Review: The Fifth Wave

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Book website. First in a trilogy.

The Plot: It is months after the aliens first came, the Others, and sixteen year old Cassie Sullivan is huddled in a tent, alone with just her baby brother’s teddy bear for company.

Cassie is alone and terrified and surviving. So far, she has survived each wave, the waves that have killed billions and continues to kill the handful of human survivors.

The waves of attack started shortly after the alien ships appeared in the sky. Cassie has survived each one: the 1st Wave when the electricity went out, the 2nd Wave of superstorms that wiped out the shorelines and killed billions, the 3rd Wave of disease that killed billions more, and the 4th Wave, of Others who look like humans and are intent on killing the handful of humans who are still alive.

Before Cassie realized what the 4th Wave was, she waved good-bye to her five year old brother Sammy as he was rescued by soldiers.

Cassie is alone and scared. With the Others looking like any other survivor, can she trust the people she meets? Can she rescue her brother?

Ben Parish is in a refuge camp. Like Cassie, he has survived each Wave. Unlike Cassie, he has no family left. He is given a chance for revenge, for vengeance, for redemption, by becoming a soldier in the attack against the Others. He is being trained to hunt and to kill, along with other children and teens. Children and teens who have been rescued by soldiers.

Who do you trust, when the enemy wears familiar faves? Who is the enemy? And what is the 5th Wave?

The Good: I read this the first time on a plane ride home from ALA Midwinter. By the time I got halfway through, by the time Cassie encountered Evan Walker and was trying to figure out whether she could trust him, by the time Cassie’s former high school classmate Ben was being trained to be a soldier by those I (and Cassie) knew to be others, I was so worried for Cassie and Ben and Sammy that I rushed through the second half of the book, fast reading to find out what happens next.

The second time I read this book, knowing what happened, I was able to sit back and see how the pieces fit together. There is the question of battlefields, and that the battle is not just physical attacks but also what is going on internally. “And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.” There is figuring

This is primarily Cassie’s story, her voice is in the first and last chapters, telling the story, but along the way, other chapters are told through other people’s points of view. That’s how we find out about Ben, and a little bit about Sammy, and a little bit about one of the Others. “The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog.

Before the aliens came, Ben was a golden boy at his high school: charming and athletic, popular, the boy Cassie had a crush on for years. Cassie was boring and average and not really noticed. The truth is, as is shown in The 5th Wave, is we don’t know what we’re made of until bad stuff happens. Cassie, that average sixteen year old, turns out to be brave and strong and resilient. She may cry (“When I cry — when I let myself cry — that’s who I cry for. I don’t cry for myself. I cry for the Cassie’s that gone“) but it doesn’t stop her. It doesn’t stop her from picking up a gun and firing in self defense. It doesn’t stop her from firing when the person facing her may be a dangerous Other or a human. When the instinct is to run or to face what is happening, she faces what is happening.

Ben ran. When Ben had to face the worst, he ran. His running away, and what he ran away from, is why he’s so intent on becoming a soldier. It’s his chance to show that he he can do the right thing, to stand and not run. Like the other children being groomed as soldiers, he discards his old name for a nickname: “Zombie is everything Ben wasn’t. Zombie is hardcore. Zombie is badass. Zombie is stone-cold.” Here’s the thing, though — and the reader knows it before Ben does because of what Cassie has told us — Ben is trusting the wrong people. Part of the growing dread and the reason I turned the pages is knowing that Ben has trusted the wrong people and wondering when he will realize it and what will happen then.

Trusting the wrong people — and then there is Evan. Evan Walker. Should Cassie trust him? But isn’t trust important, part of what makes us human? “How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.” Whether Cassie should trust Evan is not so much about Evan as it is about Cassie.

The 5th Wave joins my list of Favorite Books Read in 2013, because I adore a book that works on so many levels at the same time. It’s a fast paced turn-pager that also provides much food for thought about what it is to be a human. It gives us the evil alien Others who are intent on eliminating all humans but then gives us a peak into one such Other so that we realize it’s not that simple. There are two equally sympathetic characters, Cassie and Ben, with very different paths — and each of those paths alone makes this an easy book to booktalk. Combined, The 5th Wave will booktalk itself.

