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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

An alien ship arrives and hovers over Earth. After several days of silence, the ship sends out an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that causes all electrical power and engines to fail. Over half a million people die in accidents resulting from the EMP.

The second wave of destruction is just that, a wave. The aliens set off a massive earthquake, which causes tsunamis to take out close to 3 billion people. After that, they release a virus that kills 97% of the remaining humans.

Cassie, her father and her younger brother, Sammy, survive the first three waves. They find a refugee camp in the woods made up of other survivors, but after several weeks, alien drones spot them. A few days later, what appear to be human soldiers find the camp. They fill a school bus with refugee children under the age of 12. Sammy goes with them but makes Cassie promise to take care of his stuffed teddy bear until they are reunited.

After the buses leave, the soldiers shoot the remaining refuges, except for Cassie, who manages to escape. Her father dies before a massive bomb turns what was their camp into an ash heap.

For the next five months, Cassie lives alone in the woods, foraging for food at a nearby convenience store. She figures out that the fourth wave of the invasion is what she calls Silencers. They are humans, or human-looking aliens, that stalk and kill survivors. One of them shoots her in the knee, but she is able to escape and find cover. She knows she will die if she does not get help. She also knows the Silencer who shot her is waiting to kill her if she leaves her place of cover.

Elsewhere, the object of Cassie’s infatuation before the alien invasion, a boy named Ben Parish, is struggling to survive. He caught the virus and drifts in and out of hallucinations. He remembers promising his parents that he would take care of his younger sister. Thugs attack him and his sister. They drag Ben away and start to beat him. He escapes them by running away, but he is unable to find his sister. He carries her locket as a reminder of his failure.

Ben is taken to an Air Force base and given medicine to recover. Soldiers tell him that the aliens have invaded some humans, but that the base is safe. He is shown a machine, which helps soldiers detect who is an alien. They have captured one of Ben’s friends, a person who helped him while he was sick. They point the machine at him, and it registers the person as an alien. Ben is given the opportunity to push the button to kill him, which he does.

Ben sinks into depression until a soldier named Vosch tells Ben that he can train to become a soldier, who is trained to fight aliens and help retake Earth. The training is brutal. All the recruits are given nicknames. Ben is called Zombie. He becomes his squad’s leader when he defends a new recruit, named Nugget, from the abuse of their commanding officer. Nugget is Cassie’s little brother, and he becomes devoted to Ben.

Cassie decides she would rather die trying to find her brother than bleed or freeze to death. She taunts the Silencer to kill her but ends up passing out before he does. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a bed. Her wound has been cleaned and bandaged, and she has been bathed. A young man named Evan explains that he found her and brought her home. Evan takes care of her during her recuperation, and despite her best efforts, Cassie finds herself falling in love with him. Eventually, she begins to suspect that he may actually be an alien. He insists he accompany her to try and rescue Sammy.

Ben and his team are the first to graduate from the program and be sent out on a mission to kill aliens. Nugget is too young, however, and must stay behind. Ben promises he will return for him. As the team is dropped into a city, they use their new scanners to track aliens. The scanners light up green when aliens are present. The team, which now includes a girl named Ringer, kills three aliens before an alien sniper pins them down.

As they try to make it to their rendezvous, one of their teammates is killed and another is severely wounded. Ben and Ringer try to find the sniper, but their scanners do not pick up any more aliens. Ringer tells Ben she does not believe their superiors. She thinks the people running the base are aliens and that they are using the children to kill the remaining humans. Humans killing humans could be the fifth wave.

As proof, she has Ben dig out the tracking device with which all the children have been implanted. As soon as it is removed, the scanner says she is an alien. Ben and Ringer stalk the sniper and discover it is their drill sergeant. Ben’s squad was among the first to be sent out. The aliens want to make sure the children back at the base believe that aliens are still out there and dangerous. That is why they planned to kill this first group. Instead of that plan working, the kids kill their drill sergeant. Ben insists he must return to get Nugget before he can permanently leave the base.

