Animorphs #24: “The Suspicion” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1998
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: The Yeerks are not the only invaders of Earth. Meet the new enemy: the Helmacrons. Cassie finds their miniature spaceship and donates it to a toy drive. Big mistake. The Helmacrons are tiny, but they’re far from helpless. They have the technology to shrink other creatures to their size. And until they get their spaceship back, they’re taking hostages. The Animorphs must find a way to send these pests back into space — before it’s too late.
Plot: Oh man, here we go. The first introduction of the Helmacrons. I had totally forgotten that they showed up in a Cassie book, which are already not my favorites of the series. So…yeah…
At the beginning of each chapter, we get an entry from the log of the Helmacron ship, Galaxy Blaster detailing their exploits on planet Earth. Humble these guys are not.
The story opens with Cassie doing chores at home, as always, this time collecting junk to send to Goodwill. And Rachel begging her to do something about her fashion choices, as always. She’s also trying to convince Cassie to join her on a trip to the mall and then the beach, when she notices a toy space ship in Cassie’s junk pile. Cassie says she found it perched on the pump, which, coincidentally, is where she hid the blue box. Tossing it back on the junk pile, she gives in and agrees to join Rachel and enjoy the day.
Cassie hates the beach (seriously, what is wrong with this girl??), but she’s glad that Rachel is having a good time. They walk home in their swimsuits, and Cassie is mortified to see Jake waiting for them. Jake, too, is embarrassed and it’s all very twee. Cassie suddenly notices another toy aircraft perched on the pump. But it’s not the same one. Worse, it suddenly rises and flies away. Jake announces that the weekend has been cancelled, and they need to gather their forces and figure out what’s happening.
Of course, their first plan of action is to ask their resident alien, Ax. Unfortunately, Ax, rather per the usual at this point, has no ideas, so they morph seagulls to try and track down the other ship that Cassie’s dad had toted away to Goodwill. Once there, they convince the Goodwill clerk to let them in the back to search for the ship. They find it, but before they can do much, another small ship zooms into the loading bay and “attacks” Jake with two tiny laser beams. Rachel, typically, gets mad, even more so when they blow off a few strands of her hair, and takes a bat to the ship that’s flying around. But Jake insists they back off for a bit, and they see the ship link up to the other, presumably giving it a jump start. They then hear a thought-speak voice in their head demanding they hand over the power source and they will then be allowed to live as slaves. Cassie quickly guesses that they must mean the blue box.
Cassie tries to speak to them calmly and peaceably, saying she’s sure they don’t mean to be threatening. They correct her; they very much DO mean to be threatening. They shoot her with their tiny lasers and blow back out of the door. Jake has Tobias follow them, suspecting they are heading back to the farm and the blue box. They morph birds and discuss the bizarreness of the entire situation as they fly back. On the way, they see Tobias up ahead being attacked by the Helmacron ship. Against Tobias’s much smaller size, the ship could actually do some damage and it looks like they are trying to shoot at his eyes. Rachel is pissed and quickly attacks, followed by the others. They managed to fight them off, but the Helmacrons zip away even faster towards the farm.
They manage to intercept the Helmacrons again just as they are beginning to pull up the blue box with a tractor beam. But their bird morphs aren’t made for endurance flying, and the fight takes it out of them. Cassie demorphs as quickly as she can and chases the Helmacrons and the blue box they are towing into the barn. The Helmacrons issue more threats while Cassie tries to talk them down. Then they shrink her. Tobias flies in after her and they get him too. Marco, too, comes in and gets hit by the ray, but manages to yell over his shoulder to warn the others away before he gets too small. They do, and Jake informs them that the other Helmacron ship took off after Rachel hit it with a brick.
Cassie, Tobias, and Marco stop shrinking, but are now tiny, about the size of a small fly. Strangely, Tobias is still around the same size as each of them, rather than proportionally being smaller. (Part of me feels like this would be just as weird as the rest. From Cassie and Marco’s perspective, Tobias is now a MASSIVE bird.) Ax and Jake try to convince the Helacrons to give back the box and reverse the shrinking, pointing out that as “primitive” as they may think it is, Rachel’s brick did pretty good work of their other ship. They manage to snag the blue box, but both ships still escape, leaving Marco, Tobias, and Cassie in their tiny forms.
