The Great Animorphs Re-read #22: “The Solution”

366790Animorphs #22: “The Solution” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the newest Animorph, is not what he appears. His need to control the other Animorphs and Ax is all he thinks about. And the things he does are starting to break up the group.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Part two was where things got real. Part three is where things get dark. Real dark. And I retreat to a hole of my own making and cry forever.

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Me: re-reading this entire trilogy (source)

Ax shows up in the middle of the night, waking up Rachel with messages of doom. David has truly gone off the deep end, Tobias is likely dead, and Jake is MIA after sending Ax to get her. They are able to figure out that David and Jake are at the mall and rush there only to find tiger!Jake unconscious and bleeding on the floor. Knowing David must be lurking nearby, Rachel takes charge and has Ax demorph to look around. Lion!David attacks her, but with some fancy gymnastic skills, Rachel is able to avoid him. In the process, David shares, again, his gross little philosophy about not murdering humans only “animals.”

The police show up and David takes off. Cassie’s parents show up as the local animal experts. Cassie’s mom, in particular, is confused since she recognizes the tiger as one from the zoo (Jake’s tiger morph original). Cassie shows up too and they are all concerned about not only Jake’s recovering but about needing him to wake up to demorph before the two hour limit. With Jake in Cassie’s (and her parents’) hands, Ax and Rachel fly to Marco’s to gather the troops, essentially. On the way there, Rachel thinks about how challenging this is all going to be, and even empathizes a bit with the frustration that Visser Three must feel: with the morphing ability, David could be anything and anywhere.

They arrive at Marco’s to find him sleeping in his bed, but as they fly in, Marco smashes Ax with a bat. It’s David in morph. He quickly demorphs and remorphs a golden eagle and chases owl!Rachel. Behind her, she is relieved to see Ax demorphing.

As David chases Rachel, he begins taunting her about killing Tobias. Up to this point, Rachel had been in a state of confusion, but with his words, she goes cold and knows what she has to do. She takes advantage of her better knowledge of her owl morph and manages to just stay ahead of David, leading him towards some power lines that he won’t be able to see with his daytime bird eyes. But just as she nears it, David manages to attack her. Just in the nick of time, David is attacked by a red tailed hawk. Tobias to the rescue! Not liking the odds anymore, David runs off. (How does David not put two and two together with this? Throughout this book, the fact that Tobias is still alive is a huge secret. Maybe David didn’t pay much attention to what kind of bird attacked him here).

Later, the group are back together. Cassie managed to jab tiger!Jake with a syringe and wake him up so that he could demorph and walk out of the vet’s office (Cassie’s mom was super freaked by the whole thing, discovering later that the tiger was somehow magically back in its cage at the Gardens and free of any injury). Marco had woken up to find David standing over him with a bat and had been tied up in a closet

They go to school, all exhausted and scared. Marco!David shows up and Cassie rushes to get the real Marco to hide. He sits with them and is his usual blowhard self, going on and on about how they should just give up now as he has their same abilities and is oh, so much smarter than them all.

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He wants them to hand over the blue box to. They refuse and David gets up to go, issuing more threats. Rachel follows, cafeteria fork in hand. Outside, she catches up with  Marco!David and warns him that if he tries to rat them out to the Yeerks that they’ll know. David doesn’t know about the Chee, so Rachel is able to convince him that the Animorphs have a source within the Yeerk organization since how else would they have known about the world summit meeting. She goes further to say that if he did rat on them, they’d still have time to retaliate and would go after his parents.

“You know, maybe you forget this sometimes, but you are a girl, Rachel.” 

“And you’re a worm,” I shot back. “Want to see who wins that fight?”

He swings at her and she neatly avoids it and jams the fork in his ear, getting her point across. After he leaves, Rachel is shocked by her own actions, especially her threat against his parents. Further, she finds herself becoming more and more angry at Jake. For sending for her in the first place, and all the implications that come with that. And the fact that he let her go after David here too, knowing what she would do, but also making her feel judged for being the one to do it.

