The 5th Wave



Super intense apocalyptic alien-invasion nail-biter.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The 5th Wave is set in the aftermath of an alien invasion and paints a fairly realistic picture of how human civilization might be disrupted by bird-borne viruses, electromagnetic pulses, and an artificially induced tsunami.



Positive messages

The 5th Wave emphasizes that, even in the unimaginable tragedy, every person matters.

Positive role models

The primary characters in The 5th Wave all find themselves in extreme situations, where they are forced to do things they might never have contemplated in their lives before the alien invasion. Each, however, struggles to do what's right for those they care about, even if it means personal sacrifice. Cassie is determined to be reunited with her little brother. Ben wants salvation after abandoning his sister. Evan wants to protect Cassie at all costs. How they deal with these motivations in the face of harsh reality is what gives the book its thematic heft.


The 5th Wave contains a large amount of violent action. The backstory involves the extermination of billions across the globe: through the effects of artificially induced natural disasters, a horrifically bloody virus, and the infiltration of alien intelligences into the human population. The main characters are in constant danger, and they suffer various injuries. They also kill their perceived enemies at a distance and at close range. A complete catalogue of violent acts in this book is impossible, but it pulls no punches in describing the effects of genocide. Sensitive readers should be wary.


Under constant physical threat, the characters in The 5th Wave have very little time to think about romance or sex. Cassie has a crush on high school football hero Ben Parish, but she's most strongly attracted to mysterious Evan Walker. When she's unconscious, he bathes and changes her from her bloody dirty clothes into a nightgown, something she realizes when she regains consciousness. While she recuperates at his cabin, she can't help staring at his hair, smile, and rear end. There's a lot of kissing and thinking about sex in the parts of the story involving Cassie and Evan: She contemplates whether he had sex with his ex-girlfriend, makes out with him on a bed, and wonders what it would be like to have his hands all over her body. They share an experience of total intimacy, though not intercourse.


With its characters under such constant stress, the language in The 5th Wave can be fairly harsh at times. There are multiple uses of "hell," "damn," "son of a bitch," "bastard," "piss," and "s--t." Variations of  "f--k" are employed a couple of times, in especially intense scenes.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The 5th Wave is an emotionally intense science fiction adventure set in the aftermath of an alien invasion that has killed billions. It contains a high level of physical violence, resulting in main characters being seriously injured or forced to kill their perceived enemies at a distance or very up close. Younger, more sensitive readers might find the plotting too intense. The language is sometimes rough, with multiple instances of "hell," "damn," "son of a bitch," "bastard," "piss," and "s--t" and two or three uses of "f--k."

What's the story?

In the wake of an alien invasion, most of humanity has been wiped out. All that keeps Cassie Sullivan going is the promise she made to her younger brother, Sammie, and she will do almost anything to be reunited with him. After she's grievously wounded, she's nursed back to health by a mysterious stranger, Evan Walker, who seems to be keeping secrets from her. As Cassie struggles to trust Evan, she's unaware that the invaders are planning a new level of treachery that threatens to destroy every last human survivor.

Is it any good?


THE 5TH WAVE explores an apocalyptic scenario that still has some juice in it. By making the motives of the alien invaders opaque, author Rick Yancey keeps readers guessing and the level of suspense high throughout the book. Readers will find echoes of The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, and Stephen King's The Stand, but The 5th Wave displays plenty of originality. It's a nail-biter from beginning to end.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why stories about alien invasions are so popular. How can stories about extraterrestrials illuminate the human condition? 

  • How do you develop trust between yourself and others, be it your family members, your friends, or your government?

  • How do real-life institutions, such as the government and the military, try to shape the personalities and thoughts of their members?

Book details

Author:Rick Yancey
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, High school, Space and aliens
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Putnam Juvenile
Publication date:May 7, 2013
Number of pages:480
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byLoobyLou December 29, 2013

thrilling ride but approach with care.....

My 'older reading' 11 year old was given this for his birthday and is racing through it. I read some pages with him and was concerned about the content and found the review above really helpful. I was definitely warn off any parents/sensitive children but am trusting my son to ask me questions if he is worried by the main theme - the human race being wiped out in waves by aliens - or the details - the fractured family and life/death scenarios. In some ways I guess the book is no more gory than horrible histories - and that really happened!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 15 years old Written byGGSH May 29, 2013

Literary Science Fiction At Its Best

This is an excellent book. Rick Yancey, author of the Printz-Honor winning Monstrumologist series and The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, has delivered a remarkable tale that manages to revitalize the idea of an alien invasion, in which the aliens are brutally efficient without ever apparently leaving their space ship in orbit around the Earth. Thanks to the constant paranoia, the knowledge that no one can be trusted, this book is terrifying on a level that few other novels aimed at teenagers are able to be. Although, admittedly, this book does not have any truly original ideas, all the elements it takes from other novels are pieced together in a way that makes them uniquely its own, and the characters are so strong that you do not care about any derivative tendencies. You could argue that Cassie is a carbon copy of Katniss from The Hunger Games, what with her protectiveness of her younger brother, her toughness, and her uncaring, unfeeling exterior that hides her vulnerabilities. But, in my opinion, she is an even stronger character than Katniss is, because the book also shows through a series of flashbacks in the first hundred pages or so how the waves forced Cassie to change from your average teen girl who frets over her hair and has had a crush on the school jock since third grade to the tough survivalist she is now. This extra dimension adds a certain accessibility to her character on a level that Katniss never had. And although she is easily the most developed character in The Fifth Wave, all the others are fascinating in their own right. The plot, also, is compelling, with several surprising plot twists toward the end. There are also a couple that were a bit more expected, but they were not really meant to be completely unforeseen. Cassie's plot line has a bit of a slow burn feel to it, but Zombie's story is much faster paced, so the book never feels plodding. The different plot threads start out separate, but they gradually merge together in a way that is fascinating. It should also be noted that the writing style is brilliant, simultaneously literary and accessible, with the ability to provide mesmerizing turns of phrase without slowing down the pace at all. The two main points of view are written in first person present, but both voices are distinct and authentic. There are also a couple of minor points of view that lasted only for a couple of short chapters (one of a Silencer, the other of Cassie's younger brother), both of which were written in third person present and contributed to the novel as a whole. Readers should be aware that there are around five f-bombs interspersed throughout the novel, as well as some milder language, and that the violence is frequent and brutal. Sexual content is kept mainly to kissing and a couple of discussions of sex, but there are several romantic plot threads, which might annoy some people who don't like anything resembling romance in their novels. However, they add a lot to the story and are key to enabling growth in several major characters, including Cassie. This is easily one of the best books I have read, sitting at number three or four on my list of favorite books. With a broad mainstream appeal and an extensive marketing campaign, this book is set to make a major splash commercially as well as critically. This book genuinely deserves to make it big, unlike many of the novels that have gotten extensive backing from publishers in the past.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 11 years old March 23, 2015

Excellent Read

The 5th Wave is an excellent read but the language maybe be iffy for some readers.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


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