Ax theorizes that the Helmacrons used the power of the blue box to shrink the others. Cassie and Marco can’t be heard by the others, their voices too small, but Tobias can still thought-speak with them. Cassie tries to morph to see if that will reverse it, but when she tries to go osprey, she shrinks even further and quickly reverses her morph.
Cassie’s dad shows up and isn’t impressed by Jake and Rachel’s story of looking for Cassie. He’s even less impressed by human!Ax. After kicking them all out of the barn, he begins walking around and manages to bury tiny!Cassie under a tablespoon of dirt he kicks up. Cassie and Marco discover that, similar to ants, they have increased strength for their size, easily moving massive, to them, pieces of dirt. As they debate what to do next, the Helmacrons arrive, and now that they, too, are small, those laser beams are much more of a threat. Luckily, the Helmacrons get caught up in a bit of inter-ship politicking, debating who gets to capture Cassie, Marco, and Tobias, until the other Animrophs show up in towering, gigantic cockroach morphs. Ax has come in a wolf spider morph and is even more terrifying than the others. But they quickly realize the mistake of this when the Helmacrons cripple and seriously injure spider!Ax using the lasers from their ship. Worse, he can’t demorph to heal himself without crushing Marco, Cassie, and Tobias. Cassie insists that they surrender and escape later.
She and Marco let themselves be taken onto the Helmacron ship, and the aliens bring them to their leader. Thing is, the captain is very, very dead. Worse, it looks ritualistic, the Helmacron captain chained to the floor and speared with several swords. Once again Marco puts Cassie to shame in the “make things up” category, reminiscent of their time on the Area 51-like base. Cassie is still a terrible liar. The Helmacrons put a stop to Marco’s display of “groveling” and insist they tell them where the blue box is. They turn on their view screen and Cassie sees the others, safe back in their regular forms, with tiny!Tobias sitting on Rachel’s shoulder. Cassie and Marco claim that none of their friends know where it is, but the “other one” does. The Helmacrons reveal that their sensors can tell who has morphing capabilities, so they will find this “other one.” Cassie quickly comes up with a plan.
“There’s no point trying to hide him from the Helmacrons, Marco,” I said. “There is only one other morph-capable creature on Earth. And the Helmacrons are just going to have to destroy him.”
Suddenly, the light went on in Marco’s head. “Visser Three?”
I nodded, feeling very pleased with myself. “Visser Three.”
It turns out the Helmacrons already know about the Yeerks, and for some reason this causes a division in their ranks, with one group attacking and killing a few of the others. Cassie and Marco also learn that all of the Helmacrons they have met so far have been females when a much smaller, more docile being enters and is addressed as a male. He explains that the captain must be dead because how else could they ensure she would never make any mistakes? He informs them that they are now slaves who must obey the female Helmacrons, and then leaves.
Shortly after, they are lead back to another bridge where the Helmacrons pull up a view screen showing the Blade ship. They can sense Visser Three in a Bug Fighter that is heading back to Earth and follow it. They watch the Bug Fighter descend into an abandoned restaurant that opens its ceiling to let the ship in as a limo pulls up in front of it. Visser Three climbs in in his human morph. The Helmacrons chase after the car, firing at it with their mini lasers. Human!Visser Three roles down the window and spots the tiny ship; it is clear he recognizes what they are. The Helmacrons shoot him in the face with their lasers and another Controller pops out of the sunroof and starts shooting at their ship with a gun, a huge weapon against their small size.
The fighting continues and the Helmacrons veer into the other lane, almost getting hit by on-coming traffic. Cassie and Marco have had enough and decide to get the heck out of there. Their only option is to get even smaller and morph flies. (On this, you’d think they’d have some concerns about their Z-space mass considering what happened in Ax’s book with the mosquito morph. Yes, the passing ship was what pulled them through, but having it happen at all, you’d think it at least would be thought of when they’re now morphing something even tinier.) Once morphed, they are too tiny for the Helmacrons to catch, but they also can’t get anywhere, being too small to cover any distance. As they try to hide, the ship starts to come apart and they realize that a Yeerk Dracon beam must have hit it. Completely disoriented with no way of knowing where they are or how far up they are or anything, they decide to try and slowly demorph and get a sense of things. They find themselves on someone’s head, specifically Chapman’s.
