“Are we there yet?”
Oh, but I was ready. A decade and four children into my parenting career, I’d honed my car-trip tactics with exacting preparedness: individually packed snack tubs; new markers with ready-to-be-filled blank journals; puzzle books; a bribe bag of marshmallows; kid-sized neck pillows for comfortable napping. (No movies. Our one old-school road rule.)
“Are we there yet?”
The puzzles were boring, the markers lost their caps, the marshmallows underwhelmed and no one felt like napping. The minivan was restless, and we had 13 more hours to go.
I looked at my Kindle, desperately wishing I could disappear into the buzzy new YA bestseller I’d downloaded just before we left.
“Who wants to hear a story about aliens taking over the earth?”
It turns out, everyone did. I started reading aloud Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave, and before I’d finished the first page, the car had fallen silent. Even the 4-year-old was rapt. In the driver’s seat, so was my husband.
I’m a dedicated read-alouder, having attempted a British accent through all 4,100 pages of all seven Harry Potter books—twice, to my two oldest sons. I’ve read Charlotte’s Web in Starbucks, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 in line at the post office and Percy Jackson at the dentist’s office. But my favorite place to read aloud is in the car. Everyone’s captive.
Still, I hadn’t planned on reading this book. On page 10, the teenage heroine, Cassie, encounters a dying man and refuses to save him. “Blood dribbled over his bottom lip and hung quivering from his stubbly chin,” Yancey writes. “His teeth shone with blood.” I winced as I read it, watching my 5-year-old son’s eyes grow wide in the rearview mirror.
“Guys, this is creepy. Why don’t we stop?”
So I didn’t. I read page after page, hour after hour. The requests for potty breaks grew further apart, the sibling bickering almost non-existent. I forged on, amazed at the quiet. As the suspense built, we started batting around theories. We debated the Big Questions: Do aliens exist? Would they obliterate the human race, Fifth Wave-style, or take a friendlier approach? What would life be like if there were only a few thousand humans left on earth? At one key plot twist, the 5-year-old piped up: “In the first chapter! INSIDE!” He’d remembered back 200-plus pages and made the connection.
Intense, violent, and brimming with morally conflicted characters, the book is decidedly not for the Bubble Guppies set. Probably not for anyone young enough to have more than one Instagram account. And yet, while I have never considered taking my kids to an R-rated movie, this felt like far less of a breach. The gore ran red throughout—this is the alien apocalypse, after all—but unlike onscreen violence, in books, the mind’s eye controls the image. No one complained a single time that they’d had a scary dream. No one ever asked me to stop (though the 4-year-old did get fidgety). I plunged forward, tearing through chapters as we wound our way to the top of North Carolina’s Clingman’s Dome, ratcheting up my performance to keep my carsick-prone 8-year-old distracted. (It worked half the time.)
I skipped over some bad words but left others in. My oldest son, 10, felt the thrill of hearing an illicit “smartass” or “dammit.” (Keeping the younger ones in a curse-free bubble has always been a losing proposition.) I abbreviated stretches of the teen romance subplots—and some thinly veiled alien-human hot stuff—mostly because that’s when I could see my kids’ eyes glaze over.
When I grew hoarse and asked to take a breather, my audience begged me not to. I read at night in our cozy cabin. I read during a rainy afternoon in front of the fire. I read on short car rides and nearly all 13 hours home. On that drive, my oldest handed me a carefully detailed drawing he’d done inspired by the book. When we finished back home a few days after our trip–480 pages and seven billion dead people later–everyone clapped.
We can’t wait for the sequel.