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.

—–

[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.]

Share

When We Wake by Karen Healey

when we wake karen healey“You are not the future I wanted. I can’t believe the same stupid shit is still happening. I wanted you to be better!  Be better!”

I wait for it, you know.  I wait for that minute, that second, when I will become tired of dystopias.  And sometimes it comes to me in a flash.  Sometimes I am in the middle of a book or am scanning the summaries of that month’s new releases and I am stuck in the middle of the same old thing for the thousandth time – it’s the end of the world and it’s all so obvious yet the science has no explanation and look there’s some middling, predictable love triangle and one of the guys SEEMS like the “bad” boy but PROBABLY he’s not and OH SURPRISE everyone’s corrupt and somehow this totalitarian government with complete control over everything has just been easily overthrown by a 15 year old, sure! I just can’t read another word.  I am bored and, worse, I am worn out of the entire genre beyond belief. “NO MORE DYSTOPIAS!” I say to myself.  “I’ll read summaries and reviews and skim so I can be up-to-date for booktalking to teens, but no more!” (because, and this part is SO important for me to always keep in mind, my teens still clamor for dystopias.  They are easy sells, they fly off the shelves, they are constantly requested.  I’ve got to buy them and I’ve got to know them. My HIGH-FALUTIN’ ~FEELS do not enter into the reader’s advisory part of my job.) And I mean it!

But then … then there’s one I have to give a shot.  Someone I trust promises me this one is worth it.  It’s a summary I can’t resist.  So, I give just this one a shot and … I am reminded all over again why I love this genre – these dystopias, the post-apocalyptic worlds where teenagers are fighting for survival and figuring out their identities all at the same time. I picked up When We Wake by Karen Healey for a simple reason: she’s one of my Morris authors.  Karen’s debut Guardian of the Dead was one of the five finalists for the 2011 Morris, the year I was a member of the committee.  So, her books are always meaningful to me and, of course, always instant-reads. But still!  Even loving Karen Healey, I was not prepared for the wonderfulness of When We Wake.

When We Wake begins in 2027 on the last day of Tegan Oglietti’s life.  It begins again when Tegan awakes 100 years in the future, the first person to be successfully revived from cryogenic freezing.  Now Tegan must find out who she is 100 years later, the entirety of her world swept away from her in the blink of an eye, and she must also figure out what kind of world she’s now living in and what her part in it all is.

What I Love About This Book

Where to begin with all I love about When We Wake?  How about here: what a loving, wonderful portrayal of teen activists.  What a glorious thing to find in a YA book, a YA fantasy book at that: teenagers who aren’t just in a story to fall in love, who don’t just topple governments with a single flashy action, but who are there, on the streets, doing the every day work of protesting and organizing for change.  That is true both in 2027 and 2127, the teens we meet are interested in the world, in politics, in issues like immigration reform and justice.  These are teenagers I know and have known, smart and passionate and curious.  And this is a real strength of the book – a future world, yes, but with grounding in the here and now, with sympathetic and realistic characters.

I love that when Tegan awakes she finds herself, yes, in a totally foreign world.  It is, after all, 100 years in the future.  And yet.  And yet it’s still a recognizable world.  That’s another thing that wears me out about round after round of dystopias – it’s 150 years in the future but we’ve lost all previous human language and all live in a complete totalitarian  regime in a landscape almost ruined by plagues and natural disasters but, really, everything’s mostly recovered, well the grass is longer.  Uhhh … well that time table seems slightly off to me. The world Tegan finds in 2127 is different, of course, it has different technology and slang and great strides have been made in a lot of social issues. Yet in many ways, the world is still recognizable to Tegan.  People still play guitar and love music, there are still cliques at high schools, there’s still a voracious media and online world to sink into and be wary of.  Because this is a world where things seem real and familiar it’s a world where it’s much easier to feel the stakes, the real costs and risks of Tegan’s choices.  Again, this is a frankly brilliant take on the futuristic novel and the dystopia.

In fact, note my use of the word dystopia.  There’s plenty right in the world of 2127 – and Tegan, from a time when the world seemed to be tearing apart, can’t help but see all that.  What’s amazing and rich and nuanced about Healey’s work is that, within all of this, within Tegan knowing all of this – there’s still things wrong, very wrong,  in the world Tegan finds herself in.  A lot of what makes the novel IMPOSSIBLE to put down (I ripped through it) is how Healey ratchets up the stakes and the suspense to reveal just how deep this wrongness goes.  Usually in a typical dystopia the bad is so bad and the good is so good that very rarely do readers have a chance to look around at the world the author has built for them and, without having to side with a genocidal lunatic, think  “But, really, is it all bad?” But that’s a real choice Tegan faces, a real puzzle she must untangle.  How bad is the bad and what exactly will I, Tegan Ogiletti, do about it?  What a question!  And, thanks to Healey’s amazing prose, what an answer we are given!

When We Wake is available to purchase now. If you can’t purchase one, go check out a copy from your local library and if they don’t have one, request they add it to their collection!  It is highly recommended for readers aged 13-18 and as a first purchase for public libraries, especially if you have a crowd who eats up end of the world books but also hungers for something new.

I return to the title – this isn’t just a story of When I Wake.  The WE is there for a reason.  This is a story of awakening, coming of age, and, most moving to me, of choosing to pick up the fight when something is unjust.  We are called awake and into this world with great passion and clarity thanks to Healey’s writing.  In a crowded field of books I thought I was all burned out on, When We Wake is special indeed.  It helped reignite my passion for dystopias and, best of all, it gave me something to think about.

(Here’s a Tor review of When We Wake that I absolutely loved and a fantastic Twitterview with Healey by Kim at Stacked.)

Share