader, that they will suck in some teen who doesn’t read often or widely.

This is something I am proud of in our profession.  This is a particular reward, a particular task that takes particular skills, in our profession.  Not everyone is good at it and it takes time and skill and patience.  It takes the ability to, at times, squash down that voice inside you that wants to prostrate yourself at a teenager’s feet and scream, “NOT TWILIGHT!  THERE’S SO MANY *GOOD* BOOKS YOU COULD BE READING INSTEAD!”  And that is a lot harder than you might actually think, when you are a person who loves good literature so darn much.

But we push through that!  We reach out for reluctant readers, we constantly assure them that we are there for them, that our collection is for them, that we won’t give up on them.  And I’m damn glad we do.

Only sometimes, sometimes, I wonder about what happens when we forget about our non reluctant readers – those teens that can’t get enough, that read dozens of books and still want more, the ones that walk out of the library with a huge pile of books and a big smile.

What happens to them in our giant stampede of “THIS BOOK WON’T HURT YOU, I SWEAR!” reassurances?

I think I know.  It’s not that they stop coming into the library, not quite, it’s that they stop coming to us.  They go to the adult section, you see, and fall in love with Harry Dresden and Daenerys Targaryen.  And while that is totally awesome – nothing breaks my heart quicker than to see a 15 year old, a bright, voracious reader look right at me and say, “Yeah, young adult books are just boring, I’m not really interested anymore.”

When we, and here we means librarians, teachers, writers, publishers, publicists, all of us who are involved in this industry, when we encourage the dumbing down of young adult fiction, we tell this 15 year old they’re right.

We say: “Yup, you had a good run here with us, you really loved those kid books!  But now you’re way too smart and sophisticated and mature as a reader for all this stuff, this baby stuff, so you might as well go find real books!”

And I don’t want to be in an industry that says that.  Do you?

When I am doing training and workshops for librarians I inevitably come up against the Octavian Nothing issue.

Here I am, having just spent an hour telling them all the latest zombie-romance-vampire-killing-non-stop-action books that are sure to fly off their shelves and now I stand before them and tell them that, with limited budget, they need to buy Octavian Nothing – a dense, historical novel that wrestles with huge, hard questions and is written in deliberately stylized prose meant to evoke the 18th century.  They stare at me in bewilderment.  Who am I?  Can they trust anything I say?  HAVE I GONE MAD?

So then I tell them the most important part: Octavian Nothing is not for all your teen readers.  Octavian Nothing is the kind of book you have to sell to your teen readers, the kind you have to work to connect with the right teen.  And maybe Octavian Nothing is right for one teen out fifty.  But for that one, this is the kind of book that can change their life – the kind of book that can open a world of possibilities in them, that can make them think and wonder, that can make them say, “Yeah, young adult literature is awesome.”

Don’t you want that?

And yes, they nod, thinking about Octavian Nothing, thinking about the American Revolution and questions of liberty and freedom and justice and moral right.  That seems profound, that seems like a higher calling.  Yes.

But what if that same question was posed about a book where monsters rip people’s faces off, where the blood flows copiously, and there are very nasty things that go bump in the night?

Would it be so easy to nod then?

The Monstrumologist is that book.  It’s not for every reader.  It’s not for many reluctant readers (though there are some who will be drawn in, much to their surprise!)  It’s sophisticated, smart, classically structured, dense, and detailed.  The Monstrumologist is a book for the teenagers who think that young adult literature doesn’t have anything left to offer them.

The Monstrumologist tells the story of young Will Henry, who is apprenticed to Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist of our title.  Dr. Warthrop is an amazing character, full of sharp edges and determination – a man who never flinches from his duty, even when his duty is dark business indeed, he springs off the pages with clarity.  Will and Dr. Warthrop, as I am sure will come as no surprise to you, encounter and do bloody battle with a great number of monsters, both of the human and inhuman variety.  The books are richly plotted, detailed historical pieces and, oh yeah, they’ re rip-roaringly-turn-on-the-lights scary and stomach-churningly gory. 

This blog is not a review of The Monstrumologist series, per se, Bear already handled that for me a few days ago  And if you want to read a great one try out Liz’s review of the first book (she has great reviews of all three titles in the series, Curse of the Wendigo and Isle of Blood.) or you could read the professional reviews, which were glowing.  (Booklist said it “might just be the best horror novel of the year.”)  I wasn’t lucky enough to get an AR of Isle of Blood but I can’t wait to read it next week because this is a series that has only become richer and more fulfilling with each volume, as you come to know all the characters and their world better.