What made me feel stupid was that I hadn’t realized I was changing. But everyone else obviously did. Jake did. When he knew it was coming down to kill-or-be-killed with David, he’d sent Ax to get me. Not Marco. Not Cassie. “Get Rachel.” 

After school, the group meets back at the barn. After grilling Marco to make sure it’s really him, the group begin planning what to do about the world summit, since they still need to deal with that. Ax privately thought speaks Rachel telling her that they are putting on a show, assuming David is in the barn listening. After they all morph birds, they discuss the real plan. Rachel compares the new plan to a game of chess where you know you’re going to lose so instead you simply throw the board across the room.

They go to the Gardens to get morphs and then head to the ocean. There’s a huge storm rolling in, so the transition from bird to dolphin in the middle of the ocean is a difficult one. Cassie’s skill with morphing helps them all make the change safely. They swim to the beach outside the resort and then put their plan in motion: morphing big animals. Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Ax go elephant. Jake and Marco go rhino. The security at the resort was pretty unprepared for a bunch of huge animals to barge out of the ocean, so the plan to wreak havoc is pulled off well. Once the big guns show up, including Visser Three, the group retreat back to the ocean. Ultimately, the storm plays in their favor, hiding them and preventing the boats from getting in close.

But as they swim away, killer whale!David shows up (a question mark here: it seems fairly unlikely that David would have been able to anticipate all of this and have a killer whale morph on hand. He also wouldn’t know what ocean animal morphs the Animrophs would use. They could have all had killer whales themselves.) David, again, starts taunting them and tells the group about Rachel’s threat to his parents. The others are silent, infuriating Rachel, especially with Jake whom she thinks is a hypocrite for letting her go after David and then seemingly judging those same actions later.

David goes after Ax, but Rachel calls attention to herself and gets him to switch to her. Just in time, Cassie shows up in humpback whale morph (she manages to slip away during all of the taunting) and scares David off.

When Rachel gets home, she hears that her cousin Saddler is likely going to die. Rachel comforts her younger sister, Jordan. Back in her room, she hears David, talking to her in morph, hidden somewhere in her room, demanding the blue box again. Rachel asks what he’s going to do with it, make new Animorphs who can do to him what he’s doing to them? He’s silenced, but she doesn’t know if he’s left or not. She avoids the shower.

With her family, she heads to Jake’s house where they’re meeting to travel together to the hospital to see Saddler. Rachel tells Jake about David’s invasion of her room and that it’s gotten personal between her and David. She also confronts him about the hypocrisy of his actions, sending her to do his dirty work and then judging her later.

They travel to the hospital where a miracle has occurred: Saddler simply woke up, completely healed. Rachel and Jake realize the sick joke that this is: David has done away with Saddler and morphed him in his place. They go to the hall to try and frantically plan, since it’s one of the few times when they’ll know where David his. But Rachel is still angry about Jake’s hypocrisy.

“Look, Rachel, every one of us has his strengths and his weaknesses.”
“And my strength is being some kind of crazy killer?” I practically shrieked. 
 
“Okay, fine, Rachel. You want to do this, fine. I think you’re the bravest member of the group. I think in a bad fight I’d rather have you with me than anyone else. But yeah, Rachel, I think there’s something pretty dark down inside you. I think you’re the only one of us who would be disappointed if all this ended tomorrow. Cassie hates all this, Marco has personal reasons for being in this war, Ax just wants to go home and fight Yeerks with his own people, Tobias . . . who knows what Tobias wants anymore? But you, Rachel, you love it. It’s what makes you so brave. It’s what makes you so dangerous to the Yeerks. I thought you’d scare David. I thought you’d say the things it took to scare him. I thought you’d say whatever you had to. And I thought that of any of us, David would be most likely to fear you.” 

Rachel responds by saying that she has a line, and she knows where it is. Jake says he has his own line, but he learned here and now that it wasn’t where he thought it was: he was willing to use his friend and cousin to do his dirty work, and apologizes.

