Animorphs #31: “The Conspiracy”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Jake’s dad and brother Tom have left for a meeting of The Sharing, where Tom may force their dad into involuntary Yeerk infestation. Jake must save his father, but for the first time, his quick-thinking tactical mind freezes up … with everything at stake.
Plot: Another one where I only had vague memories of the entire plot. I knew that it was a big Tom book and that Jake’s leadership came under question. And then the entire read through I was wondering why they didn’t just break Tom’s leg, and then they do in the end, so that entire thought must have just been an extremely vague memory of that specific plot point. And now after reading it, my main take away is:
Jake arrives home to see his mother getting in a taxi crying. It turns out that Jake’s Grandpa G has died, and the entire family is going up to his remote cabin in the woods to prepare for the funeral. Jake, Tom, and their Dad will come up in a few days and stay for four days. Four days, one day past the three day limit that will lead to starvation for the Yeerk in Tom’s head. This presents a problem, especially when Jake’s Dad refuses to budge on insisting that Tom come on this trip. (We’ll give Jake a break for emotional distraction, but he doesn’t realize that this four day limit will be a problem until he runs into Marco and after telling him the whole story suddenly realizes ah, that’s why Tom as so upset.) What’s worse, Marco points out that Jake shouldn’t have left Tom alone with Jake’s dad, surmising that he might do something desperate to get out of this trip.
When the two get back to the house, Tom and his dad are gone, but there is a crumpled note in the trash (Tom through it away to cover their tracks) from his dad saying that he and Tom are going to the Sharing so he can explain why Tom will need to be away. Jake and Marco know the truth: they’re going to try and infest his dad with a Yeerk. Still panicking, Jake thinks to have the Chee track his father down. Marco steps in saying they need to be careful and use a pay phone so they’re not tracked. The Chee have Jake call his dad’s cell phone so they can track its location, but to make sure to stay quiet so the Yeerks won’t get suspicious. When Tom answers it, Jake almost speaks and Marco has to lunge to get the phone away from him before he reveals them. The Chee narrow the location down to a few blocks and Jake and Marco morph birds to check it out.
They arrive at a mini mall where Jake spots his dad’s car in the lot. He starts to morph tiger and once again Marco has to pull him back, pointing out that they can’t barge in and make it known that the “Andalite bandits” have any interest in this. Instead, gorilla!Marco begins setting off car alarms, punching Jake’s dad’s car and Chapman’s car for extra fun. Tom, his dad, Chapman and few other Controllers come out. Jake is able to confirm that his dad is still free when Tom tries to convince him to leave the car and come back inside. But Jake’s dad refuses, saying he needs to take care of his car now.
The group meets back up in the barn and discuss the general crappiness of the entire situation. Rachel is mad that Marco and Jake went in alone, Tobias is confused by family dynamics having had a terrible aunt and uncle his entire childhood, and the group as a whole recognizes that there is no larger fight going on here, but that it’s a terrible position for Jake. They all come to the conclusion that there is a good chance that Tom will simply try to kill his dad as a way out of this situation and that they will all need to go on surveillance to try and prevent it.
The next day, roach!Jake follows his dad to work, hitching a ride on his dad’s pants leg. At the doctors office, Tobias spots an angry looking guy lurking around the entrance. But throughout the rest of the day, nothing of note happens. On the way back out, the angry looking guy is still there. Tobias and Ax ask Jake what they should do, and Jake freezes. Deciding to go with the “gross out” method, roach!Jake runs up the angry man’s body and perches on his hair. Just then, Tobias swoops down and tries to rake his hair, but instead ends up with the toupee and Jake caught in his talons. Jake realizes that because of his freeze, Tobias and Ax made the wrong call, exposing weird animal behavior that could have been spotted by Yeerks. And all for nothing, as the angry man just had a beef about parking spots.