When I heard that Simon & Schuster had declined to pick the book up for a fourth volume, I felt YA lit grow poorer.

But!  Now we know there will be a fourth volume and THAT makes us all richer.

To celebrate and because I hope this series of posts has convinced at least one of you, dear readers, that you absolutely MUST start this series today, I’m giving away a copy of The Monstrumologist so that you too can be taken in by Will and Dr. Warthrop (and so that you too can have nightmares!!) All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this blog and I’ll randomly select a winner!  The contest is open extra long since I’m currently out of the country on vacation – so you have until September 19 to enter.

If you can’t wait that long, head out to your library to get The Monstrumologist right this second.  I promise, you’ll be richer for it. (and probably a little scared too…)

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So what, exactly, *is* The Monstrumologist? A very special GUEST POST by Rick Yancey

When I started thinking about why I loved The Monstrumologist series (the series is The Monstrumologist, The Curse of the Wendigo and the forthcoming Isle of Blood, which  – DON’T FORGET – releases next week and is the book we’re currently doing a PR push for!) why I thought it was so damn special in a crowded young adult literature field, I kept coming back to the kind of books they were – they way they straddled genre and were something entire unique, entirely compelling in how original they were.

With that in mind, I had one major question for Rick Yancey about the series’s providence.  That question was:

The Monstrumologist series is unique in the way it blends the horror genre and what we usually refer to as “literary fiction”.  How did you decide to bring these two genres together?  What ways do you see these genres as complimentary, particularly when it comes to the appeal of this series?

His answer was so perfect, so much more than I was expecting, so fabulous and thoughtful and comprehensive, I knew I had to share it all with you.  Enjoy and thanks so much to Rick for participating in all this and for this amazing reply.  (and make sure you stop by tomorrow when you can comment for a chance to win a copy of The Monstrumologist!!)

Call it a product of naivete or denial, but when I completed the first Monstrumologist book, I did not consider it horror or “literary.”  I looked at it (and still do to a certain extent) as an adventure yarn, sort of like a darker version of “Treasure Island.”  That was the original concept and still there is a part of me that cringes when I hear those two descriptions of the series slammed together.  The stylist in me rebels at the mash-up, “literary horror,” and I will confess I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft, read “Frankenstein” just once and that was years ago, and hadn’t even picked up a King novel since I was in my twenties.  Recently (between writing Book One and Book Two), I tried to get through “Dracula,” and couldn’t.

I think if I purposely tried to write something “literary” I would fail miserably.  What I have been attempting to do (as I have with all my books), is create – or re-create – an authentic voice.  I first tried writing the story in third-person, which is not comfortable for me, and quickly abandoned the attempt and recast the story through the voice of an older Will Henry.  I did want to capture a 19th Cent. feel, because in many ways Will was trapped in that era, unable to extricate himself from the memories of that time when his childhood vulnerability was tested to the extreme.  In a sense, I was trapped there with him – in a time when people wrote – and even thought! – in full sentences.  That cuts against the grain in most of current YA fiction (and adult), so maybe that’s why some folks call it literary (Full sentences!  Big words!)

I knew, of course, that the adventure would have to have a certain dark flavor, since monstrumology, by its very nature, is dark and dangerous – it ain’t butterfly collecting, after all.  If Warthrop hunted something equivalent to a three-toed sloth . . . well, where’s the thrill in that?  And if you have these outlandish and nightmarish things running about, it’s going to get a little intense.

And I wanted INTENSITY.  Not just intensity of the chase and the inevitable physical dangers of monster-hunting, but psychological intensity, emotional intensity.  19th Century writers never shied away from this and Will, being forged in that time period, would not have either.  There was, and still is, a danger in these stories of descending into the cartoonish (Headless bipeds with teeth in their bellies . . . come on!), and I knew beyond elevating the language a little I had to elevate the complexity of the characters and the intensity of their relationships.  Whenever I get bogged down in the esoterica of monsters or the convolutions of a plot set a hundred plus years ago, I tell myself, “Go back to the characters.  It’s about them and their relationships.”  It adds a richness to the tale, the chief function of which is to keep me from getting bored.  These characters fascinate me – not the gore, not so much the “big themes” of love, faith and what it means to be human (though I like that these themes have emerged as a by-product), i.e., the “literariness” of the books.  As I said in another interview, I fell in love with my characters.  They are quite real to me.  I suffer with them, laugh with them, cheer for them and fear deeply for them.

