Animorphs #35: “The Proposal”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: The Yeerks are stepping up their invasion tactics. And Marco has problems of his own. His dad is starting to date. But Marco knows his mother might still be alive.
Plot: I mean, look at that cover? You know it’s going to be bad when that’s the cover. I didn’t have a whole lot of memories from this book, other than the fact that Marco’s dad wants to get married to a woman who owns the featured “evil poodle.” I had successfully blocked out the rest of the story. Or, more likely, merged it with Rachel’s crocodile-allergy story from which this book LIFTED ITS ENTIRE PLOT LINE! But I will vent about that in my small review section at the end. In the mean time…
Marco and his dad’s night of video game playing is interrupted by a phone call from Marco’s math teacher, a woman whom is dad is now dating. To drown out the mushy gushing the two are exchanging via the phone, Marco begins channel surfing. He gets caught up on a self-help talk show where an uber chill man named Tennant is famous for giving his calm, collected advice to callers to the show. Marco recognizes the self-help guru as fairly famous and sits back to watch, only to be bolted out of his seat when he hears Tennant suggest to one caller that the best place to help her loneliness is the perfectly lovely organization called “The Sharing.”
Marco immediately calls Jake and arranges to meet with the group at Cassie’s barn. He begins to morph his usual osprey, but halfway through, things go terribly wrong: he ends up as a half osprey/half lobster monstrosity. Marco manages to morph out, but is too shaken to morph again and instead rides his bike to the barn. There, the others rib him for taking so long, but he quickly distracts them with news of Tennant. Surveillance is called for.
Over the next three days, the team takes turns watching Tennant and establish that he has a very fixed routine involving jogging, working from home while cuddling his pet birds, and airing his show in the evenings. Another pair had already caught him sneaking in through a known Yeerk pool entrance, so his status as a Controller is confirmed. While Marco and Cassie are on watch, Cassie asks how Marco is doing, having caught on to his being shaken recently. He ends up venting about his dad’s dating life and the struggles of knowing that his mom could still be alive.
The next day, they decide to take their scouting to a new level and infiltrate his house. Tennant’s pet birds roam free throughout the house, so Marco and Rachel sneak in to acquire and morph two of them. The others wait to provide back-up should anything go around. Parakeet!Marco and Rachel head into Tennant’s office. There, they see him writing an email to a CEO of the television company that runs his current show. It appears that he is going to be offered an award in the next week followed by a promotion to prime time where he will have an even larger audience to promote The Sharing to.
He gets a phone call from Visser Three, and while he talks to him, discussing plans, Marco feels himself beginning to lose control of his morph. He begins squawking and poops on Tennant’s desk. After Tennant gets off the phone, he explodes into a manic rage, screaming about how he hates all of these animals and he’ll be happy when he’s free to kill them all. He grabs parakeet!Marco and begins crushing him in his hands. He’s only stopped by his host body that begins to fight back. He lets Marco go, but then decides to play the little game his host plays with his pets: getting the birds to say their own names. Of course, Marco doesn’t know the name of the parakeet he morphed.
Tennant quickly realizes that he is an Andalite in morph and hits him with a book, breaking his small bird body. The other Animorphs barge in in battle morphs and Tennant calls for Hork Bajir back-ups who seemingly appear out from….somewhere? Marco manages to de-morph, but when he tries to morph his gorilla battle morph, he again splices two morphs together, this time a fish and the gorilla. Barely making it back to human, he manages to shut the office door in Tennant’s face while he and the other Animorphs make a break for it out of the window.
Back in the barn, the others are furious with Marco for not revealing his morphing problem. Ax suggests that he may be struggling due to some type of stress factor in his life. Jake immediately benches Marco until he gets things under control. Marco heads home, frustrated. But he doesn’t find any relief there, since his dad’s girlfriend is visiting, and what’s worse, she has her evil toy poodle with her. The dog starts barking and biting at Marco, and he ends up acquiring it to get it to settle down, before hiding out in his room.
