54 pages 1 hour read

Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


The 5th Wave is the first young adult science fiction novel in Rick Yancey’s trilogy of the same name. The book was published in 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. It follows the story of Cassie Sullivan, a young woman left on her own after aliens attack the Earth in three waves. The first wave is an electromagnetic pulse that shuts down all electricity; the second wave causes natural disasters on the coasts of each continent and forces people to move inland; the third wave is an Ebola-like disease spread via birds that kills millions of people in a few weeks. Cassie believes the fourth wave is distrust between humans, having witnessed her father’s murder at the hands of soldiers meant to be their rescuers. The fifth wave remains undefined until the true nature of the aliens, the Others, becomes evident. In 2016, a film adaptation was released by Columbia Pictures. The movie starred Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie Sullivan and Alex Roe as Evan Walker.

This guide is based on the Kindle version of the text.

Plot Summary

Cassie Sullivan is living on her own after the Arrival—an alien invasion. She writes her story in a diary, explaining how an alien ship—housing the Others—suddenly showed up in the sky and lingered for 10 days without attempting to communicate or otherwise interact with the people of Earth. After 10 days, an electromagnetic pulse shuts down all electricity and electronics. A short time later, the ship drops a massive rod that causes natural disasters on the coasts of all continents, killing thousands and forcing the rest inland. An Ebola-like disease begins to spread and kills millions in a short period of time. With all these disasters, governments break down and people begin to attack one another. Many people flee the cities, and survivor camps begin to form. Cassie’s family takes refuge in their home until Cassie’s mother dies of the aliens’ illness. They move to a camp 20 miles from their home, later referred to as Camp Ashpit, where they hope to be rescued by military.

Drones begin to show up over the camp, and a Black Hawk helicopter flies overhead. Then, soldiers arrive in Humvees with a school bus in tow. They load children under 15 into the bus, including Cassie’s younger brother Sammy. As he boards, Cassie promises to come find him. Sammy gives her his teddy bear to keep her safe. After the bus leaves, the rest of the people are gathered in the main building. Cassie realizes one of the children is missing and convinces the soldiers to take her to look for him. When they find the boy, a soldier kills him. Cassie kills the soldier and runs back to camp—only to witness the soldiers’ leader, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vosch, kill her father. Vosch sends two soldiers after her, but she manages to escape. When she returns to camp, she sees soldiers setting up a bomb.

Cassie remains on her own weeks after her father’s death. She finds it difficult to trust other people as a result of what happened at the camp—and this causes her to kill a wounded soldier in a convenience store. Cassie travels to Wright-Patterson Airforce base where Sammy was taken and is shot in the leg by a sniper. A few days later, she is caught in a snow drift and believes she is about to die. However, a young man comes to her rescue, taking her back to his family’s farm.

At the same time Cassie is out on her own, her high school crush, Ben Parish, is in a camp outside Wright-Patterson, Camp Haven, suffering from the aliens’ illness. Soldiers take him to the base hospital, where he is given medication that saves his life. He has an implant imbedded in his neck and is hooked up to a computer program, Wonderland, which maps his memories. Ben is then encouraged to kill a human who has an Other inside of him. Upon passing his tests, he is put through boot camp to become a soldier. He changes his name to “Zombie” and joins a squad of children training to kill infected humans.

Sammy arrives at Wright-Patterson and is put through the same process as “Zombie.” He is assigned to Zombie’s squad and given the name “Nugget.” Zombie and Nugget become close, with the former taking the latter under his wing in an attempt to assuage the guilt he carries for allowing his sister Sissy to die. When Zombie’s squad graduates, he must leave Nugget behind; however, he promises to come back for him. Zombie’s promise is put to the test when squad member Ringer convinces him that leadership at Wright-Patterson lied to them, and they decide to go rogue.

Cassie discovers that the boy who saved her, Evan Walker, is infested with an Other. She debates over what she should do, but the two develop an affectionate relationship, and she ultimately chooses to trust him. Evan helps her plan a rescue mission to save Sammy. Cassie infiltrates the camp at the same time Zombie returns to save Nugget. They both manage to find Sammy during a lockdown and attempt to escape—but are caught by Vosch. Evan comes to their rescue and tells them how to escape; he remains behind to destroy the base. Cassie believes Evan has died but is content to have her brother back and be with people she knows she can trust.