Back home, Jake tells Tobias and Ax to head out and no need to send reinforcements, he’ll cover it. After dinner, Jake notices that Tobias is outside, clearly having ignored his instructions to go home. Jake decides to join him for a bit and morphs falcon. From the air, the two of them spot Chapman and another man with a gun in a car heading their direction. Jake frantically swoops down and starts to demorph on his own roof, in plain sight of anyone who would be looking. As he demorphs, he slides down the roof and is dangling in front of a window. Tom is facing the other direction on the phone, the only reason Jake isn’t spotted. Jake overhears Tom telling someone on the phone that his dad is outside, take the shot. Finally demorphed, Jake drops to the ground and rushes around to volunteer to finish watering the lawn for his dad. As the car drives by he “accidentally” sprays it with the hose, and they continue on.
Again in the barn, Tobias relates everything that happened that day (Rachel and Ax are away watching Jake’s house). No one is too impressed with Jake, not only for freezing up in the parking lot but for demorphing in plain sight. Even Cassie doesn’t come to his defense. But Marco is the most harsh.
I glared at him. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? This is payback for when I doubted you over your mother.”
“I was ready to do what had to be done,” Marco said.
“So am I!”
“No. You’re not. You endangered all of us. You demorphed on your roof! On your roof! In daylight. With your brother in the house! If Tom had seen you do that you’d be head down in the Yeerk pool right now, and the rest of us would be standing in line behind you!”
Marco insists they take a vote on what to do next, saying that Jake’s not in a position to make a good call. Cassie, through silence, sides with Marco, surprisingly. They assume that Ax will take himself out of the vote and Rachel will side with Jake. Tobias essentially defuses the situation by saying they need to come up with a plan that isn’t just reacting to what’s going on. Jake bursts out that he has such a plan: capture Chapman and use him as a distraction so the Yeerks won’t have the time/energy/resources to focus on Tom’s problem.
To pull this off, they go for the very unsubtle route. Rhino!Jake, grizzly!Rachel, gorilla!Marco and partially human morphed Ax (to make his human more unrecognizable) all barge into Chapman’s house under the pretense that Ax is a friend of Melissa’s. There they bring down destruction (with a near miss of Marco being shot and just being able to demorph/remorph), but manage to nab Chapman in the end and smuggle him to a nearby house where they tie him up and begin the charade. Ax is tasked with convincing Chapman that the Andalite bandits have captured him to torture information out of him.
The next morning Jake checks in on Ax who has had enough with this entire plan. He tells Jake that this was a dishonorable plan, to be threatening torture. Then, after deliberately leaving behind some broken glass, they leave Chapman behind for him to “escape.” Back home, Jake tells the others that his family is leaving at noon, but really they leave in the next two hours. After all of the missteps on his own part, Jake has decided that this is his problem to solve on his own.
After a tense ride, they find themselves at the cabin and reunited with Jake’s mom and other members of his family. Jake’s grandpa had fought in WWII, and while discussing this, Tom makes a few insensitive comments about wars and sacrifice. He and Jake go up to the attic to look through some of their grandpa’s things. There, Jake tries to get through to his brother Tom one last time, hoping to get a glimpse of him beyond the Yeerk’s control. They again discuss war and what parts honor and courage play in it. They discover some medals of honor and an old Nazi dagger that their grandpa must have retrieved from a fallen soldier. Jake insists that Tom not take it, knowing that the Yeerk would like to use it to kill Jake’s dad.
Later that night, Jake has disturbing dreams about being in a war, freezing in the trenches and wishing for the fighting to be done. He wakes up and sees that Tom’s bed is empty next to him. He goes downstairs and sees that his father is no longer asleep on the couch with his mother. Outside, he sees his father and Tom sitting together on the dock on the lake. Peaking out of the back of Tom’s pants is the Nazi dagger.
Jake starts to morph tiger, knowing that this is what it has finally come down to, him having to kill Tom. But before he can even finish the morph, he hears a loud crash and watches the dock collapse into the water. Both Tom and his father go under. Even more strange, his father, who is a good swimmer, is bobbing up and down in the water, being pulled somehow away from the dock and Tom. While Tom tries to keep his eyes on his dad, a dolphin fin appears in the water and rams him in the back, leaving him to float face down in the lake. Jake hears one of the Animorphs thought speaking to him to demorph, that he is out in the open in a partial form.