Marco’s ban doesn’t last long, however, since their new mission is coming up and the team needs him. They decide that the best course of action is to expose Tennant as the wacko he is. Even by Yeerk standards, it is clear that the Yeerk in Tennant is barely clinging to sanity, and if he was to explode like he did at his home, but in a public place, his future as a TV personality would be ruined. To do this, they decide to crash the awards ceremony later that week.
The team sneaks into the banquet halls as cockroaches and make their way to the kitchen. Their plan is to crawl onto Tennant’s salad plate with spider!Marco directing them to the right plate. Once in the kitchen, Marco demorphs in a bathroom and tries to morph the spider. Instead, he ends up as a mixture of spider and poodle. A bunch of kitchen workers spot him and chase him. The others ask what is going on, but Marco puts them off, saying everything is fine. Using thought-speak, he is finally able to scare off the kitchen workers. He then demorphs, grabs a kitchen uniform, and tries to pass himself off as a busboy. He gets the rest of the Animorphs onto one of the plate and tells the cook to set it aside specifically for Tennant. He then gets caught up in other kitchen chores by a tyrannical chef. Once he gets a chance to breath, he sees that all of the plates have been mixed up again and are heading out. Instead of being placed in front of Tennant, the plate ends up in front of of Zac Hanson (cuz of course a teen pop group is also at this B-level TV event). Much screaming ensues, but Tennant is unmoved. The Animorphs manage to scurry away.
They come up with Plan B. Ax morphs his human morph and the others morph flea. Jake instructs Ax and Marco to deliver the fleas to Tennant, but Marco gets trapped outside, leaving Ax to do this. Predictably, whenever Ax is near food, things to not go well. Marco gets inside just in time to see Ax licking the plates clean from Tennant’s table. However, he does manage to transfer the fleas to Tennant. Marco convinces the outraged people that he and Ax are just really big fans and they escape to the back of the room to watch Tennant’s speech. The Animorph!fleas make their way beneath Tennant’s wig (which they discovered when parakeet!Rachel accidentally nabbed it while trying to dive bomb Tennant the other day) and begin biting. Tennant twitches and squirms but manages to get through his speech without blowing up. Defeated, the team returns home.
The next day, Marco’s week gets even worse when his dad tells him that he is thinking of marrying the teacher girlfriend. He wants to make sure it’s ok with Marco. Marco simply bolts. Later, Cassie shows up at his house asking if he wants to talk. She says that there’s really no one outside of the group who can listen, but she’s willing to do it. And she knows that he had another failed morph while in the kitchen; she could tell from the sound of his voice. Marco vents that his stress isn’t special, they all have burdens they’re carrying, some of them (like Tobias) have much worse going on than him. Cassie shares a story about her anger when she sees hurt animals that have been harmed by cruel people. She says that her dad said to focus on what is: the hurt animal and how to help it. So in this case, is his dad happy now?
Running out of time, the team comes up with another plan. Poodle!Marco begins stalking Tennant. Whenever he is out in public, and unable to respond, the terror that is the poodle shows up and begins biting him, but Tennat’s animal-loving persona can’t respond. All week this goes on, with Marco succeeding in controlling his morphs the entire time.
Finally, the night of the first prime time airing of the show arrives. The team stake out the studio in various morphs, ready for Marco to make the grand scene once the program begins airing. But as he begins to morph poodle, his ailment strikes again and he ends up as a mix of a poodle and a polar bear. He loses control of the morph and goes after Tennant, only barely able stop from killing him. Cassie wants him to talk about his feelings to help him stable himself. Jake tells her that he loves her and cares for her, but shut it. The two bicker a bit, but Jake shuts her down saying now is not the time for her approach, and Marco just needs to suck it up and deal with his crap. Jake finally breaks through by bringing up Marco’s own philosophy (that he, in turn got from his mom), that you can either laugh or cry at the struggles of the world. Marco gets it together and finishes his morph to poodle. Seeing that “the Andalite” is now fully helpless as a small dog, Tennant grabs poodle!Marco and begins strangling him. Just then the cameras go on. Everyone is horrified and Tennant immediately releases Marco and tries to say it was a mistake. The Animorphs all bail
The clip goes viral and soon enough Tennant’s future as a TV star is over. The book ends at the very slap-dash wedding between his Dad and the teacher who get married two weeks later. Marco is still struggling with it all, but has come to accept it. But never that dog.