I worried when the first book came out about some of its more challenging aspects, particularly since it was published as YA.  But I don’t worry about that anymore.  Like real people, Will Henry and Warthrop are who they are.  The stories are what they are. Readers, whether they are sixteen or sixty, who like a good story well told, will discover the books and share a little, with me, the thrill and satisfaction that is unique to fiction: immersion in an alternate universe we are loathe to leave when the last page is turned.

Rick Yancey

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“The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey, reviewed by Bear Schacht…an actual teenager!

Recently, there was a bit of online outcry when it was announced that Simon & Schuster had decided not to continue Rick Yancey’s Printz-Honor winning series The Monstrumologist.   After much protest from fans, word came down that there would be a fourth book in the series, huzzah, good work fandom!

BUT!  Fandom must never rest!  A group of bloggers, myself included, decided it was still really important to get the word out about the publication of the third book in the series, The Isle of Blood so that, hopefully, new readers would find their way to this amazing series.   The Isle of Blood goes on sale September 13. As a celebration (and publicity push!) we’re all taking turns posting about how amazing The Monstrumologist is.

You can read posts all this week and next week at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, The Book Smugglers, and Stephanie Reads.  And here at my blog, the rest of this week is a Monstrumologist party up in here!  Tomorrow, I have a super-special guest post from Rick Yancey himself discussing the origins of  the series and on Friday will be a blog/review from me and a chance for you to win your very own copy of The Monstrumologist so you can start the series and see what everyone was so excited about.

Today, however, I’m going to post a special guest review of The Monstrumologist, one sure to get you psyched for the giveaway  … one written by that rarest of creatures (gasp!) an actual teenager. 

I don’t even remember the first time I met Bear, but I am sure we were thick as thieves from the very first moment.  Bear is one of those teenagers you cross your fingers for, the kind you go into library services hoping you’ll get to serve.  He wants to talk to you about books and movies and the world.  He’s bright, inquisitive, clever, and an influencer on other teens.

Bear is also a voracious reader who reads across a variety of genres.  Bear is the kind of reader, the kind of patron, it’s actually rather easy to forget about.  Teens like that, after all, don’t need that much help from us, right?  They find books, they read no matter what, we don’t have to worry about getting them through the doors!

And yet!  Bear wants and needs just as much reader’s advisory as any reluctant reader.  So when I have the chance to connect him with a book, I know that an actual connection will be made – that this is a book that will be relished and analyzed and loved.  

Putting The Monstrumologist in Bear’s hands gave me that sweet rush of anticipation and pride you always get from good reader’s advisory.  “This,” I thought as he checked it out, “is why I do what I do.  This is gonna be true love.”

Thanks to Bear for being a patron that makes  my job worthwhile, for insisting I read Leviathan, and for writing this review and letting me share it with all of you.  Find your patron like Bear at your library today and put this book in his or her hands.

It’ll be true love.

Mon-strum-ol-o-gy    n.

1: the study of life forms generally malevolent to humans and not recognized by science as actual organisms, specifically those considered products of myth and folklore

2: the act of hunting such creatures

It was a spring night in 1888 when Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, was called out of bed by the arrival of a grave robber who had found something more gruesome and terrifying than anything the twelve year old boy had yet experienced in his year of working for the doctor. The find launches them into a case of nightmarish monsters, some human, and some very much not.

There were so many things I loved about this book; I almost don’t know where to start. The cast of the story included some really interesting characters, characters that not only stayed interesting, but got more interesting as the story went on.  Doctor Warthrop struck me as being similar to Sherlock Holmes in many ways, if Holmes hunted monsters instead of criminal masterminds. You also get the sense that there is something more to Will Henry than meets the eye, though I can’t really put my finger on what it is. Of course, Dr. Kearns (if that is his real name) is the scariest character I have encountered in a long time. He definitely knows about monsters, and you know how they say it takes one to know one…..

Then there was the gore, something that you can’t ignore with this book. I have the habit of eating while I read, but if you are at all weak of stomach I would not recommend doing so with this book. I am not usually the biggest fan of gore and horror, but this was different. The way the story was told had the perfect blend of emotion-capturing horror as well as the slightly detached journalistic reporting of facts. With these two flavors of storytelling working together, even the most over the top grotesque parts of the book seemed more believable and less gratuitous than other horror I have read.

I could go on about this book some more, but I would much rather go read the sequel now. I guess that means you will just have to go get the book and read it for yourself, but remember that “Yes my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.”

(you can also read Bear’s review at Check It Out!, my library’s teen review blog, where he has written MANY other reviews.  But since that blog isn’t open for comments, I wanted to cross-post here.)

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