And there is so much more! Remember when I mused about characters in books getting their periods? Early on, Cassie is packing her backpack and figuring out what to take? Now, I have to confess to being one of those list-lovers, both in real life and in books, so list = happy anyway.  But this list does something else: it makes us think if, when you only have that one backpack, what do you bring? What is worth the weight? Underwear and photos, toothpaste and sardines. And, for Cassie, tampons, because “I’m constantly worrying about my stash and if I’ll be able to find more.” And this is damn near perfect, because it’s realistic. Society is destroyed and you just can’t run down to the drugstore anytime you want. It acknowledges that Cassie is sixteen so getting her period happens and so it’s part of what she has to be prepared for. It’s not a major plot point, but it’s as important to her survival as getting drinkable water.

And then here is something else, there is so much in The 5th Wave I want to talk about and discuss, that this could go on for another thousand words. Like how, just as Cassie cried for her younger, innocent self, I cried, too — and at how The 5th Wave conveyed just how big and small the losses are, to the world, with wave after wave of attack. Like missing hamburgers or forgetting what someone’s face looks like. Or how my thoughts turn to “would I survive” and then “would I want to.”

The 5th Wave is the first in a trilogy. The question I ask anymore for part of a series is, “does the book answer the question it raised? does it give an ending to its primary plot?” Here, the answer is “yes” and “yes.” The 5th Wave reveals just what the 5th Wave is; and there is a resolution to what I see as the main plot. (See how I avoided spoilers there? “Resolution” is so open and I haven’t said what I see as the “main plot.”) In point of fact, the story was resolved so well that it makes me even more curious as to what will happen in the next book.



Pull Up a Chair, Have a Cup of Blood

Today is the release date for The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey. Now, usually I don’t announce these types of things, but this is special.

As you may remember, it was a bit dicey there whether or not the publisher for the Monstrumologist series would commit to a fourth book. Fans made it known online they wanted another book, and, ultimately, yes, there shall be a fourth book!

As a quick recap to those new to the series, in the nineteenth century world of The Monstrumologist, monsters are real, and the intense, dedicated Dr. Warthrop chases down and studies all types of monsters with his reluctant assistant, Will Henry, aged 12. It’s intense, it’s bloody, it’s action packed and, at the same time, a wonderful character study and beautifully written.

That is wonderful news — that the publisher listened to the fans. But, it’s not the end of the story. The fan support doesn’t end with that announcement; the fan support needs to continue to provide the proof that the right decision was made, and yes, there are readers for the book and yes, there are readers for the series. So, go! Read the books yourself! Make sure your libraries has copies! Booktalk this series to teens and adults! Ask your bookstore about this series! It matters…. and part of the reason it matters has nothing to do with the Monstrumologist series. It matters because books matter; and because the next time readers rally online for an author or series, you want the publisher to look at this fan support as a positive. And positive means readers and buyers for the books.

So, here is a round up of some of the online buzz about The Isle of Blood and the Monstrumologist series:

From my review of The Isle of Blood: “It is February 1889 and thirteen year old Will Henry and his mentor / employer, monstrumologist Pellinore Warthrop, get a special delivery from their old friend Jack Kearns.  The gift is the second greatest prize in monstrumology: it will inspire Warthrop and will to seek out the first greatest prize, racing across the globe to find it before anyone else does. Will is pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits as he is forced to face the ultimate question: what is a man and what is a monster? What is the difference between the two?” My reviews of the first two books in the series, The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo. And, just because it fascinates me and reminds me of monstrumology, the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

Stephanie Reads: The saga of saving the Monsters, er, Monstrumologist: My Quest To Save The Monstrumologist and Monstrumology Lives.

Fat Girl, Reading shares a review by a real! live! teenager! If you want to know why I adore Angie Manfredi (the librarian behind Fat Girl, Reading), it is because of things she says like this, about Bear, the teen who reviewed The Monstrumologist: “Bear is also a voracious reader who reads across a variety of genres. Bear is the kind of reader, the kind of patron, it’s actually rather easy to forget about. Teens like that, after all, don’t need that much help from us, right? They find books, they read no matter what, we don’t have to worry about getting them through the doors! And yet! Bear wants and needs just as much reader’s advisory as any reluctant reader.  So when I have the chance to connect him with a book, I know that an actual connection will be made – that this is a book that will be relished and analyzed and loved.” Before going on to the review by Bear, I just have to add that yes, I’ve also encountered the attitude that teens and adults like Bear who are readers don’t need library services.

Anyway, back to our favorite Monstrumologist! From Bear’s review at Fat Girl, Reading: “The way the story was told had the perfect blend of emotion-capturing horror as well as the slightly detached journalistic reporting of facts. With these two flavors of storytelling working together, even the most over the top grotesque parts of the book seemed more believable and less gratuitous than other horror I have read.”