Back in the barn, the group put on a masterclass performance for David whom they know is lurking around inside spying on them. Everyone plays their roles, with Cassie upset about Saddler. Marco taunting Rachel about being beaten, Tobias not being there and them all referencing the fact that David killed him. Cassie tells a tall tale about having Ax break the blue box down into pieces and “slips,” mentioning that Rachel was the one to hide it with her. They all go home, poor Jake returning to his house where now Saddler!David is in residence.

The next day they arrange to meet with David at a Taco Bell. David swaggers in and Rachel forces herself to not smack him, but play the humiliated and defeated role that they all figured David would want to see. David announces that he wants Rachel to lead him to the box because he was (surprise!) spying on them in the barn and heard everything. (Again, it’s so shocking how stupid David thinks they are. Even the brief amount of time he had with them, you’d think he’d have a better read on their abilities, but guess not). They head to the construction site.

Rachel morphs rat, and then snake!David threatens to bite her unless the group all morph cockroach and climb into a jar he found lying nearby. He seals them in, knowing that they can’t demorph without crushing each other. He then morphs rat and Rachel leads him into the maze.

They get one piece (a blue lego block, but the rat’s poor eye sight can’t see that), but as they head for the second one, Rachel realizes that she can small fresh air and hear a jet plane, belying the fact that they are supposed to be deep underground. David begins to put things together, and Rachel makes a dash towards the exit pipe. They wrestle and Rachel privately thoughts speaks to the others to be ready. She turns, chews off her own tail, and dashes out, just avoiding getting hit with the box lid slamming shut behind her, trapping rat!David within.

The group explain to David that they planned it all, that Tobias wasn’t dead, and then they sink into silence as David tries to talk his way out of it, saying they won, he’d just be going now.

“You tried to kill us,” Jake said. “You threatened to turn us over to Visser Three. Not to mention what you’ve done to Saddler’s family.”
<You can’t judge me!> David cried. <You’re not God!>
“David, we have fought the Yeerks for a long time now. It seems like forever,” Jake said wearily. “We are not going to let you beat us. We are going to save the human race if we can. There are larger issues . . . more important . . .”

They all leave, but Rachel and Ax. Ax to keep time. Rachel because she volunteers, saying that she can take it. After two hours, David is trapped in rat morph and they fly him out to a rock on the ocean that is known to have a thriving rat population. Later, they hear rumors that the rock is haunted and that passing boats have heard yells of “No!’ coming from the rock.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is a huge book for Rachel. Some fans, myself included, have theorized that the action of this book (not only her own choices with regards to David, but her realizations about how the others, and particularly Jake, see her) are a tipping point in her arc and a direct point of reference for the further struggles her character goes through, particularly in the last few books of the series.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that Rachel is pretty messed up by the fact that Jake sent Ax to get her specifically. At the same time, she completely agrees with his decision. Not only because she is particularly close to Tobias, but after Marco!David tries to kill Ax and is chasing and taunting her in bird morph, she knows that she is capable of leading David to his death. Jake was right.

But what seems to be the killing blow is the fallout from her one-on-one with David where she threatens his parents. Jake allows her to go. She does her thing, knowing it needs to be done and that that’s what Jake “sent” her to do anyways, but still feeling sick about it. And then, worst of all, later when they’re all in the ocean and David begins taunting her once again and exposing what she said to the group, they all just….leave her hanging out to dry. It’s not a good look for any of them, but particularly not Jake.

I’m completely with Rachel on this. It’s one thing to send someone to do your dirty work, it’s another to leave them at the mercy of your enemy’s psychological mind games and let your silence serve as judgement. They completely abandon her in this moment. And while when Rachel and Jake are fighting at the hospital, Jake apologizes and even owns up to the hypocrisy of his actions, it’s still not enough, in my opinion.

He lays too much of it at Rachel’s own feet, and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the entire group let her down here. Regardless of their opinions on her actions and threats, several of them (definitely Jake, and we’d assume Ax and Marco would likely agree with this too) essentially approved of what she did when she did it. And beyond that, even if they disagreed, not sticking together in this moment, letting David pick out one of them and letting it stand, is a huge breach of teamwork and mutual support. So, badly done, y’all.