Soldiers in the woods attack Cassie and Evan as they near the Air Force base. Evan easily kills them. Cassie knows he is a Silencer. He is the one who shot her. He admits it, but explains that it was never his wish to kill humans. His species exist as pure energy; they have no form.

Many have been living within their human hosts for years without anyone knowing it. They are not parasites. They become the human they inhabit, sharing all their emotions and experiences. Evan is among a small group of dissenters that didn’t want to annihilate the human race, but coexist with them. The more aggressive aliens won that argument.

Evan asks her permission to join with her consciousness for a moment. Cassie opens herself up to let Evan’s energy enter her mind and is convinced of his purity and love for her. Then he pulls away so his energy will leave her. As they near the base, she convinces Evan that although it is foolhardy, she alone must enter the base if they have any hope of rescuing her brother.

Ben has Ringer shoot him in the side so he can con the aliens into allowing him back into the complex. Once inside, he intends to rescue Nugget, not realizing that Cassie is on the same mission. As the two teenagers incapacitate several humans and human/aliens, an alarm is sounded. Someone else is also within the base, wreaking havoc.

Cassie and Ben get to her brother at the same time. Together they try and escape the complex but are captured. The human/aliens take her brother away, but prepare to kill Cassie and Ben. Evan rescues all of them. He guides Cassie, Ben and Sammy to freedom, but he returns to the complex to set off a bomb to destroy it. Cassie knows there is little hope he will survive the explosion.

The aliens send out drones to find and kill those who escaped, but Ben’s squad members rescue them. As a new day dawns, it is indicated that something is making the drones fall from the sky. Ben, Cassie and Sammy watch the sunrise together.

Christian Beliefs

Cassie compares the humans’ battle against the aliens to David and Goliath, with the humans being David. A wounded young man holds a crucifix. Cassie mentions that when the first wave hit and she was at school, some kids prayed. Sammy always says his prayers before bed, but Cassie feels as if God has broken His promises to them. Throughout the book, Cassie questions whether God is real, and if He is, why is He allowing such devastation.

As the refugees wait together to see what will happen because the drones have spotted them, a woman nicknamed Mother Teresa prays the Lord ’s Prayer. Mother Teresa claims God’s judgment has come to them. She then recites Psalm 23 while the atheist hums “Three Blind Mice.” Sammy says their mother told him the aliens might be angels when they first appeared. Now he wonders whether God hates them. He asks Cassie why God let the aliens kill their mother and the other humans.

Ben calls the pestilence the Fourth Horseman, referring to a passage in Revelation. Vosch tells Ben that he has been called by God to fight the aliens. Cassie tells of her conversations with God, in which she irreverently questions the things He is allowing in her life. Later, when she talks to Evan about God, she wonders whether He exists or perhaps is just a story, like Santa Claus.

A drill sergeant wonders who spoke up for Nugget while he was berating him. When no one confesses, the officer shouts that maybe the Lord God spoke to him from heaven. Ben helps Sammy say his prayers at night.

Other Belief Systems

An atheist denigrates a woman who is praying. When another refugee shouts he will go to hell, the atheist wonders how he will know the difference.

Evan is a sentient being without a body. When he connects himself to Cassie, we are given the sense that he is full of warmth and light. When Evan separates from her, Cassie cries at the emptiness she now feels.

Authority Roles

Cassie’s father is devoted to his family, a calming influence. He sneaks a gun to Cassie after the drones come to the refugee camp, indicating he wants her to do whatever she has to in order to survive. Vosch and the other human officers at the base appear to be stern but caring toward the children they train. Later the children realize that those in charge are aliens intent on having the kids kill any human survivors. The kids are told not to trust anyone.