Just then, Tobias shows up. He informs them that Rachel managed to smash the other ship with a tire iron and Jake clamped it in a vice in Cassie’s barn. He says they have things figured out, that the Helmacrons gave them their leaders to hold hostage. Cassie and Marco immediately freak out, knowing that all their friends have are dead Helmacrons. Worse, Tobias tells them that they’re currently at a meeting of the Sharing where Visser Three is doing show and tell with the destroyed Helmacron ship he hit with the Dracon beam. And Ax is there too, outside with the blue box in an attempt to get the Helmacrons to come with them and unshrink the others. Cassie and Marco quickly realize that the Helmacrons are planning on letting the Yeerks and Animorphs duke it out while they escape with the blue box. Just as they think of this, they see the remaining Helmacron ship appear, towing the blue box with them, and aim its lasers at an unhappy Visser Three, shrinking him, too.
Chaos erupts. Visser Three is shrinking, screaming at the Yeerks to grab the blue box. The other Animorphs show up in morph, also trying to get the blue box. And all the while, the Helmacrons blather on about their own power and might. Cassie and Marco can’t tell what’s going except for what they hear through thought-speak. Rachel gets hit by the shrinking ray and the others are still trying to nab the box. Cassie tells Marco to moprh, that they need to get even smaller and have the ability to thought-speak with the others. She calls to Tobias to come pick them up and he nabs skunk!Cassie and mole!Marco in his talons. Cassie has figured out that if, when they morph smaller, they get relatively smaller to their current size, than if they morph bigger, the same thing should apply. They land on the the Helmacron ship, and Cassie has them all morph bigger: Tobias to his human form, and her to her humpback whale form. This way, they will weigh down the ship, essentially disabling it.
Her plan works and the ship begins to sink under her weight, but as it does, a Controller reaches out and grabs the ship. Ax manages to cut off the Controller’s hand with his tale and grab the ship himself. They learn that Jake and Rachel, along with Visser Three and several Controllers, have all been shrunk and are currently having a standoff on one of Ax’s legs. Ax runs away, carrying the ship and blue box. Through this all, they overhear Jake and Rachel fighting Visser Three in some new alien morph along with all of the other shrunken Controllers. Cassie tells Ax to morph a bird, carry the ship and blue box in his talons, and fly to the Gardens.
But as he morphs, the way his body melds leaves everyone all together: Cassie, Marco and Tobias, but now also tiger!Jake, grizzly!Rachel, Visser Three and the rest of the shrunken Controllers. Quickly, Cassie and Marco morph their battle morphs so the Yeerks don’t see them as humans. They prepare to do battle, but then the Helmacrons show up and they all unanimously decide that they should be dealt with first. But before they can do anything, Ax informs them that they have arrived at the Gardens and Cassie tells them all to jump off bird!Ax.
They leap and land on something furry. Cassie quickly begins demorphing, explaining that she thought that maybe a newly acquired animal wouldn’t be affected by the shrinking (something something original DNA was shrunk but not new DNA). And for their new morph she’s chosen an anteater. Visser Three shows up and quickly sees what they’re doing, but the Animorphs are all well on their way to becoming regular-sized anteaters. Once morphed, anteater!Cassie quickly nabs a few dozen Helmcrons with her sticky tongue. Cassie begs them to surrender, not wanting to kill them, and Visser Three, who has also morphed an anteater, sneers at her.
<Sentimental Andalite fool,> Visser Three said. He had copied our trick. He had also morphed the anteater. <You can’t kill a Helmacron. They’re a fungible species. Kill one and its mind, if you can call it a mind, is absorbed into another. They never die. Even when they’re dead, they’re not dead. But when it comes to Andalites . . .>
His tongue flits out and nabs tiny!Tobias as he tries to fly away. But before he can do anything, normal-sized!Ax presses his tail blade to anteater!Visser Three’s throat. The three-way stalemate ends with the Animorphs getting control of the shrinking ray and using it to unshrink everyone, letting the Yeerks go. Visser Three is willing to concede that being shrunk again is unappealing, and it’s best to fight another day. They also convince the male Helmacrons that they should fight back against the females, and presumably they all get so caught up in this that they…leave?? The end.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Poor Cassie. It’s really not her fault that she got stuck with this stinker of a book. That said, I don’t think the book is improved by having Cassie as a narrator. For all that I don’t agree with all of Cassie’s approaches to the war, she is at her best when she is given complicated moral plot lines that allow her to fully explore her unique view on conflict. Without that, her voice is probably just the most bland of all the narrators and thus doesn’t add a lot to a story that desperately, DESPERATELY needs a strong narrator to improve it. Further, this is the first book we’ve gotten from Cassie since the whole David ordeal and it’s jarring to have that not really mentioned. Cassie was the mastermind behind that whole plan and also the one, other than Rachel, who presumably would be most broken up by the role she had to play. So it feels like a huge missed opportunity to have her very next book be relegated to, essentially, a filler story. Tobias’s made sense, he had big things of his own to deal with and also was the least involved with the David mess. But Cassie? No way we shouldn’t be hearing all about how conflicted and torn up she is about a plan that she came up with that doomed a human boy to life as a rat.
