The 5th Wave, Book 1

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The 5th Wave, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Super intense apocalyptic alien-invasion nail-biter.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 52 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byEnthusiasticEducator November 9, 2018

More Inappropriate than Interesting

The movie is very different than the book. I felt like reading this novel was like watching an R rated movie with middle schoolers. It was extremely uncomfortab... Continue reading
Adult Written byTHE DESTROYER OF ALL January 22, 2016


This book was amazing and I thought it was truly amazing how richard yancey created a whole new type of alien invasion. These seemed more plausible of a story b... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old August 19, 2017

Depends On The Child

I am nine years old, but I am quite mature for my age, seen Twilight, The Hunger Games, World war Z, etc. I love zombie stuff, and have since I read Max Brooks... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byChloeab12 June 27, 2016

Best book next to maximum ride but for ages starting around 14

I want to start out with what you just read above: for ages 14 and up. I would recommend this age because there is much much much romance and thoughts of you kn... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sci-fi and dystopian novels

Themes & Topics

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