He is unable to get to Tom whom he is sure must be drowning with his face in the water. But suddenly Tom’s body begins skimming across the water being pushed from below. Jake grabs him and he coughs, coming to. His leg has been broken badly, however.
In the end, Tom is taken on a medical helicopter all the way back to their hometown. The next day, Jake goes out in the woods and meets up with his friends who explain how they did it. Tobias watched the house and notified them when Tom and his father left. Whale!Cassie managed to drag herself through the shallows and ram the dock, crashing it into the water. Rachel and Ax as dolphins broke Tom’s leg and dragged his father to safety. Looking around, Jake asks where Marco is. Cassie says that he’s hanging back, unsure how happy Jake would be to see him. He finally comes out and Jake notes that this all had to have been his plan, which he admits. Marco adds that the Chee helped: they were the ones who showed up in the helicopter and insisted that Tom be flown all the way back to their home town.
Jake admits that he was too close to everything, that he should have seen this solution of injuring Tom sooner. Jake takes Marco aside and thanks him for what he’s done. Jake hesitates, and then asks what the plan was going to be if Tom hadn’t made himself vulnerable by coming outside late at night with his father. Marco is silent, but Jake pushes, saying that Marco had to preserve the safety of the group and keep Jake alive. Marco finally agrees and coolly lays out his reasoning: If Tom killed Jake’s dad, Jake would kill Tom, and Jake and the others would be exposed. The expendable piece was Tom. He doesn’t finish saying what they would have done had Tom not come out before Jake stops him, saying he doesn’t want to know.
Back home, Jake looks at his Grandpa G’s medals and reflects on the fact that they had been stored away in a box in the attic and not on display. As a soldier himself, Jake understands this, that living it once is enough without being reminded constantly. He decides that if he is ever awarded any medals for the war with the Yeerks, he too will need to find a box for his attic.
Our Fearless Leader: It’s been a while since we’ve had a big Tom-related moment, let alone an entire book. It’s easy to forget that Tom was the reason that Jake signed on to this war to begin with. And here he is presented with the terrible decision to essentially choose between his brother and his father. It’s no wonder that he breaks down.
As readers, we’ve seen the inside of Jake’s head several times before and know that the confusion and fear that he feels pretty much constantly about his own abilities to lead this group effectively. He’s constantly asked to make split second decisions, many of which put his friends in mortal danger. In the very last book we saw him pretty coldly agree that Marco’s plan to kill his own mother was the best route to go. But what the other members of the group see is simply his effectiveness and sure handedness. So you have to imagine that witnessing him break down like this had to be a shock for the group. Again, as a reader, it didn’t strike as hard because we’ve seen Jake have these same moments of panic in the past. But here they really start affecting his outward behavior and choices.