When Angie loves something, she goes full throttle. Also from Fat Girl, Reading is So What, Exactly, Is The Monstrumologist? A Very Special Guest Post by Rick Yancey. (Also, I love that Rick is asked one question and goes on and on in his answer. I do that, too!) There is so much in Yancey’s answer that left me saying “really?!,” but I can only share a snippet: “And I wanted INTENSITY.  Not just intensity of the chase and the inevitable physical dangers of monster-hunting, but psychological intensity, emotional intensity.  19th Century writers never shied away from this and Will, being forged in that time period, would not have either.”

But wait! There’s more! Angie continues to explore the need for reader’s advisory for nonreluctant readers and offers a Monstrumologist giveaway! Giveaway ends September 19. “The Monstrumologist is that book.  It’s not for every reader.  It’s not for many reluctant readers (though there are some who will be drawn in, much to their surprise!)  It’s sophisticated, smart, classically structured, dense, and detailed.  The Monstrumologist is a book for the teenagers who think that young adult literature doesn’t have anything left to offer them.”

From The Book Smugglers: a review of The Isle of Blood, which captures all that is good and gory about the latest Monstrumologist book. First, a peak of one what happens to one victim: “the man begins to change, his skin rotting and translucent, his eyes sensitive to light, his appetite so great that he begins to consume his own organs and appendages.”  Then, Yancey goes there, the dark, dark places: “These are dark times, and The Isle of Blood is a dark, dark book. I cannot even begin to truly explain the depths that consume our heroes in this installment, or the impossible questions that Will and Warthrop are forced to answer. Unlike the first two books, this third installment has Will journeying into the heart of darkness, scaling the mountains of madness, and gazing into the Oculos Dei.” This, though, may be my favorite quote from the review: “this is a harrowing, nightmare of a book, beautiful in its cruelty and coldness.”

Also at The Book Smugglers is an interview with the Monstrumologist himself, Dr. Pellinore Xavier Warthrop, via Rick Yancey. These two questions showcase the brilliance that is the character of Dr. Warthrop and the humor that is found in this series: “Does that mean you think [your ward] Will Henry romanticizes [monstrumology]? A: I am forty years in the grave when he wrote the journals, so I cannot speak to what Will Henry does or does not do. I will say he has the poet’s annoying tendency to paint a garish face upon the most plain of countenances. Much of my work many would consider the most mindless drudgery. Leaving out being chased by Anthropophagi, hunted by Wendigos and stalked by the magnificum, the horrible beast in ISLE OF BLOOD? A: A tiny fraction of the work. It doesn’t surprise me that Will Henry would dwell on it. He was a reluctant witness to history.”

Bookshelves of Doom, August 16 Interview with Rick Yancey, before the fourth book was picked up: “A beloved writing teacher once paraphrased Joyce, saying, “A writer should be as indifferent as the gods toward his characters’ suffering.” Oops. Got THAT wrong. Somehow (and I can’t exactly pinpoint when) during the course of the three books, I had bonded myself with Warthrop and Will Henry. I vividly remember the night I wrote the final scene between them in The Isle of Blood, and I burst into extremely unmanly tears. I think I knew then this was it; my time with them was coming rapidly to an end – and I remember asking myself if that had something to do with the lateness of the manuscript – in other words, I was drawing the thing out, not wanting it to end because after it ended there would be a huge part of me that would have to end too – and I wasn’t ready for that.”

Jen Hubert Swan with the ReadingRants review: “Oh, how I love these books! Oh, how I wish there was a real Society for the Advancement of the Science of Monstrumology, and that I could sit down and have Darjeeling tea with Will and Dr. Warthrop! Like The Historian [by Elizabeth Kostova] or The Magicians [by Lev Grossman], this is a first rate philosophical horror/fantasy novel for both teens and adults that makes the heart pound, the blood sing and the mind bend with each new alarming adventure.”

Daniel Kraus (author of Rotters) reviews The Isle of Blood at Booklist: “The relationship between Will and his master has never been more complex: Will, subservient for so long, finds his rebellious streak when Warthrop takes on a new, more qualified assistant, while Warthrop’s mountainous ego threatens to destroy them all.”

Downright Creepy, interview with Rick Yancey: “DRC: What can fans expect from your upcoming novel “The Isle of Blood”? RY: To be frightened out of their freakin’ minds. Also to laugh more and, I hope, cry more. It’s emotionally brutal.”

