Animorphs #7: “The Stranger”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Rachel and the other Animorphs have finally found the new entrance to the Yeerk pool. They’ve even figured out a way to sneak in. The infamous roach morph. But they didn’t count on roaches being a Taxxon delicacy. This time escape doesn’t look so good.
And then everything stops. Everything. The feasting Taxxon, the human-Controllers, the Hork-Bajir. Time. Now Rachel, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Tobias, and Ax are in for their wildest trip ever. They’re going to get the chance to decide whether they want to stay on Earth and fight the Yeerks. Or go to another planet. And the guy giving them the choice says he can save them. Now all they have to do is make the choice…
Plot: So much happens in this book! We have major family drama in Rachel’s personal life, with her father moving to a new city/state and asking Rachel to come live with him. We have a the re-discovery of a Yeerk pool entrance and a rather disastrous trip down. We meet an all-powerful alien creature called an Ellimist who offers to whisk the Animorphs, their families, and a few select humans away to a new planet to re-start the human race, claiming the war on Earth is lost. We have time travel. We have new morphs. We have major wins and major loses. And again, this is a tiny, tiny book!
As highlighted above, the main drama for this book comes with the arrival of the Ellimist and his offer to save the Animorphs. After deciding against his offer the first go around, the Animorphs all sink into a very dark place, but Rachel especially, questioning their motivation to continue fighting a war that they are being told is unwinnable. In an attempt to convince them for a second time, the Ellimist jumps them all forward in time to a version of their city that is now completely overrun by Yeerks. The school is laid to waste with skeletons of teachers left at their desks. The mall is a hive for Taxxons. And Rachel meetings a chilling older version of herself who now a Controller herself and palling it around with Visser Three.
After being returned to their own time, however, the group begins to question what they have seen. Future Visser Three’s strange reaction to Ax (being surprised that he was there), and the seemingly endless power of the Ellimist himself, leads the group to wonder at the elaborate methods being used to convince them and the inevitability of this so-called future. They come to the conclusion that the Ellimist is playing his own game within the structure of the rules imposed on him by his kind. He has said that he’s not allowed to interfere, only to save the group. But through his interactions with the Animorphs he has saved them once (freezing time the first time he meets them when they are about to become Taxxon chow and allowing them an opportunity to spot an exit) and then showing them key intel by transporting them to the “future” (they spot one skyscraper from the old city skyline that has been left untouched). They are able to deduce that this skyscraper is where the Yeerks are storing the Kandrona, the food source that is transmitted to the Yeerk pool and sustains the Yeerks when they swim in it every three days. Back in their own time, the Animorphs are then able to use this knowledge to infiltrate and destroy it, marking a major win for the group.
Xena, Warriar Princess: Applegate sure doesn’t cut Rachel any breaks in this book. In a nice (terrible, for Rachel, at least!) little parallel story, Rachel’s dad asks her to decide whether she wants to move to another city and live with him. With this decisions comes many pros: a renewed dedication to gymnastics, a sport her father wants to help her pursue, a closer relationship with her father, and, of course, the chance to live a “normal” life far away from the constant fear of war and the stress she feels from the role she has taken on in the group as the de facto “courageous” one. I really liked how much thought and page time was given to this story line. In a tiny book that is jam packed with tons of action and high stakes, it is impressive that we get a very fleshed out take on the hardships of this decision as well and the stress it puts on Rachel. She loves her dad. But she also loves her mom and sisters who she would be leaving behind. She feels obligated to stay in the war against the Yeerks and has begun to resent being taken for granted by the group to make the tough calls. But she also loves her friends and can’t abandon them. It’s no wonder that she has several different break downs in this book.
Here we se even more how boxed in Rachel feels by the others’ impression of her. They take her courage and willingness to fight for granted, never considering the emotional toll it is taking on her. When the Ellimist first asks them to vote, they don’t even ask her, they just assume she’ll say “no.” And then she realizes that she would, but not just because that what she feels is right, but because they all respect her and look up to her and she doesn’t want to let them down. This constant tension between being strong for the others while repressing her true feelings (she can be hurt and scared as much as the rest of them, and her fear for her family and the temptation of the Ellimist’s offer is just as strong as well) leads to spiral in the middle of the book. Not only does she snap in front of her friends, yelling at them that she’s not invincible and fearless, but she’s the first to begin using morphing as a coping tactic, hiding in the simple-mindedness of her eagle form to escape. She also seeks out a stronger battle morph, a grizzly, on her own. Several bad decisions here. First, the Animorphs have to touch an animal to acquire its DNA, so going it alone to get face to face with a grizzly with no back up is really dumb. And then, she never practices the morph, which we have all learned in mistake numero uno and thus has some control issues when she first uses it in the midst of battle. Her bear morph is really the only thing that gets them all through, its brute strength being the tipping point in their favor against tons of Hork-Bajir, so none of them can get too mad at her, but there are still “stern talks” from Jake about these poor decisions.