Some of the strongest moments came outside of the Animorphs action and instead focused on Jake inner thoughts about war, honor, and what the choices that are asked of soldiers really mean in the larger scale of things. Particularly, he discussions with Tom about these things. Through Tom, the Yeerk is essentially presenting the case for the entire Yeerk forces’ view on war: there is only room for honor when the war is finished, while Jake is arguing the other side, that right and wrong always exist.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel does very little in this book. She’s along for a few missions, but she’s also absent during one of the biggest debates when Marco brings up voting on Jake’s leadership abilities. Jake immediately says that Rachel would side with him, and no one questions this. I’m not really sure why this was so assumed. Looking at almost all of the previous book in which there is some type of vote, Rachel almost always sides with Marco. So much so, that when she doesn’t in the vote to make David an Animorph, Marco remarks on it as a surprising divergence from their usual like-minded way of thinking. She’s also proven herself to be more than willing to step into a leadership role if Jake is out of it for some reason, like we saw when he was sick and they were all eels in the pipes. So it’s not like she is unwilling to consider alternatives to Jake making the calls. I mean, for plot reasons Marco’s vote had to go against him. But I think it’s a mischaracterization to present it as if Rachel would have voted this way.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is present both times that Jake errs in his leadership abilities, first freezing up in the parking lot and then demorphing in broad daylight on the roof. He is able to cooling tell the group what happened and Jake notes that he does it without judgement. But when Jake starts pushing back against Marco’s harsher view of things, Tobias, still calmly, tells Jake that Marco is right: Jake’s been out of it and he isn’t putting the group and their larger war first and it could be disastrous. But when it comes down to a vote, Tobias is also the one to essentially diffuse what was becoming a pretty heated moment by redirecting the conversation away from the vote and onto the fact that they should be on the offensive rather the defensive with this situation. This allows Jake another opportunity to come up with his own plan, to capture Chapman.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Like Rachel, I’m not sure whether Cassie’s characterization in the vote scene is spot on. I get that the fact that her not immediately siding with Jake is meant to highlight just how out of it he is, if even Cassie is questioning his decisions. But the fact remains that this book is coming directly after Marco’s book, and it just doesn’t make sense for Cassie to switch positions on this, especially when the person in question is Jake. If anything, the same concerns she had in Marco’s book should be present here, and even more strongly. But beyond that, she’s always had complete faith in Jake’s abilities, and I’m not sure either of his mistakes up to this point would be enough for her to question that. Unlike Rachel, for instance. I think the swap of their votes was done more for the “shock factor” than as a true portrayal of how these two characters would have acted in this situation.
The Comic Relief: Marco was by far the MVP of this book. Everything with him was great and I loved how it built off the fact that this was happening immediately after his own nightmare situation with his mother. It’s hard to count how many great moments there were from him. We had the parallel situation with him and Jake as we saw with him and David when it came to calling up Jake’s dad (reminding them both to use a pay phone rather than a trackable phone, stepping in when both Jake/David were about to slip up and give up crucial information). We had him calling out Jake on his bad decision making (though perhaps it was a bit much to be coming down on him about the public morphing given the, ahem, elevator scene from the previous book).
In many ways, I think the last book was a turning point in Marco’s character. Up to that point, he knew that he was probably one of the more clear-minded members of the group as far as completing an objective in the most direct manner, regardless of collateral. But after that book, he seems to admit his own ruthlessness. He knows that he is capable of doing the unthinkable, killing his own mother (he would have if Jake hadn’t knocked him out of the way) and that he is also the most capable of putting together a clear plan because of this ruthlessness. Not only does he not pull any punches when noting Jake’s priorities being out out of whack, but he early on sees the clear reality of the situation: Tom is the expendable piece. And he comes up with the plan to take Tom out, preferably by injuring him. But in the last conversation between him and Jake, we know that Marco had another plan for the more dire outcome, if that became necessary.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a very strong reaction to his role as faux interrogator/torturer of Chapman. This is probably one of the biggest moments for Jake to realize just how completely off the reservation his thinking has become. Ax is typically a “yes” man, and here we see him push back strongly against his Prince saying that this was the wrong thing to do, it was dishonorable, and while he’ll complete this mission, he will not do something like this again. That last bit in particular stands out as very rarely does Ax make statements like that, especially to and against Jake.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I can’t remember any real gross out moments from this. I mean, Jake morphs a cockroach and that’s never pleasant, but we’ve also read that one so many times that the shock factor is kind of lessened. He does effectively use the grossness of the roach itself to freak out both his dad (unintentionally as he tries to hitch a ride) and the angry parking lot guy (intentionally, in case he was a Controller).
Couples Watch!: Early in the book when Jake first finds out about his grandpa’s death, he has a moment where he wishes he could talk to Cassie about everything. Instead, he runs into Marco. Probably for the best, given the events that followed, but it’s still notable that Cassie is more and more who he turns to for support. Marco, while still his best friend, is also something more now, and Jake seems to recognize that the tactician in Marco can never quite turn off now.