The book is filled with profane and crude language including the f-word in various forms and pseudo forms, such as effing, frigging and freaking. God’s name is used in vain, both alone and with the words d—n, by, oh and sake. Jesus’s name is used as an expletive alone and with the word dear. Christ is also used alone and with holy. A-- is used alone and with dumb, bad and hard. S--- is used alone and with bull and chicken. The words b--ch, h--- and d--n are also used. Other objectionable words are douchebag, dork, FUBAR, screw, sucks, crap, butts, bite me and p---ed.

Cassie tells how she once used a rabbit for target practice and blew it apart. She finds a wounded teenager in a convenience store and shoots him when she thinks he is pulling out a gun. He was actually holding a crucifix. She thinks about wringing a chicken’s neck for food. She finds three people who have been shot in the head by a Silencer. One is a boy of about 10, whose face is blown off. Cassie describes how the aliens released an airborne virus carried by birds. It started as a cough, and then moved to the vital organs. The infected coughed up blood until the virus erupted out of every opening in their body, so it looked like they cried tears of blood.

Cassie describes her mother’s death, in which she screamed and had spasms and bled from every orifice. Cassie punches a boy in the nose who wants to sleep with her. She watches a soldier kill a young refugee in the camp, and then she shoots the soldier in the head. She also sees her father shot to death by soldiers who then set off an explosion that destroys the entire refugee camp.

As Ben suffers from the disease, his camp is invaded. He hears explosions and gunshots. A young soldier falls into his tent, bleeding from a wound in his neck. Evan hunts Cassie, but although he severely wounds her, he is unable to kill her. While Cassie recuperates, Evan tells her about his former girlfriend who killed herself rather than face the pestilence. He later kills three soldiers in the woods.

Although the book is filled with violence as the aliens use various means to destroy humans, the training of the children to become soldiers, some as young as 5 or 6, is particularly disturbing. Ben, at 17, is one of the oldest recruits. They are forced through rigorous physical and mental training as in any military boot camp. Their drill sergeant is foul-mouthed and strict. He hits Ben in the Adam’s apple. Ben dreams of killing him. All but the youngest children are taught to shoot weapons.

On his team’s first mission, they shoot three humans whom they have been tricked into believing are aliens. Ben sets off a grenade to try and blind a sniper, but the blast injures him and several of his team. A sniper kills a young boy. Ben digs Ringer’s scanner out of her neck with a knife. She does the same for him. They then attack their drill sergeant, who is the sniper sent to kill them all.

Ben has Ringer shoot him in the side so he can make the aliens believe he was injured but still believes in their lie. As he and Cassie seek Sammy/Nugget, they must use violence to incapacitate those who get in their way. They hear others talking about people who have also been killed, but they do not know who else is in the complex. Later, they discover it was Evan who was killing them.

The aliens set off massive explosions. The last few chapters are filled with wartime violence as Cassie, Ben and Evan try to get Sammy out of the military base. They must shoot people at close range. Drones shoot at them. Finally Evan blows up the base, causing another massive explosion.


As the first wave hits, Cassie’s friend tries to get her to have sex with Ben, even though at that point, he doesn’t know she exists. Cassie and Evan share several passionate kisses, as she recuperates in his house and when they must be separated at the end of the book. On several occasions they sleep together, but they do not have sex. A boy in the refugee camp tries to kiss Cassie, but she rebuffs him. He then suggests they have sex, as they don’t know how long they will live. Again, she refuses.

The drill sergeant crudely teases Ben that he has a crush on him. That he wished he had been born a girl so he could have Ben’s babies. When Ringer joins the squad, she warns the boys that she will kill them if they try to touch her. When one boy suggests they play strip poker, she throws him to the ground.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

This book was made into a movie. Find the review on this site under the "Movie" tab.

Related parenting articles:

Living in a Broken World.

Talking to Kids About Natural Disasters.

Talking to Kids About the Persecuted Church.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Rick Yancey






Record Label



G.P.Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group


On Video

Year Published



Winner of the 2014 Red House Children’s Book Award; YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults; and others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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