Well, in nearly three years of blogging, this is a first: I read a book in preparation for its film adaptation, and now I’m actually afraid to see the movie because I’m not sure it can live up to the original!
For the most part, I’ve always been eager to see a favorite story brought to life on the big screen – hello Hunger Games! – and while I haven’t been a fan of some casting choices (e.g., Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series), I’ve never really regretted seeing anything in theaters. So to feel so hesitant to see the film version of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is a bit weird for me, but I like to think that it’s a credit to Yancey’s writing!
After slogging my way through Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, I hadn’t read a lot of young adult novels, but I kept finding myself drawn to The 5th Wave. Part of that was likely due to the fact that I’m a fan of dystopian novels, but another part was because it had been a really long time since I had read anything involving extraterrestrials and I was intrigued by the premise – aliens come to Earth, ostensibly to conquer it for themselves, and instead of launching one massive assault on the planet, they conduct various waves of attack, whittling us down from a population of seven billion to one billion over the course of a few months.
As the book opens, what remains of humankind has survived four waves: Lights Out, an electromagnetic pulse that shorts out all of our battery-powered devices; Surf’s Up, tsunamis that kill the three billion people living along our continental coastlines; Pestilence, a deadly virus similar to Ebola; and Silencer, alien assassins in human form. No one is entirely sure what the 5th wave will be, but everyone seems fairly certain that another one is coming, likely because they are, in fact, still alive.
While many descriptions of The 5th Wave focus on 16-year-old Cassie Sullivan’s hunt to find her younger brother Sammy, the truth is that the book is broken into thirteen different sections and each one is told from a different character’s point of view. True, most of them are from either Cassie’s perspective or that of Ben Parish, her high school crush, but there are also sections told by Sammy and a Silencer. It reminded me of Ken Follet’s masterful Pillars of the Earth in that way, and tells a more complex tale than those press write-ups give it credit for.
As is to be expected, the various storylines cross paths and then converge, but what I really liked about Yancey’s writing was that he gave you clues that enabled you to make those inferences yourself. It was never blunt, with one character saying to another: “Oh I’m related to so-and-so” or “This is how you know me.” And because you, as the reader, were able to make those connections before the characters themselves, it added to the horror when you realized what the fifth wave actually was.
I also really liked the fact that the book made me think, at least more than some other YA novels have. Because of the nature of the fourth wave, the characters are regularly asking themselves what it means to be human or “Other,” and how you can trust someone when the only way to survive is to trust no one. And as they question themselves, they discover the flaw in the Others’ plan – those that have made it through the first four waves have been hardened by their attacks and are now stronger for them.
Like most YA books these days, The 5th Wave is the first in a trilogy that Yancey will complete later this year with the release of The Last Star. But while his book seems to have been favorably received, I noticed during the course of writing this post that the movie wasn’t. While I haven’t read any reviews to know exactly why this is, my guess is that the film focuses more on Cassie than the book does and you lose some of the complexity of the multiple perspectives. It also could be that we’re a little worn out on the end-of-the-world genre, at least when it comes to movies. But regardless of the cause, it seems that my concerns were somewhat founded and that this is a classic case of the book simply being better.