Diary of a Book Addict review: “If you’ve read the other Monstrumologist books, Isle of Blood is another satisfying entry into the series. Filled with edge-of-your-seat action, spine-chilling horror and great characters, Isle of Blood is a satisfying conclusion to the series, even though fans are left wanting more.” My note: since that review was published, the final book was announced.

From The First Novel’s Club, a review of the first book: “My favorite character by far is Jack Kearns–a fellow monstrumologist with highly questionable morals who finds pretty much everything amusing. His wit and irreverence made me laugh aloud many, many times in the book, despite some of the horrifying things he does. As a writer, I couldn’t help but think that Jack Kearns must’ve been a blast to write, being so entertainingly villainous.”

To find even more, check out Rick Yancey’s Facebook Page.

I’m sorry I couldn’t like to everyone who posted reviews and interviews; please leave links in the comments. Thanks!

Review: Isle of Blood

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey. Book 3 in the Monstrumologist Series. Simon & Schuster. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: It is February 1889 and thirteen year old Will Henry and his mentor / employer, monstrumologist Pellinore Warthrop, get a special delivery from their old friend Jack Kearns.  The gift is the second greatest prize in monstrumology: it will inspire Warthrop and will to seek out the first greatest prize, racing across the globe to find it before anyone else does. Will is pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits as he is forced to face the ultimate question: what is a man and what is a monster? What is the difference between the two?

The Good: It is the place where desire meets despair.”

If you enjoy horror, especially horror told in a literary manner, and haven’t read any of the Monstrumologist series yet, stop now and go read The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo. This is the horror of Stephen King, including the deep examination of people and their psyches, a look into what makes people love — or people kill. It is told in the rich language of days past, as if polysyllabic words and classical language makes blood and violence easier to read about and to think about. To think — yes, horror demands you to think, not just about “what is that sound outside my window” but the deeper philosophical questions, such as – what is a monster? What is a man? What is the difference? Instead of Uncle Stevie making the reader think about the darker aspects of ourselves, it is Uncle Ricky, taking our hand as we search for monsters, known and unknown, inside and outside our homes and hearts.

At this point, I assume you’ve read the first two books, and your question now is, is The Isle of Blood as good as it’s predecessors? To step back, The Monstrumologist introduced the reader to a world where monsters are real, biological creatures waiting to be discovered and studied like any other mammal, insect, or fish; it told a layered, action packed story and introduced us to young Will Henry and his mentor, employer, and guardian, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop. The Curse of the Wendigo managed to both be scarier and grosser than the first book, and also revealed more layers of Warthrop’s character and more understanding of his obsession and the impact that had had on his life.

Yes, the third book, The Isle of Blood, is as good as the first two, if not better. It is just as bloody and dangerous and the stakes are just as high, as Warthrop and Will take part in a deadly, dangerous race to find the “Typhoeus magnificum,” the unseen one that preys on people. I’m hesitant to give too much of the plot away: a package arrives for Warthrop and . . .  Well, in the world of the monstrumologist a package is never just a package, a delivery person is not just a person who can go on their merry way, unmarked by their interaction with monster hunters. The adventure proceeds at breakneck speed, bringing back some of the people met in the first two books. Yancey includes real references: pwdre ser (which, by the way, was also the basis for the film, The Blob) and the Hanwell Asylum, and appearances by Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Rimbaud. I’m sure there are others I missed.

As for the bigger questions of the series, beyond “catch the monster,” The Isle of Blood is about how this lifestyle has impacted the character and morals of young Will; and how Warthrop, an unwilling foster father, has shaped his unwanted foster son. Are these two really unwilling and unwanted? What about need? Most importantly, what type of man is Will becoming? For the first time in the series, I’m terrified of the possible answer to that question. Yet, shouldn’t I be reassured, because doesn’t the structure of these books — Rick Yancey telling us he’s merely transcribing the journals of an old man named Will Henry — assure me that Will Henry will be just fine? No. I’m not reassured, and I’ll need to wait for the next book to find the answer to that question. Meanwhile, though, rest easy — the monster search for Typhoeus magnificum is resolved within the pages of The Isle of Blood. Or, rather, rest as easy as one can knowing that monsters are outside your door.

Because Will Henry’s journey, both physical and emotional, fascinates and scares me. Because monsters are real. Because this series keeps getting better and better. For all these, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2011.

Review: The Curse of the Wendigo

 The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2010. Personal copy. Sequel to The Monstrumologist.

