Study Guide

The 5th Wave

By Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave Introduction

We're genre nuts. If it contains fantasy heroes acting like knights—or scoundrels—we don't care if it happens in Westeros or in a galaxy far, far away. If it contains scientists and mind-blowing technology, we don't care if it happens in space (where no one can here you scream) or in the good ol' Victorian London.

And we're bonkers about post-apocalyptic scenarios where plucky heroines defy the odds and get embroiled in spicy love triangles… whether their names happen to be Katniss or Cassie.

You just can't go wrong with a dystopia and a steely-eyed young woman with a name that starts with a hard "K" sound.

Don't get us wrong; we say this with compliments to the author of The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey. And the NY Times agrees with us:

Just about everything here is borrowed from one venerable pop culture source or another, but it's a rip-roaring setup. (Source)

We think that analysis is dead-on.

In addition to the 21st Century YA tropes we already mentioned, Yancey borrows heavily on scare tactics from a number of popular science fiction works, including War of the Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Battlestar Galactica.

Oh yeah, this is probably important: The 5th Wave is about an alien invasion.

It's not just any alien invasion, either. It's a really, really, really bad one. So bad, in fact, that more than 99% of humanity was wiped out behind the scenes before the book even begins. Humanity encountered the 1st Wave (complete electrical failure), the 2nd Wave (massive tsunamis), the 3rd Wave (an especially icky plague), and is now coming to grips with the 4th and 5th Waves (which we'll let you discover on your own). Cassie, orphaned and on her own, is searching for her baby bro. Ben, who's adopted the nom de guerre "Zombie," is searching for revenge and the truth. And Evan—who may be more than he seems—basically wants to protect his ladylove, Cassie.

With the box office success of similar franchises like Divergent and Hunger Games, you probably won't be surprised to learn there's a string of movies based on this trilogy. On top of that, the author has written more than a dozen other novels along the same lines (think horror, sci-fi, and YA) for your reading pleasure.

So far, at least, The 5th Wave remains Yancey's top seller, and it's garnered high praise from kids and critics alike…as well as some nail-bitingly intense questions. Will Cassie and her pals live long and prosper? Will the aliens be defeated? Will humankind rule the earth ever again?

To paraphrase Fox Mulder, the truth is in here—inside the pages of The 5th Wave and its sequels.

But even though we have a million and a half questions about the future of the world post-5th Wave, we do know one thing: you'll be flipping these pages until your fingers get chapped, and reading until your eyes get dry and itchy. There's no putting this book down… at least until the aliens get you.

What is The 5th Wave About and Why Should I Care?

Here's one for all you naysayers out there—for the people that think "Ugh. Why read another violent YA novel? Weren't Divergent and The Hunger Games enough?"

We have two things to say to you, oh ye of little faith.

#1. No way. There are some things that you can never have too many of. Cupcakes. Tacos. Fuzzy socks during the winter. Days at the pool during the summer. Violent YA trilogies.

#2. That's kind of like saying "Ugh. Another sci-fi novel?" Because, like sci-fi, YA novels that feature apocalyptic scenarios or dystopias are all different. They're like snowflakes.

Phew. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about what makes The 5th Wave a special snowflake—a special, corpse-ridden, alien-infested, burnt-out snowflake.

Early in The 5th Wave, our heroine's dad offers her a valuable piece of advice:

"Do you know how to tell who the enemy is in wartime, Cassie? The guy who's shooting at you—that's how you tell." (16.35)

His point is that, in the confusion of war, someone who seems like your ally may in fact be your enemy… or vice versa. And how do you know who's who? Pay less attention to what people say, and more attention to what they do.

In other words, stay woke.

Now, with any luck, no alien-masquerading-as-a-human will ever shoot at you. But there will be times in life when you may have cause to question the loyalties of the people around you. Maybe it's on a personal level. (Did your bestie spill your secret crush? Are your parents hateful swamp monsters, or do they have your best interests at heart?) Or maybe you're looking at a real-life war (there certainly are enough of 'em), trying to separate the good guys from the bad guys. Sometimes it's hard to know who's who.

Well, stay cool, Veronica Mars. That advice from Cassie's dad will help you crack the case. Watch what people do, and all your puzzle pieces will fall into place.

In the uncertain and dangerous world of the book, that's exactly what Cassie does. When she finds out that Evan Walker is an alien, her first thought is to kill him, or run away. (Aliens are the enemy, after all.) Instead, she pauses and thinks about his actions, which reveal that he truly cares for her. She decides to look past the label of "alien" and build a bridge—a bridge that might just save the human race.

You're probably not going to have the opportunity to save the world any time soon (though, hey— it could happen). Still, it's important to push past stereotypes and labels to really see the people hiding underneath. Who knows?

That person you took to be an evil alien might just turn out to be your soul mate.

The 5th Wave Resources


The Author's Official Website
It has lots of info and movie trailers.

Movie or TV Productions

The Blockbuster Hit
The first movie in a three-part series, starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

Articles and Interviews

The NY Times Review
Justin Cronin reviews the book for the New York Times.

A Q&A at Publishers Weekly
An interview with the author on the occasion of the second book in his series.

The AV Club's Snarky Take
Quoth the author, "deeply annoying"—but also "one of the year's best YA books."

A Review at USA Today
It's a good one, too.


Yancey on Alien Invasion
Rick Yancey talks about how Stephen Hawking influenced the book.

The Author's Thoughts on Writing
Here they are.


The Audiobook
Listen to a sample.


Meet the Author
He's wearing shades and everything.

Check Out the Book Cover
Can you tell that it's a book about aliens?