Animorphs #29: “The Sickness” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: The Animorphs’ alien friend Ax is in trouble. He’s come down with a virus called “yamphut”, and it’s making him very sick. The Animorphs discover the virus could be deadly–but they can’t take an “alien” to the hospital. They need to come up with a plan–or lose their friend forever.
Reading the plot description, I remembered that this was the one where everyone got sick and somehow Aftran, the Yeerk Cassie has a soul-search with back in book #19 (“Serena’s RAGE book,” as I’ve come to think of it), was somehow involved. But I am happy to report…
The story starts out with actually a fairly long portion of the kids in real life doing real kid things. Like Cassie and Jake continuing to be ridiculous with their burgeoning relationship when it comes to school and dances. With some kicks to the butt offered by Rachel, the team all end up at the dance with the various couples all pairing up. As they dance, Rachel and Cassie notice Ax growing a sudden protuberance on his head: a stalk eye! The group rush him out of the gym, all while frantically trying to cover up his emerging Andalite bits. Ax is also delirious and mumbling incoherently. In the hall, Ax makes a wild bolt for it just as Chapman and a teacher, Mr. Tidwell, come around the corner. Mr. Tidwell takes one look at Ax and quickly tells Chapman that Ax must have been drinking, and crab-walks Ax back towards the group. The others grab Ax away as Marco and Rachel try to convince Tidwell that Ax is just sick and they need to take him home. But as they try to get past him to the door, Ax’s tail shoots out and whacks Tidwell on the head.
Tidwell grabs Cassie and walks her back down the hall. There, he confesses that he knows Ax is an Andalite. What’s more, Mr. Tidwell is a Controller, but not just any Controller. He and the Yeerk in his head are part of the Yeerk Peace Movement organized by none other than Aftran, the Yeerk Cassie saved way back when. But Aftran has been captured and Visser Three is on his way to interrogate her personally, likely exposing all of the Animorphs in the process. For now, she’s being held in the Yeerk pool, but Tidwell insists that Cassie and her friends have to rescue her, for the sake of themselves and the entire Yeerk Peace Movement.
Cassie rejoins the group and they manage to get Ax back to Cassie’s barn. There, in a moment of clarity, Ax explains that Yamphut, a disease that infects the Tria gland in his brain and can cause it to explode. The only way to save him will be to remove the gland when his temperature goes back down. Yamphut is also contagious to humans, but in them it just presents as a common flu.
Cassie then also explains about Aftran. Marco and Rachel are particularly harsh about reminding her that it was her choice to give them all up to Aftran that lead them to being in this current situation. They decide they need to get into the Yeerk pool tonight, hopefully returning before Ax’s temperature dips to the crisis point. In the meantime, they call in Erek to hang out with Ax in the barn, projecting a hologram of an empty stall so Cassie’s parents don’t discover him.
But to get into the Yeerk pool, they now need to get past the new security system that attacks all biological life that isn’t controlled by a Yeerk. Marco has the idea to use the sewer system, reasoning that the Yeerk pool is like an entire city, so there must be plumbing connecting it to the outside world. Tobias then comes up with the idea of using an eel morph and he retrieves one from a local bait shop that he knows of. With Erek’s map of the city plumbing system in their minds, the team find themselves up in water tower, ready to use the extra force of the water to propel them where they need to go.
In eel morph, the team rush down the pipes. It’s a wild ride with them barely making all of the turns they need to. Suddenly, Jake is sucked into the wrong pipe. Forming a line, the others manage to pull him back out. But they realize that something is wrong with him, that he has come down with the same sickness. After some debate about whether they should split up, they all decide they have to abort the mission. They manage to ride the strongest currents they can find and end up getting shot out of a fire hose and into a burning building. There, they all de-morph and re-morph birds to escape. Jake, now violently sick, heads home with Cassie and Marco to help him.
The next day at school, Rachel is no where to be found. Turns out she came down with the “flu” last night as well. Mr. Tidwell catches up with Cassie in the hall. He explains how dire the situation is becoming, Visser Three has moved up his visit, and that the other Yeerk Peace Movement members can’t do much. Many of them don’t have hosts (since they are committed to finding hosts that want to team up with them) and many of the others, like Tidwell, are in bodies that can’t fight. Desperate, Cassie comes up with a new plan: they can morph Yeerks.
On the way home, Marco, too, gets sick. But he also points out the one flaw: what happens if they do save Aftran? She’ll just die of starvation. Back in the barn, Tobias says that Ax’s temperature continues to drop. He then flies off to check on the other patients, which Cassie reads as him wanting to go check on Rachel. Cassie looks around the barn for tools, mentally preparing herself for the fact that she’s going to have to do brain surgery on Ax eventually. As she gathers things, Tobias swoops back in, but he’s clearly not well and accidentally flies into a rafter, knocking himself out. He’s sick too. Cassie picks him up and puts him in a cage, figuring that her parents will think they just have one more rescued animal.