The Plot: 1888, New England. Will Henry and his guardian/employer, monstrumologist Pellinore Warthrop, are pulled into another hunt for monsters, this time, the Wendigo. The thing is — Warthrop doesn’t believe in the Wendigo. Monstrumology is a science, dedicated to the study of actual biological entities that others would call “monsters.” It is not about myth or superstition; there is nothing supernatural about monstrumology.

Problem is, one of Warthrop’s friends, John Chanler, went hunting the Wendigo in Rat Portage, Canada and disappeared. Chanler’s wife asks Warthrop to go find John. Warthrop and Will Henry go to western Canada to find Chanler. The search for the Chanler, the journey for the truth, will take them from the forests of Canada to the tenements of New York City.

The Good: What is that noise? Is it the Wendigo outside the window? Is it a vampire lurking in a basement? No, it is only the sigh of contentment (yes, contentment) that The Curse of the Wendigo is every bit as wonderful, fabulous, horrifying and thought provoking as The Monstrumologist. You hear something more? Why, that would be the sound of me turning all the lights on, of locking all the doors, of checking to make sure there are no open windows so that I can sleep tonight. Oh, I won’t sleep soundly…. but hopefully, I will sleep. As Yancey muses having read Will Henry’s journals, “The central question, the thing that woke me up in the dead of night shivering in a cold sweat, the notion that haunted me as I fought to go back to sleep . . . Could monsters be real?”

As with The Monstrumologist, this book stands alone: a creature is hunted, there is a resolution. The bigger story — the series mystery, as it were — remains the mystery of Will Henry and his journals. Yancey’s framing device is that, in the present day, Rick Yancey discovered the journals of recently deceased man who claimed that his name was Will Henry and that he was born in 1876. In the handful of pages before and after Will Henry’s memoir of his time with the monstrumolgist, Yancey discusses his own research into trying to discover who Will Henry was and how much of his journals were fiction and how much were fact. Those mysteries remain — and I am intrigued by how long Yancey will go with this series, with whether there will ever be (or can ever be) an answer to who Will Henry was. For more on the framing device, as well as the literary style of this series, see my review of The Monstrumologist.

In The Curse of the Wendigo, questions of faith, belief, and science are woven together. Warthrop repeatedly explains just why “myths” are myths, as opposed to the cold, logical science of monsters. It is amusing, actually, to think that Warthrop defends the existence of natural monsters against supernatural creatures, while the reader of these books discounts the monsters that are oh-so-real to Warthrop. Against the backdrop of “Wendigo: real monster or mythical creature,” The Curse of the Wendigo also asks questions about love and relationships, about what makes us human, about belief. What are the bonds between Warthrop and Will Henry? Between Warthrop and Chanler and Chanler’s wife, Muriel? Is John Chanler turning into some type of creature? Or is he going insane? And is that being caused by actual infection from a real beast or from a person breaking because of isolation and loss? Along the way, there is plenty of action, gore, and a further exploration of the science of monstrumology as practiced by Warthrop.

Once again, Yancey fills his book with unexpected humor and easter egg references to things and people that are “real.” Warthrop does something that puts his whole group in danger, and someone tells him, “Warthrop, I would have liked to have been included in this decision.” A throwaway reference is made to “that damned Irishman Stokely” or some other “S” name who is pushing the society to include vampires in the creatures it studies. Ah, vampires…. By having Warthrop be skeptical of the Wendigo (as compared to other characters), Yancey can include lore and stories about the Wendigo as Warthrop and his colleagues research and debate whether it is “real”. Because of this scientific approach, the monstrumologists also bring in lore and stories of the vampire, arguing that the two are at least related, if not the same creature.

The second half of the book is set in New York City, looking at both the privileged and the tenements. (Of course Jacob Riis makes an appearance!). Here, a description of the filth: “Each morning the manure was collected and hauled to special staging areas, called “manure blocks,” to await transport over the Brooklyn Bridge. The largest manure block was located on Forty-second Street, one block away from where a hundred thousand people got their drinking water, the Croton Reservoir.” Not only is Yancey giving the reader a peak at a historical time and place, he is also foreshadowing events that happen later. In addition, the depiction of the poverty, the cruelty, the filth shows that there are many monsters, many risks, many dangers in our world — even without Wendigos or vampires.

Because I love this series; because the writing can be beautiful while describing the unthinkable; because it makes me think; because it scares me; because the description of New York City in 1888 made me never want to travel back in time; it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2010.