And beyond that, like I said, Cassie’s voice alone doesn’t have a lot of uniquely interesting aspects to it, other than her POV on moral issues. So when we’re given a bonkers story line like this, Cassie just kind of …goes with it. And it doesn’t help. Sure, she once again comes up with a good animal morph to solve the current problem, but the end of this story was so full of contrivances and wild leaps of logic that it’s hard to even give her much credit for that. It’s all just kind of bad, and Cassie’s narration isn’t strong enough to distract us from that fact.
Our Fearless Leader: Both Cassie and Marco bemoan the loss of Jake’s decision-making skills when they’re on board the Helmacron ship. It’s a good moment to really highlight how dependent the rest of them are on Jake to make important calls in the midst of chaos. But other than that, Jake kind of just does his thing through most of this book. Cassie talks about how cute she thinks he his, and there’s some fun awkwardness at the beginning when Jake sees her in a swimsuit and becomes extremely stammer-y.
Xena, Warrior Princess: As always my favorite parts of Cassie books are the interactions between her and Rachel. Their friendship is awesome, and through Cassie’s books we see a very unique side of Rachel, the more human, normal, teenage girl side that is our best view of what Rachel must have been like before the Yeerk invasion. The story is nicely bookended by Rachel’s teasing Cassie about her changing opinion on whether or not she likes the beach based on whether or not Jake will be there. Rachel also has some pretty funny moments taking on the Helmacrons with various objects: a brick, a tire iron, a bat. If you need someone to hit things, Rachel’s your girl.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is one of the early ones to be shrunk, which is purely for convenience’s sake since tiny!Cassie and Marco can’t be heard using their regular speaking voices. For all of that, he STILL somehow ends up pushed to the side during the majority of the story. Most notably, he isn’t captured and brought on the Helmacron ship with Cassie and Marco.
The Comic Relief: I found myself wishing that this had been a Marco book throughout the entire read. Not only does Marco share in almost all the action with Cassie, but his is the exact sort of narration style that could have possibly saved this dumper fire of a story line. Sure, we get plenty of quips from him throughout, and that’s a huge saving grace, but it would have been so much better had he just had the narration to himself. If you’re going to do nonsense, put it in the hands of your most smart ass character and call it good. Marco is also probably the smartest of the Animorphs (not including Ax, but even there, it’s mostly book smarts), so he would have also been a good pick to be able to make the same leaps of logic that Cassie does. Give Cassie a book that somehow forces her to address the whole David thing, then give this book to Marco. Done! I fixed it!
E.T./Ax Phone Home: So apparently the Andalites haven’t heard of the Helmacrons but the Yeerks have? This seems suspicious, but I’ll just explain it as Ax having not hearde of the Helmacrons, probably because he was sleeping through class. During their first moments with the shrinking ray in the barn, Ax spends a good amount of time “explaining” the science behind it all. It played for comedic value, but then when the story moved on to Marco and Cassie morphing even smaller, and then morphing bigger, and then morphing regular sized, it all got super confusing. I was both too bored to want to understand the “science” of it, but then also very annoyed and confused whenever they were able to twist the shrinking thing to their advantage. It was just dumb. Also, we get another Ax’s-tailblade-to-Visser-Three’s-throat stand off. I should really have a tally for these.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Right after Cassie is shrunk, Jake ends up on the ground next to her and she gets a close-up view of his face and we have this description:
His eyes were like brown-and-white swimming pools, huge globes that looked as if they might pop and drain down like runny Jell-0. I stared up, transfixed by this face I had always found attractive. And I found myself staring at a zit bigger than I was.
