4.5 starsI don’t know about you, but for me, every iteration of the “Next Big Thing in YA” hoopla now comes with attendant alarm bells.I am wary of hype; worn weary by hyperbolic accolades and extravagant marketing campaigns that vary from the invasively viral to the downright obnoxious. It all starts to seem like a lot of unabashed snapping at the heels of the Previous Big Thing in YA – (whether it’s warranted or not) – a desperate attempt to replicate its success, or at the very least to sop up the remaining interest in the latest trend. Call me cynical – (you’d be right) – but I am suspicious of hype. So much of it seems manufactured now, the product of heavily orchestrated, militant marketing strategy; rather than a groundswell of genuine grassroots enthusiasm among readers.But I will concede defeat to The 5th Wave.There was an obvious marketing push – though arguably it was clever and far less offensive than other campaigns clogging up the blogosphere – but it has also been accompanied by critical acclaim and strong reader reaction.Then there’s the fact that I read The 5th Wave and I thought it was pretty darn brilliant.I still don’t like applying sweeping statements of annexation to books, like YA is ground to be conquered and previous successful books are targets to be taken out. I don’t think this book is necessarily The Next Anything. But I do think that it’s an intelligent and gripping apocalyptic/sci-fi novel and Rick Yancey deserves ALL the high fives.Alien invasion stories are nothing new. This is well-trodden ground since War of the Worlds; even Stephenie Meyer had a crack. The trope speaks to a very primal instinct for survival, as well as serving effectively as allegory for the human condition, or metaphor for political manoeuvring and current events. We read alien invasion stories not necessarily because we believe in the possibility of extra-terrestrial hostilities, but because it sets up a scenario that speaks to our fundamental urge to examine and define our own existence.In The 5th Wave, Yancey uses the premise of an alien onslaught on Earth to develop the themes of humanity, survival in the face of desolation, and “otherness”. ‘Humanity’ is a word that appears frequently throughout the novel in various contexts and on different scales, but the question overarching the book drills down to a very personal level. What does it mean to say that a person has humanity? Can it be lost? And can it be gained?The framework of The 5th Wave, using primary first-person narrators interspersed with secondary, third-person points of view, provides readers with a wider lens through which to examine Yancey’s concept of invasion. The novel written firmly in only Cassie’s perspective would still have made for an entertaining story, (more on Cassie soon), but the narrower angle would have somewhat stifled the true brilliance of The 5th Wave, which lies in solving the jigsaw of the plot. Like all puzzles, some pieces are more easily connected than others: astute readers will anticipate certain twists. But it’s the way the segments of the novel snap together that keep it compelling: the constant hypothesising that accompanies the reading, the uncertainty of whether you’re right or not, the dread that your suspicions are correct.In Cassie, Yancey captures the essence of The 5th Wave: the sense of utter isolation and dread balanced with the tenacity of hope. Cassie is rendered in shades of snark, fear and determination. There’s an immediacy and authenticity to her voice that keep her story engaging, even when chunks of it are delivered via flashblacks. She’s an accessible character, without any of the strength of her personality having to be diluted or her flaws glossed over.Yancey uses moral ambiguity to excellent effect in all of his main characters: Cassie, Evan, Zombie, Ringer. The question of whether they are “good” or “bad”, and whether or not these are mutually exclusive concepts as far as the characters’ actions and motivations are concerned, maintains tension in the story. By challenging readers’ perception of the characters, we get to the crux of the novel, that is – what is humanity? What does it mean to be human?Interestingly, while the story could be perceived by some as taking, or even perpetuating, a problematic and imperialistic stance on the idea of the “other”, one that’s steeped in discriminatory doctrine – I’m not convinced that this is the case. I think there are enough clues in this novel to expect a deeper exploration of the issue of “othering” in subsequent instalments. Since the characters themselves display ethical gradation, I would be surprised if Yancy left the idea of “us” and “them” in such oversimplified terms. Rather, I think he’s only just scratched the surface of what’s going to be examined in this series.As to the titular fifth wave, and what it comprises of, I think Yancey’s concept is frighteningly plausible. Not plausible in terms of an extra-terrestrial invasion, but in terms of tactics employed (trying very hard to avoid spoilers here). Sadly, we have more than enough historical and current evidence of indoctrination and use of child soldiers in conflicts around the world, including genocides and so-called ethnic cleansing. There is no shortage of examples of systematic desensitisation and exploitation of children as a tool of hostilities. In this sense, The 5th Wave is a complex, thought-provoking novel; a high-concept premise layered with relevance to our current reality.Of course, The 5th Wave asks for a certain amount of suspension of belief from the reader, particularly in the climactic action scenes and some of the more convenient plot developments. I’m more than willing to do this for a good story, and for characters I’m invested in. Mileage will vary as to how much you buy into to the denouement and the choices that lead the characters there; I found it no hindrance at all, so entrenched was I in the characters’ predicaments.So, consider me a fan. I don’t know what Rick Yancey has in store for us in the follow-up, but I am so on board for it.An advance reader copy of The 5th Wave was provided by Penguin Books Australia via Netgalley.