Through this all, through being used and judged by her friends, Rachel still proves her own strength in several small scenes. When they are all dolphins, as is typical of her, she draws the attention of the threat away from another (this time Ax) and to herself. We’ve seen her do this countless times now, and it’s pretty unique to her character. In a very human moment, she comforts her younger sister as she grieves the imminent death of their cousin Saddler. And, most importantly, in the end, she volunteers to stay behind as David is trapped as a rat. This is the ultimate self-sacrificial move. Beyond simply staying, she tries to relieve the others’ guilt for not staying themselves, saying that it won’t bother her. She muses that some of them may actually believe that. But it’s hard to really think any of them would (Cassie is her best friend, Tobias is her…something, Jake definitely knows this isn’t true after their conversations in this book. Maybe Marco? But he seems too smart to fall for this line).

Our Fearless Leader: Another big book for Jake and his leadership skills. This book is a good look at how cold Jake has become when he begins evaluating situations and the assets in his arsenal. In this case, his assets are his friends and he’s beginning to see and use them like tools. He’s surgical, accurate, and, yes, cold. When he’s confronted by Rachel in the hospital, he seems to be almost surprised by his own actions. But, while he does apologize, it also seems pretty obvious that if he had to do it over again, he’d do the same thing. Because he didn’t make the wrong choice, even if it was one that almost broke his cousin.

His biggest mistake, I still think, was not standing up for Rachel to David when he begins coming after her while they’re in the ocean. It’s pretty unacceptable to leave a team member hanging there, vulnerable to an enemy’s jabs. Better to support her in the moment, and then, if he had qualms, confront her later. It’s even worse because the confrontation never comes, at least not on his part. He never expresses any regret that Rachel threatened David’s parents, so the judgemental silence is even worse in the moment.

In the end, Rachel also admires Jake’s leadership abilities when he makes the rest of them leave her and Ax with rat!David. She recognizes the fact that he knows he needs to spare as many of them as he can from the traumatizing scene that is about to unfold.

A Hawk’s Life: David is really terrible at counting (as is Visser Three in Jake’s book when he fails to see cobra!Marco). I mean, there are a bunch of times when David had to have been lingering around and Tobias was there in morph. Most notably, all the points during the world leaders summit mission. Flying there. As rhinos/elephants. As dolphins. Clearly David was around since he was so easily able to intercept them in his killer whale morph. So how did he not catch this? Highly questionable for some who is a self-proclaimed “genius.”

Tobias is pretty instrumental to the final plan in helping get them out of the jar. But, other than the moments when David should have spotted him, he makes himself scarce for much of the book to keep up the facade. I do wish there had been more Tobias/Rachel scenes in this book. Their reunion was nice, but too brief. And poor Rachel was left without all of her support systems it seems. Not only did she not have any scenes with him to talk through all of this, but she also doesn’t get any time with Cassie, her other primary support person.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is on top of her manipulation skills in this trilogy! Her biggest move came during the cafeteria scene when David showed up to threaten them. She pointedly sits right next to him, reminding him that they are, in fact, people and not animals. And then talks very clearly to him about what he’s doing and the realities of trying to bargain with the Yeerks. It’s pretty slick.

Her morphing abilities are also paramount to their success with all of their morphs in the ocean during the storm. Rachel is pretty clear about how dangerous the water is and Cassie’s ability to quickly morph is one of the only reasons they manage it, with her able to be in dolphin morph to help the others. She’s also able to quickly leave, morph out of dolphin and then morph back to humpback whale during the fight with David.

In the end, she’s very broken up about what they have to do to David. But she also was the one to come up with the plan (again, probably largely due to her knowledge of animals and what morphs would work, but mostly because she understands people and could predict what David would want/do).