Couples Watch!: Ok, look, this is why I prefer Tobias/Rachel’s romance to Cassie/Jake’s. Remember in the last book where we got that beautiful line from Tobias about the sight of Rachel in the sunlight making his heart ache? Well, here, the first time Cassie sees Jake, we get a line about how she “likes” him, “you know, like.” And sure, this is how kids talk, but the two of them have been saying not only a variation of this, but THIS EXACT LINE, “you know, like,” for forever now! Given the fact that they’re all living in a constant state of warfare and tragedy, they’ve all matured way past their ages, and this is shown in Rachel and Tobias’s more serious relationship. They simply don’t have the time to be tip-toeing around things. And neither do Jake and Cassie! They might not have the bird problem that Tobias and Rachel do, but they still have the same life or death stakes every day and you’d think that at some point that would push them past some of this silliness. Regardless of what is likely an over-analysis of all of this on my part, I’m simply bored of hearing them say how much they “you know, like” each other. We do get some funny moments with the whole beach/swimsuit thing, but I still enjoyed Tobias and Rachel’s small, but more earnest, moments throughout the book when either of the other ended up in danger.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: So Visser Three does appear in this, but we’ve again got the campy, silly Visser Three ala Cassie book #9 when he gets defeated by skunk stink. The last scene where there is a three way standoff was essentially resolved in three sentences, all summarizing what happened but not detailing any actual action. This has to be because it is completely unbelievable that Visser Three would simply walk away in this situation. Especially because the blue box was SITTING RIGHT THERE!. The whole thing was nonsense. And the fact that Visser Three did in fact know about the Helmacrons before all of this and yet was still just as clueless as the Animorphs about how the shrinking thing actually works, etc. was another glaring hole.
The Helmacrons are technically the villains of this piece, but it’s clear that they were mostly written for comedic value. And, on their own, they were pretty amusing. I thought their power structure with the dead captain was pretty interesting, and their on-going infighting and complete delusions about their own abilities played for some good laughs.
<Do you think to terrify us with your pitiful morphs? We are Helmacron warriors!> They were yelling this as they hustled away at top speed.
But, again, that ending. Nothing we’ve seen so far would indicate that the Helmcrons, for all that they get easily caught up in in-fighting, would so easily just wander off, leaving the blue box behind.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Can I cry at the sheer nosedive in quality the books took between the last four and this one? Cuz that’s all I have for this right now.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Everything. It was all bad plans on everyone’s part. The fact that Ax took the blue box to a Sharing meeting and then somehow (off screen notably!) loses it to the tiny Helmacron ship. Cassie and Marco’s completely nonsensical decision making while on board the ship (“We should stay!” “We should leave!” “Morph small!” “Oh no, we’re too small!”). The entire end of the book! Again, the blue box was sitting out in the open, Visser Three and a bunch of Controllers were there, and the Animorphs decided that now was the time to play fair and unshrink them, just trusting that they’d walk away. Sheer stupidity that only succeeds because it has to for the books to continue.
Favorite Quote: Right after Marco, Cassie and Tobias have been shrunk in the barn and the Helmacrons are poised to shrink whomever walks in next:
“I’m coming in,” Jake said decisively. “No!” Marco yelled in a voice that already sounded like someone breathing helium. “No, Jake and Ax, do not come in!” Then, as an afterthought, he said, “Rachel, you could come in.” <Marco!> Tobias chided. “Hey, the Wicked Witch gets to be full size and I’m down here singing, ‘We represent the Lollipop Guild?’ I don’t think so.”
And Rachel gets a similar jab back later:
“Okay, I’ve had enough of this battle of the alien egos here. I’m counting to three. Then I’m throwing this brick. You little insects either fix my friends . . . and Marco, too … or you get bricked.”
Rachel said it first. “Oh, come on. Like we don’t have enough problem aliens?”
Preach it. No one needs any more of the Helmacrons.
Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10
I’m taking away a point from the Animorphs due to the sheer stupidity at the end, bringing Visser Three and a bunch of Controllers back to their real size while the blue box is sitting out in the open.
Rating: I think it’s pretty clear at this point that I didn’t love this book. Cassie books are never my favorites, but this one failed to even play to her strengths and instead left her with a story line that could have only been saved (maybe) if someone like Marco had been narrating it. The Helmacrons had their fun moments, but the whole plot was muddled and confusing, and the end just made me mad. It was lazy writing all around, and it was only made worse for having come right after four of probably the strongest books in the series. Ugh, and now I just have to dread the return of the Helmacrons, because I know it happens, even if I can’t remember the details.
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!