Another moment is when they are first discussing Tom’s situation. Tobias is confused and asks why Tom doesn’t just say he’s not going and be done with it. Tobias genuinely doesn’t understand family dynamics in this matter, as he slowly realizes that his aunt and uncle only didn’t push back against his own refusals to do things because they didn’t care about him.
Rachel, of course, is having none of this:
“Your relatives are jerks and they didn’t deserve you,” Rachel snapped.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Another rare book where Visser Three doesn’t even make an entrance!
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: I mean, like Marco’s book, the whole thing is fairly tragic, with Jake’s slow realization that his father’s and Tom’s lives don’t really matter in the larger scheme of things. Especially when he stops Marco from telling him what the plan was in the end to take Tom out of the equation. He doesn’t even berate Marco for this anymore, some part of him recognizing that Marco was right.
But I think one moment that really stood out was about Tom himself. After Jake manages to break up the attempted shooting of his father in the front yard, he turns around and sees Tom watching from the window, hatred in his eyes. But Jake knows that his real brother is still there and that he had to helplessly watch as the Yeerk set up his father to be gunned down in his own yard and couldn’t do anything about it but watch from a window as his younger brother “luckily” steps in and stops it. It’s another reminder of just how awful the life of the host of a Yeerk must be.
We also get another rough Melissa moment, when Jake and Ax discuss the fact that Melissa has been wandering the streets crying and calling for her dad while they have him tied to a chair and are threatening to torture him.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, a lot of this book is centered around the idea of Jake coming up with terrible plans due to being emotionally compromised. I guess three really stand out to me, though.
One, I get that the “capture Chapman” plan was meant to distract the Yeerks from Tom’s situation. And we have to assume it worked as nothing happens to Jake’s dad. But from a reader perspective, we have nothing really to base this on. We don’t see any Yeerk plans fall apart, and it ends up largely feeling unnecessary. Even a small thing, like seeing cars with Controllers who had been staking out Jake’s house pull away after hearing about Chapman would have been enough of a nod that something had changed because of this. But as it was, we never knew what/if the Yeerks had any plans for that night, so we can’t see any change when nothing happens.
Two, Marco’s plan in the end is good. Just injure Tom enough that he had to go back. So good in fact that it is kind of questionable that they didn’t think of this before. In the days leading up to them leaving, I feel like there had to have been a way they could have done something similar that would have forced Tom to stay home in the first place.
Lastly, why oh why is Tom still trying to kill Jake’s dad once they get to the cabin? I don’t quite get how murder is going to get him to a Yeerk pool any faster, and if it has to be murder, why it is so specifically the dad, when, as far as the Yeerk is concerned, anyone would do. Frankly, Tom is sharing a room with Jake. Easier to just murder your sleeping brother than anyone, if that’s really the plan. But again, why is this the plan at all? Even the Yeerk should have come up with the “break my own leg” way out of this.
A good moment from Marco:
“You need to back off on this,” Marco said quietly. “You can’t make this call. Not about your dad and your brother.”
“You made it when it was your mom,” I said.
Marco shrugged.”Yeah, well, that’s me. If it’s any comfort to you, I’d like myself more if I was like you. But the question here is, how far do we go to protect your father?”
Also, a lighter moment, just after human!Ax has asked Mr. Chapman to go get Melissa about a homework assignment:
“Good,” Ax said. “She is my close friend and also classmate and thus this is a perfectly normal thing for me to do.”
Scorecard: Yeerks 7, Animorphs 12
No change! I think someone even notes that this had no effect on the larger war at hand. It was just a personal crisis for Jake himself.
Rating: I really liked this one. It was great to have another Tom-focused book, and this one really capitalized on the events of the previous book, playing with the differences between Marco and Jake in these similar situations. We see the aftermath for Marco’s character in going to the dark depths he did in his book, and Jake, too, has to confront the harsh realities of the situation with his brother. We know that his whole reason for joining this war was to save Tom, and for those of us who know the end, we know where that leads. This book is almost perfectly positioned in the middle of the series, and it’s an interesting point for the the story and Jake to come back around to Tom’s place in this war and what his life means in the scale of things and how that is changing as the war continues.
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!