Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey


I’m such a sucker for run-of-the-mill YA fiction. Or perhaps it’s my obsessive tendency towards set completion that pushes me to continue reading a series which I think is just OK. There are so many amazing books out there: thought-provoking, poetical, meaningful books and nowhere near enough time to read them all. So why persist with something that falls short of that?

Because sometimes you just feel like burger. Not even a gourmet burger with artisan bread or a wagyu patty or some fancy aoili…sometimes you just feel like a melty, cheesy, meaty burger. Unless you’re vegan, in which case you probably don’t.

Anyway, I digress. The 5th Wave is a burger. I read it, I enjoyed it for what it was, and haven’t thought about it since. Until now, obviously, but it is fairly difficult to review a book without thinking about it. I’m not saying that The 5th Wave is a bad book. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading and provided that sense of escapism, like many action films that we consume for mindless diversion without them making any further impact on our lives.

But, I feel it could have aimed higher. I feel that a young audience deserves a better hero to look up to than they’re given in Cassie-short-for-Cassiopeia. Sure, we can admire her devotion to her family and her commitment to finding and rescuing her brother, but beyond that, she is a bit exasperating. I think here, Yancey is selling young women short. In spite of the downfall of humanity, the aggressive invasion of earth by an extra terrestrial species, in spite of the death of her parents and the abduction of her brother, Cassie seems to spend a surprising amount of time lamenting past social awkwardness and lost crushes. Her instincts for self preservation seem to be rendered powerless when faced with a handsome, soft-handed youth.

Really, Rick Yancey? Your opinion of young women is so low that you imagine that in the face of danger and the destruction of our entire species, one of the few survivors would be so mesmerised by a pretty face that she would cast aside the caution that up until this point has kept her alive and fall into his arms?

Tropes ahoy.

Obviously this is Yancey’s take on creating a main character that he feels his audience can relate to: someone with human feelings and failings. But you know what? We don’t need her. We’ve had our fill of Twilight, we don’t need more flakey young women tripping over their own feet as they swoon over the first guy they see. We need Elspeths* and Hermiones and Katnisses: strong, smart women who all have different human weaknesses, whether they may be too stubborn, or hot-headed, or proud. But their weakness is not to simply be “weak”, to be clingy or looking for a man to save them. They wouldn’t let romantic feelings keep them from their duty to save the world.

So the more I think back on it, yes, The 5th Wave is a burger, and I think I’ve tasted better.

*Incidentally, if you don’t know who Elspeth is, you need to read Isobelle Carmody’s Oberwnewtyn right now, because she is the best.