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up being the one to get sidelined a few times in this book. First getting attacked and left in a closet (more on that below) by David in the beginning, and then also needing to be shuffled out of the cafeteria once David shows up at school in a Marco morph. Part of me wonders if part of the reason Applegate did this was an attempt to work around the fact largely it was Marco, not Rachel, who had been set up as David’s primary rival (not only in his POV book, but Jake references the particular animosity between David and Marco several times in his book).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have much in this book, other than being the second Animorph to stay behind with Rachel and rat!David. Supposedly this is because of his ability to track time. But…there are such things as watches, so I’m not sure I buy this reasoning for why Ax gets burdened with this.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There aren’t so much “body horror” moments in this book as simply “horror” moments. David’s psychotic philosophy with the supposed non-humanity of the Animorphs while in morph is just so incredibly messed up. The bat to the face that Ax takes is particularly vicious  and it’s pretty surprising that he even survives it.

And the the sheer, traumatizing horror that is what happens to David at the end of this book. It makes Tobias’s situation look like a walk in the park. But did the Animorphs have much of a choice? They had to pick an animal that couldn’t hurt them. They had to find one that they could easily contain while in morph, preventing him from demorphing. And they had to find one that the could take somewhere away from the general population (so that he wouldn’t just start thought-speaking at anyone and everyone telling them all of the Animorphs’ secrets). So, supposedly Cassie (it had to be her, right?) already knew about this rock out in the ocean that had a thriving rat population and…well, there you go. But man, it’s cold. Luckily, Applegate spares us a blow-by-blow description of the two hour time period that they’re waiting him out, but even the brief glimpses are bad enough. It’s hard to think of anything in the series that is more horrifying than this.

Couples Watch!: When Ax first shows up to get Rachel in the beginning of the book, she assumes he’s Tobias. Another indicator that Tobias probably is a regular visitor to her room. She also shares this observation after hearing about his “death.”

And yet, as I completed the morph to fly, I knew Jake had picked the right person. See, I cared for Tobias. I don’t think I even knew how much I cared till right then.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There a brief moment in the beginning when Rachel and Ax are at the mall and overhear two Controllers discussing how they know that the hurt tiger must be an Andalite in morph but that they don’t have enough Controllers on the police force. They both wonder aloud how mad Visser Three would be if they didn’t do anything….and agree to just not say anything about the whole thing. Another instance when we get a glimpse into the thought process of Visser Three’s underlings, all of whom seem to have a pretty good read on their boss and know that avoiding any interaction with him is always best.

But, again, David is the villain of this trilogy.

His biggest downfall in this entire thing is that he forgets that he’s not fighting regular teenagers, but kids who have been fighting a real war for months now. Not only are they more skilled with their morphs and know how to construct and pull off complicated missions, but, physically, they are capable fighters. Rachel’s own battle abilities were on display in the exchange outside of the school. David’s small-minded, sexist opinions of her abilities (as evidenced in the quote earlier) get him in trouble not only in that scene, but in the entire ending of the story. If he hadn’t been so firmly entrenched in his own need to validate his ego and look down on the others, he would have known better than to be tricked by their act. His sheer inability to view Rachel as the powerful threat that she is leads to his doom.

Another example of this, his inability to realize he’s not fighting normal kids, is his failure to anticipate the fact that they would anticipate that he would spy on them and to not simply buy their whole scene they put on in the barn. But it played to his ego a bit too much, and, like all ego-maniacs, he couldn’t look beyond his own assurance that he was the smartest one in the room, to realize that the Animorphs, again, have been doing this for a while and could guess David’s actions.

“See, David,” Marco said, “we knew you were in the barn, listening to our every word. How did we know? Tobias. So we played out that whole pathetic scene for you about how disgraced Rachel was. We knew you’d get so much sick pleasure out of forcing her to obey you.”