One evening the phone rings. The answering machine picks it up, and it’s Marco’s mother, asking for him. Dun dun dun.
The Comic Relief: The unfortunate bit of this whole thing is that after the very real, very serious events of the book before it, this one just seems…beneath him. Like, I get that this book is trying to fill a niche of dealing with a real-life issues that reader kids may be dealing with, a widowed parent re-marrying. But in the world of these books, Marco’s character specifically has had to deal with so many traumatizing things with his parents, that the fact that he would break down to the point of failing his morphing over this particular issue is just hard to believe. Let’s go through it. In the first few books, he’s dealing with the death of a parent. On top of that, he’s had to parent himself as his dad has completely lost it and hasn’t been parenting him at all. This has been going on for who knows how long. Then he finds out his mother is alive, but the leader of the Yeerk invasion. Then he thinks she dies, several books later. Then he rediscovers her, but has to plan her death himself. And now, again, he’s unsure whether she’s alive. So yes, I understand the quandary he is in with his father re-marrying, and I would have been completely on board for that being a through-line in the story that he is dealing with. But to make it the crux of the story by having it impact his morphing…nah, not buying it. That’s not the Marco we’ve come to know through all of these books. Cold, calculating, brutal Marco isn’t going to break down over just this. Even Marco thinks it’s out of character:
I was going insane. Hard to believe that after all the craziness I’d been through since this war started, a simple, everyday, domestic problem would be the thing to push me over the edge.
And then, on top of that, Marco’s usual bits, even in books that aren’t his, weren’t up to snuff. The author of this book pretty much recycled Marco jokes from the past (the back-and-forth between Marco and Ax about Ax’s use of “your minutes” could almost have been directly lifted from another book. Not only wasn’t it funny, but it’s boring to read the same joke over and over, especially without any new twist), and also re-used Marco’s philosophy from book 5. Didn’t expand on it. Didn’t bring anything new to the table, pretty much AGAIN lifted it directly from there and plopped it down here to serve the exact same purpose. It was incredibly frustrating, especially since Marco books are some of my favorites.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake tries to bench Marco when he realizes that he’s struggling with his morphing. But, unlike Rachel and her crocodile experience, Marco’s breakdowns are further apart. He goes several days and many morphs without any issue, so it’s easy to understand why Jake would let him back on missions. Not only is Marco’s gorilla morph one of their best battle morphs, but we know that Jake recognizes Marco’s smarts as the best planner of the group. So benching him is a big loss. In the end, when Marco’s struggling once again, Jake comes down on him hard. He tells Marco to get it together, no excuses. Fix it. That’s an order. Cassie tries to argue that Marco just needs to talk about it. But Jake shuts her down firmly. They’re in the middle of a mission and Marco just needs to deal with his crap. Period. Jake also must have talked with Marco about Marco’s life approach, since he knows Marco’s whole bit about looking at life with a sense of humor. We, as readers, know this because Marco shared it with us in an internal narrative back in book 5. But we never hear him tell it to Jake. Instead, it’s a nice reference to how close these two are and that they must have talked about stuff like this at some point.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel tries to give Marco a lecture about hiding his morphing issues from the group. He rightly calls her out on the hypocrisy of this given her crocodile-lying incident. She agrees that someone else should take over lecturing Marco from this point. She’s also paired up with Marco on the parakeet mission, of course furthering my secondary Marco/Rachel focus. She also dive bombs Tennant while morphed as a parakeet, proving that the morph itself has very little affect on Rachel’s general plan of action. She will attack with whatever she has available.
