Chapter 16
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Another Day in Dystopia

In The Last Star, the grim final installment of his grim 5th Wave trilogy, Rick Yancey pulls no punches

The Last Star is the third and final installment of Rick Yancey’s dystopian YA series that begins with New York Times bestseller The 5th Wave and continues in The Infinite Sea. In the trilogy, sixteen-year-old Cassie Sullivan, a curly-haired, freckle-nosed teen from Ohio, struggles to adapt when ordinary life with her parents and five-year-old brother, Sam, is interrupted by the ominous appearance of a spaceship hovering above Earth.

The arrival of “the Others,” as they are called, heralds the beginning of successive waves of destruction. The first three “Waves” take place in the space of three months, killing most of the world’s population through electromagnetic pulses, coastal flooding, and a bird-borne disease. During the fourth wave, lone assassins called “Silencers” pick off isolated survivors, ushering in the fifth wave, a clean-up operation designed to render anyone left—assuming anyone is left—something less than human.

In the series, Cassie goes from texting with her best friend, Lizbeth, and daydreaming about handsome Ben Parish to doing whatever is necessary to survive and protect Sam after their parents die. Meanwhile, against all odds, Ben finds his way to Camp Haven, a military base where he begins training to destroy any remaining humans believed to be “infested” by alien contact. The “Wonderland” device, an alien program recovered by humans, allows Lieutenant Colonel Vosch, the brutal leader of the base, to access the memories of each test subject and root out any alien infiltrators. As the troops prepare to fan out and kill anyone who fails their screening, Ben—now called “Zombie” in a tribute to his unexpected survival—becomes the eventual leader of his squad of fellow soldiers: the beautiful and deadly Ringer; the gentle medic, Dumbo; tiny but fierce Teacup; sharpshooter Poundcake; and Cassie’s own brother Sam, renamed “Nugget.”

As Cassie makes her hazardous way to Sam after he is taken by soldiers to Camp Haven, she is rescued by a farm boy named Evan Walker, the last survivor of his family. Evan, who nurses her back to health in his family’s farmhouse, falls in love with her, but Cassie fears he is really a Silencer and struggles to trust his kindness. Trust is indeed in short supply in the world the Others have created. But young Sam has found something he can believe in:

The gun under his shirt is cold against his bare skin. It’s a nice feeling, better than a hug. He isn’t afraid of the gun. He isn’t afraid of anything. … At Camp Haven, the soldiers in charge said they would protect him. They told him he was perfectly safe. They told him everything was going to be all right. And they lied. They lied about everything because everybody is a liar. They make promises they don’t keep. Even his Mommy and Daddy lied. When the mothership came, they said they would never leave him, and they did. They promised everything would be all right, and it wasn’t.

As befitting a YA genre inescapably changed by the monumental success of The Hunger Games, Yancey pulls no punches here. Small children with bombs stuffed down their throats? Check. Characters beaten, tortured, stabbed, and shot? Sure. Bodies and blood and gore galore? Those, too. These are bleak books populated by children and young adults saturated in a violent and hopeless reality that has caught them completely unprepared. Cut off from family and society, some struggle valiantly to remain true to their understanding of what humanity means—a few even sacrifice themselves for the good of others—but others succumb to the degradation. It’s not a spoiler to say that the closest thing to a happy ending possible in such a decimated society is the hope of survival among whatever alliances seem worth the risk.