Cassie bikes to Mr. Tidwell’s house. There she puts her plan in action. Tidwell’s Yeerk comes out, Cassie acquires him, and begins the morph. In Yeerk form, she’s blind and deaf, but does have a sort of sonar. Tidwell picks her up and put her to his ear where she slithers in. She connects to his brain and regains her senses. It takes her a bit to figure out how to move Tidwell, who’s voice she can hear urging her to hurry up. She also can see all of his memories and feels ashamed that she is essentially violating his privacy.
Tidwell!Cassie then makes her way to the local McDonald’s, one of the known Yeerk pool entrances, hiding the original Yeerk on her person. She gains entrance and successfully gets past the security system. The Yeerk pool is as horrifying as ever. At the peer, she releases the Yeerk and slithers out of Tidwell’s ear herself. In the pool she is able to locate Aftran just as Visser Three arrives to collect her. She manages to demorph to human and then remorph as an osprey, the only bird morph she has that dives into water so can handle flying while wet. She grabs Aftran and barely manages to escape the pool. Conveniently, another Controller is entering up in the McDonald’s, so she is able to escape out before the security system fries her.
Back at the barn, Ax has reached his crisis and Cassie must operate. She quickly decides to have Aftran Control Ax so that she can tell Cassie from inside where exactly in Ax’s brain the Tria gland is located. Together, they are able to successfully remove the gland. Ax awakens just as Aftran exits and is horrified that he was infested. But now Cassie has another challenge: what to do with Aftran?
A few days later, the team are all recovered and walking along the beach. Out in the ocean, a humpback whale leaps before heading out to sea. They all agree that they used the blue box the right way this time. They let Aftran gain morphing powers if she agreed to trap herself in a morph. Whale!Aftran is now free.
Peace, Love, and Animals: This book definitely played to some of Cassie’s strengths. More so than most of the other characters, Cassie is probably the best character to describe what their lives are like as ordinary kids. Through her eyes, we’ve seen a lot more scenes of what school is like for the group and the various dynamics that exist between them outside of missions. Here, there were some very nice moments where Cassie was just an ordinary teenage girl, feeling awkward about her quasi-relationship with Jake and the fact that none of the girls at school know they are together (or even believe it could ever be possible!) So small moments, like her pride when they dance together, are just very sweet.
I also like the fact that we finally have circled back around to the aftermath of her decisions in book #19 when she left Aftran infest her and exposed them all. Here, she is much less confident that this was in fact the right choice. She admits that it felt right then, but the situation that they’re in now calls that all into question. There’s a very real possibility that they will all be exposed and killed simply because of that choice. Even with Aftran’s cooperation, here, Cassie sees that she is still a risk point for the group. She never outright regrets her decision in that book, but I like the fact that here she had to confront the reality of that choice a bit more head on. Also, when she is alone right before the mission, she is forced to leave Ax right before it seems like he is going to hit his crisis. She tells him that she has to save the group first, and tells Erek that if things go south, he has to just let Ax die rather than expose them. These are hard choices, but it’s nice to see Cassie confront them. Though, again, this calls into question my ongoing frustration with her character. She is completely inconsistent in her decision making and ability to prioritize individuals and her morals and the entire group/world. Sometimes she’s willing to throw everything away to make a stand on something, like quitting the team and telling Aftran their secrets, or letting the aliens re-direct the asteroid in Megamorphs #2. And at others, she’s willing to make the tough calls. I dunno. It just feels like I never know which Cassie I’m going to get.
But there’s no denying the coolness of her ability to successfully perform brain surgery on Ax. The idea of using Aftran to get a sense of things was great, but it still rested on her ability to pull it off. Without Cassie, Ax definitely would have been done for, as no other member of this group could have done what she did here.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake is out of commission very early in this book, which makes sense. In order to sow the most confusion, you have to take away calm, collected, Jake. Even in the midst of his burgeoning illness, when they’re in the pipes as eels, the others still are relieved when he manages to come to enough to tell them what to do.
Xena, Warrior Princess: It’s always fun to see Cassie and Rachel at school, and here Rachel takes things into her own hands about Cassie/Jake’s secret relationship. It also becomes clear that there is an unspoken hierarchy in leadership within the group. When it first becomes clear that Jake is getting sick, Rachel immediately steps into the leadership role. There’s some snark, but they all seem to kind of agree that this is right. And I know there’s a later book that focuses on this point, too. Other than that, she gets sick second, so doesn’t have too much to do.
A Hawk’s Life: When Ax gets sick at the school, while the others all fret about whether or not Mr. Tillman saw him, Tobias is the one clearly most worried about just Ax, forget everything else. He also gets sick, and I think it’s understood that this is because he is in human morph when Ax first comes down with it, and thus susceptible to infection.