Our Fearless Leader: Dear Jake is a hold out both times against the Ellimist’s offer to save themselves and his family. It’s another testament to his role as the rock of the group, not one to be easily swayed against the mission or abandon the war they are fighting. He’s also the most upfront against Cassie who sides
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias yet again proves that he is the most dedicated to the fight against the Yeerks. He not only never considers the Ellimist’s offer to give up the fight, but is savvy enough to realize that he is being used against his friends. (The Ellimist returns him to his human form during these interactions and promises to allow him to remain that way if they accept his offer). He calls the Ellimist out on attempting to leverage their love of him to manipulate them into accepting so as to spare him a return to life as a hawk. Have I mentioned that I love Tobias?? It’s also fun seeing him pair up with Marco in the beginning of the book to discover an entrance to the Yeerk pool. It makes sense that he would do something like this having tons of time on his…er…wings, and Marco/Tobias is a team up that we don’t often see, so it was a fun twist.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, I really do try with Cassie, and there are times (like in the last book specifically) where I really love her character. But she immediately signs on to what the Ellimist is offering, and while I can see this being a true reaction for her character (approaching it as a human would view saving a few animals of an endangered species), I still have trouble respecting much of her thinking in many of the books, and this one in particular. Her lens often feels so narrowly focused that she isn’t as sympathetic as the others to me. Yeah, yeah, she loves animals and peace…but this is a really cowardly decision (not necessarily the choice as a whole, since we see the shades of grey as the rest of the Animorphs continue to struggle with the idea, but the fact that she rationalizes it so quickly). The fact that she so easily goes for it, even with characters like Ax who, presumably, knows more about this new creature than she does, is strongly warning against it, just sticks in my craw and continues to highlight what drives me nuts about her as a character. I mean, she’s the ONLY ONE who signs up immediately…that says something, I think.
The Comic Relief: As I’ve said so many times, Marco is the brains of the operation, proving it yet again by setting up the plan to track down an entrance to the Yeerk pool, along with Tobias. Other than that, Marco is the one to change his mind on the second go-around. And, again highlighting the pressure that is put on Rachel by them all, the first reason he gives for it is Rachel’s ongoing breakdwon. If the strong one is spiraling, what are the rest of them to do? It goes a long way to highlighting how highly Marco views and relies on Rachel’s courage in this battle. It’s not just “Xena” jokes, he truly does gauge their effectiveness based on her mindset, and seeing her lose it, shakes his own dedication to the fight.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s increased knowledge of the greater galaxy as a hole is again highlighted as a unique asset to the the Animorphs. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the Andalites, through Ax, are presented as a real and flawed society. They have their own biases and false histories, as evidenced with Ax’s interactions with the Ellimist. While he is correct to warn the Animorphs that there is more to the Ellimist than he presents, his clear fear and anger towards him is a bit extreme, as we see later in the book. Further, we haven’t had an Ax book yet, and there continues to be hints here and there that Ax still doesn’t view himself as really being part of this team. He takes himself out of the vote for whether to accept the Ellimist’s offer, for example, claiming it is not up to him to decide (though Rachel rightly mentally lists him as a “no” based, again, on his unsubtly expressed opinions of the Ellimist).
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Well, first off, the fact that they were all almost eaten by Taxxons while in roach morph. But secondly, the violence! So much gross violence. Rachel gets a hand taken off in the final battle and the description it…detailed. Again, this is crazy that it was written for a middle grade audience!
Couples Watch!: While she struggles with the decision presented to her by her father, Rachel’s reaction to is fly off into the night to be with Tobias. While she doesn’t tell him everything right away, it is sweet that she clearly relies on him for emotional support. Also, when the Ellimist first appears
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only shows up in the flash forward bit of the story, but he’s as campy as ever when he does, parading around with future!Rachel.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Rachel’s breakdown to the group was really sad and hard to read. Even as a reader, we come to expect certain things from her and it is easy to forget that she’s not oblivious to the pressure that these impressions of her assert. So it’s a shock to hear her yell at her friends with a healthy dose of brutal honesty thrown in about how she’s always scared, too. Always.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They actually have some fairly good plans in this one, even going so far as to think out the bizarreness of their clothes being found left on the floor of the mall’s changing rooms (the entrance to the Yeerk pool and where they all morph to roaches). Sure, they are vastly outnumbered in their attack on the Kandrona tower, but there is really nothing to be done about that and all’s well that ends well, I guess, even with lost hands/paws in the mix.
Ax is having trouble adjusting to the small things of life on Earth…like “human minutes”…
“You know, Ax, they’re your minutes now, too. I mean, we are all here together on good old Earth where we only have one type of minute.” – Marco
Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4
A major win for the Animorphs in this one, taking out the Kandrona and likely dooming hundreds of Yeerks to starvation.
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!