 

<All of your actions, even your emotions, were anticipated,> Ax said. <We anticipated how you would respond. So we were able to manipulate you.>

It’s also worth noting that David’s issues with Rachel largely seem to stem from a fairly insecure, sexist viewpoint. She’s the one to call him a coward in Jake’s book after he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, and he knows that she’s widely agreed to be the bravest and best fighter in the group. And we have the quote earlier in this post when he tries to wave off Rachel as being “just a girl” when she’s not in morph. She proves that to be the load of bullshit it is pretty quickly. But his kneejerk judgements and insecurities with women are yet more nasty elements to David’s personality that were likely always lurking there before any of this happened.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the whole book?! Rachel’s arc in this is just so sad and hard to read, especially knowing the mindjob it works on her that carries on throughout the series. But I won’t go into that all again, or the horror of David’s situation at the end.

Instead, we never see the fallout of David’s decision to morph Saddler and essentially bring him back to life. And now, suddenly, he’ll just disappear. It’s unclear what David did with the original Saddler’s body. He had a longterm plan to live Saddler’s life, so you’d think he somehow must have pretty thoroughly hidden/destroyed it. Not sure about the logistics there, but oh well. So now this family that was grieving the inevitable death of their son are miraculously spared, think they’re out of the woods, and then…he’s just gone. No signs where he went. No body. Nothing. Beyond the parents and family themselves who would be in mourning, shock, etc., this had to be terrible for Jake and Rachel. There had to have been a hunt for “Saddler” for months, and the family trauma would be ever present. And there sit Jake and Rachel, knowing the truth but not able to say anything.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: For the most part, their plans are very good in this book. For one, the way they cancel the summit was the obvious route to take from the beginning. I’ve already expressed my opinions on their whole “expose to alien invasion” plan in the last book/review. For two, all told, they fairly easily predict, manipulate, and capture David. For all of their concerns, they take him out in one day, essentially. And, while so, so cold, their plan to force him to be stuck in rat morph is a simple and effective way of handling a situation that could have easily gotten a much more dark, more murder-y route.

But there were a few things that didn’t make much sense. There were several instances in this book where David has to demorph/remoprh that you’d think would present golden opportunities to the group. In the beginning, when he’s in Marco’s room posing as Marco, he has to demoprh and the remorph golden eagle to chase Rachel. It’s supposed to take around 3 minutes either way. So, here, that’s six minutes for Rachel to either do the same and get into a more powerful morph. Or to easily get out of there and disappear. Doesn’t make much sense that he gets through these morphs so quickly without the Animorphs doing something about it.

And another big one is during this same scene when Marco is tied up in the closet. Why the heck wouldn’t he have simply morphed bug and gotten out of there? This is a huge flaw since he could have easily escaped and managed to either nab David himself (during one of his vulnerable in-between morph stages) or at the very least, warned Rachel and Ax.

Favorite Quote:

At points in the book, it was almost physically painful reading David’s gloating.

<You guys made a big mistake: You got me. See, I was smarter than any of you. That’s why you lost. I’ll be more careful. I’ll only choose the kind of guys who are too dumb to do anything except obey me.>
I rolled my little rat eyes. This guy’s ego just kept growing.

But on a more serious note, one of the last chapters about the two hours during which David is becoming trapped in morph…it’s rough.

It took two hours for David to become a nothlit. A person trapped in morph. Two hours. But that two hours of horror will last forever in my mind. If I live a hundred years, I will still hear his cries, his threats, his pleading, each night before sleep takes me. And beyond sleep, in my dreams. 

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10

I’m giving a point to the Animorphs. Partly because their plan to break up the summit meeting worked out in the end (though why they didn’t start with this is beyond me), but they managed to handle the David threat pretty quickly and efficiently, for all the inner drama of the situation. David posed the largest legitimate threat they’ve ever faced, knowing all of their secrets, but also being a human kid whom they would have a bunch of moral tangles about attacking. But they find a neat (as in “orderly”) solution to the problem and the execute their plan with exacting precision.

Rating: Simply excellent. The re-read just reminded me why I love this trilogy so much. It really highlights the very adult themes that a fairly wonky, middle grade sci fi series takes on and why these books are definitely more than they seem on the surface.

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!

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