As we’ll see in Marco’s section, he’s third in line for leadership, after Jake and Rachel. So leadership goes Jake, Rachel, Marco…? But honestly, given what we’ve seen from past books, I’d say leadership should go Jake, Tobias, Marco/Rachel, Ax, Cassie. Tobias has proven himself to be the most even-keeled of the group, he’s a good strategist (as proven in his book with the Hork Bajir valley), and he’s willing to make the tough calls (as seen in Megamorphs #2). Marco is probably the only one who would prove a problem, just because they tend to clash with Tobias not really appreciating Marco’s cynical outlook on things. But other than that, I think he’s a strong candidate for the role. I put Marco and Rachel together because, as we see in her book, this is kind of a tough role for her to fill. So Marco might make a bit more sense, simply because he’s a more level-headed player. But, it should be said, a big part of leadership is simply stepping up, unasked. Tobias has done it in the examples I gave above. And Rachel does it here, and will do it later. So it’s a tie.
The Comic Relief: Marco has some good lines in this book, and it is notable that he (along with Rachel) is the most critical about Cassie’s past decision with Aftran that lead to them being in this tough situation. He also comes up with the eel plan, which is clever, if not fully thought out. After Rachel goes down sick, Marco asks Cassie if this means that he’s now in charge.
In a nice reminder to Marco’s particular hatred of David, when they are on the beach in the end discussing their use of the blue box, we get this exchange:
“We made the right decision,” Jake said. “Better than the last time we used the blue box.”
“Would have been hard to do any worse,” Marco said.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax. It’s never really explained how he was exposed to this disease, but it seems kind of like the Andalite version of appendicitis. Some gland becomes painful and if it bursts, bad things follow. Of course, the tension must be raised by placing this gland in his brain. And then, in the midst of fever dreams, he’s the only one who can even marginally explain what is going on. Beyond that, he’s still a kid! Imagine some teenage boy trying to tell a doctor how to operate on him for appendicitis! Ax is also completely horrified when he discovers Aftran in his head immediately after waking up; he even goes so far as to say he wishes Cassie had just let him die. Cassie does a good job slapping some sense in him, but I don’t remember if Ax ever refers to this in future books. But it seems like something I’d want to hear his thoughts on.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Cassie morphing the Yeerk was particularly bad. She describes it as first having a layer of mucus ooze out of her pores until it covers her entire body, and then rest of her just kinds of melts away. But…mucus….all over body…I mean, I guess the process of morphing Yeerks should be one of the worst, and if that was the goal, then well done! Also, the process of infesting Mr. Tillman. Obviously the Yeerk instincts are fine with this, but I imagine there’s a pretty disturbing element to the thought of climbing into another human’s head through their ear, when you’re a human yourself only in morph.
Couples Watch!: Cassie has a very real teenage girl moment when she’s dancing with Jake, reveling in the fact that the other girls will now see that shy, animal-poop-covered Cassie is the one who gets to be with fairly popular Jake. Cassie also acknowledges the fairly official relationship status between Rachel and Tobias, hoping that they can get away to dance, too. And then later, she knows that it is really Rachel, not “the others,” that Tobias wants to check on when he flies off.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three makes his token appearance towards the end, and it has to be one of the shortest cameo’s we’ve gotten from him one of these. He does make a very good point about osprey!Cassie’s escape while being shotat my multiple Controllers at the end:
<Would it be asking too much for one of you to actually hit something?!!> I heard Visser Three roar.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much! We all knew Ax was never in any real danger at this point, so while it was a good motivation for events, it didn’t have a lot of emotional impact. The scene of whale!Aftran was probably the most emotional bit of the book.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There were some clever plans here, mostly Cassie coming up with the idea to use Yeerks as a morph to get into the pool, and then getting Aftran to help with the brain surgery. But man, that eel morph plan was not well thought out. I mean, it’s a cool idea and props to Marco for having the creativity to come up with it, but what was the end game there? How exactly were they going to get out, and with Aftran in toe none the less?? Even Cassie’s plan failed to have an exit strategy, and the fact that she wasn’t shot is pretty unbelievable.
Mandatory Rachel/Marco banter:
“I just had a thought,” Marco said.“I’ll buy you a card to commemorate the moment.” Rachel, of course.
In the very beginning, when Marco and the others are discussing just going to the dance like regular kids:
“Oh, man,” Marco moaned.
“Every time we try to do something nice and normal it ends up turning out nasty and weird,” he said. “Every single time.”
Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12
No change! It’s a big win for the Animorphs to just survive this situation, but as far as actual damage goes, there’s not a big change. The Yeerk Peace Movement is a good thing to now have, and maybe indirectly through Cassie and Aftran, the Animorphs are responsible for it, but not much.
Rating: For the most part I did enjoy this book. I really liked the follow-up on the Aftran situation and the introduction of the Yeerk Peace Movement. Cassie, too, has some good moments in this story. I do wonder at these choices to continue to give Cassie books where she is isolated from the rest of the team for some reason or another. She simply doesn’t have the strongest voice of the group. Her narration is usually pretty straightforward and not very nuanced. She’s simply not as interesting to read about as say Marco, Ax or Tobias. So it’s strange that she seems to routinely get books where she’s all by herself and much of the story’s appeal (or lack there of) is left to her characterization. Obviously this is a story that had to belong to Cassie, and if it was the only example of her as an isolated character in these books, then fine. But this is like the 3rd book where she’s mostly on her own for a lot of it, and it’s just not the best.
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!