Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bleak Chic

ISBN-10: 0399162410 ISBN-13: 9780399162411 Published: Putnam Juvenile, 05/07/2013 Pages: 480 Language: English
Rick Yancey's newish young adult novel The Fifth Wave doesn't exactly come off as a gamble. The current YA audience seems to have a nearly endless appetite for dystopian romances right now, and Yancey's book checks off many of the seemingly requisite boxes of this blockbuster genre: 

1) Everything is mostly terrible but...
2) On the bright side, at least there's still cute boys
3) Female protagonist who is smart and capable except in dealings with said cute boys
4) Love triangle. Gotta have one. The Fifth Wave ups the ante with a freaking love quadrangle.  
5) Twists that are about as surprising as the ending of the film Titanic
6) Annoying runt strong female protagonist must constantly protect
7) Said cute boys are so uninteresting that it translates to a kind of stealth feminism

I could go on-- snark is a resource of which I am rarely short-- but the point is, there's a formula at work here, and Yancey doesn't really deviate. This could be read as cynical commercial strategy, and, indeed, the book's film rights were optioned even before publication, but there is also such a thing as executing a formula well. I believe Yancey succeeds on this front with mostly flying colors. The things that annoy me about The Fifth Wave are regular genre mainstays, as Todd VanDerWerff points out in his dissection of the novel, so if you're a veteran of the dystopic trenches they may not bother you at all. 

For the most part, though, the Fifth Wave is a cracking read, a real page-turner with (as is also de rigueur since The Hunger Games kicked off the current trend) heavy allegorical overtones that demand some consideration. In addition, Yancey is simply a better writer than most in the field and can turn a phrase almost as well he constructs a fascinating world. The plotting is drum-tight and the phrase 'thrill-ride,' though overused, could be aptly employed to describe this novel.

But does the novel differentiate itself in any real way? Well, I would hardly recommend the book if it were only capably written. What sets The Fifth Wave apart is its premise and the nearly unrelenting grimness with which that premise is explored. Grimness is nothing new to the sub-genre, certainly, but there are degrees of grimness, and The Fifth Wave is practically YA's answer to The Road. See, aliens have arrived, but they aren't E.T.-cute or War of the Worlds-aggressive. Instead, over the course of four "waves," which are described in flashbacks, the aliens-- called "Others"-- decimate almost all of Earth's population with floods, disease, and fear. 

The story picks up during the tail-end of the apocalypse, and things really only get worse. Without spoiling anything, the first part of the book openly mocks human arrogance-- our entire species is frequently described as an insect being crushed under an alien boot. The second delves into the psychology of indoctrination and heavy doses of unsubtle Holocaust symbolism. Whether this is manipulative is arguable, but the effect is undeniably bracing. The world of The Fifth Wave makes Katniss Everdeen and Friends look like a bunch of bourgeois whiners. If you or your teenager are up for a deep delve into humanity's last days-- with the added bonus of cute boys and thrilling action-- The Fifth Wave is among the top contenders.

No comments:

Post a Comment