A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias gets very, very little to do in this book. I mean, even adding up his lines of dialogue, it’s pretty sad. If anything, he mostly serves as a point to fuel Marco’s self-disgust. In the very beginning, after Marco’s first failed morph, he comes down hard on Tobias and ends up feeling guilty about it. And later, when he’s talking to Cassie, he says all of the other Animorphs have stressers and aren’t freaking out. He particularly emphasizes Tobias’s situation. Other than that, Tobias mostly just serves as the eyes in the air and joins in on the group activities, like being a flea biting Tennant’s head.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has quite a lot in this book, mostly utilizing her super power as the group counselor. She is quick to understand why Marco is stressed and suggest that he needs someone to talk to. Right away, on the first scouting trip, she manages to get Marco to open up and vent his frustrations. She’s also the only one to pick up on the fact that he had another morph melt-down while in the kitchen at the banquet. And she then takes it upon herself to come to his house and offer supporting, knowing that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to about all of this. She shares some nice philosophies and ways of thinking about the situation with his dad that do seem to help, though Jake’s method, in the end, is the one to break through.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: You’d think they’d learn about Ax and food! I mean, yes, I get the fact that Ax has the only human form that doesn’t put them all at risk, but man, he’s got to win the award for having the least control over any given morph. Any other animal, any other morph, sure they all might struggle here and there, but they usually get the hang of it, especially with morphs they’ve used more often. But man, Ax has zero self-control in that morph. Is it worth the risk having him go in? I mean, I’m finding it hard to believe that had Marco even been there when Ax was clearing tables that it would have made any difference.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: It’s a hard toss between all of the gross morph combinations that Marco experiences and the fleas biting Tennant’s head. I mean, I think I’ve got to go with the second. Sure, they’ve “accidentally” bitten other people as fleas, but the whole goal of this mission was to crawl under some skeevy Controller’s wig and bite away. Even Cassie calls it out:
<This is the grossest thing we have ever done,> Cassie complained.
Couples Watch!: In the very beginning, Rachel is angry at Marco for calling the meeting in the barn because he interrupted her and Tobias watching “Felicity.” Awwww, cute dates! Jake does tell Cassie he loves her….just before he tells her to shut up. So….romantic? They also have a nice little spat after this about how to handle Marco’s ongoing morphing issues. This is one of those small moments that kind of highlights why this relationship was always doomed. They really don’t have that much in common in the way they look at the world and how they make decisions. It’s clear why Jake is attracted to and relies on Cassie, she provides much-needed emotional support and insight into others. And Cassie…thinks Jake’s good looking? But when you get down to it, they have very different philosophies, so while I can see why they end up together throughout the series, you can also see the tension between them, more so than Tobias and Rachel who have some more obvious similarities and mutual supports.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is taking an extended absence! This is how many books in a row now that he hasn’t made an in-person appearance? The phone call doesn’t even include any dialogue from him, though we hear a bit of Tennant’s side of things and apparently part of the discussion is Visser Three ranting about how he looks forward to the day when the Yeerks can wipe out any unnecessary life forms on Earth. Obviously not the cats, though. Visser Three loves cats.
As for Tennant himself, we see yet another crazed Yeerk. It’s kind of hard to believe that this many crazed Yeerks ended up in positions of power. I mean, you have Tobias’s experiences several books ago and now this. You’d think with all the Yeerks available, they’d be able to assign more stable Yeerks to these crucial roles. Maybe it’s supposed to be yet another reflection on Visser Three’s own questionable psyche. That maybe, somehow, he gravitates towards Yeerks who are a bit unbalanced, just like himself. Chapman’s Yeerk, for example, seems perfectly steady and unlikely to have been caught up in the nonsense the Animorphs were pulling here. Especially because with all of the poodle-attacking lead-up, trying to catch him on TV was a pretty predictable move by the “Andalite bandits.”
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Really, nothing. Marco books usually have some good stuff with reflections on his situation with his mother, but there really isn’t much here. From the very sophisticated, cold Marco that we saw only a few books ago, in a lot of ways this doesn’t even feel like the same character. It’s hard to believe that this situation is what would cause the breakdown in stress, and I could just never really buy it. From the big tragedies presented in the past of a son setting up his mother to die, it’s hard to feel much about the struggles of his Dad marrying a lady with a poodle.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, Ax with the food. And along those lines, the whole business at the banquet. With everything that went wrong in the kitchen, it’s hard to understand what exactly their plan had been to ensure that Tennant ended up with the correct plate. It doesn’t seem surprising that this would fail. And then when they morph fleas…there’s literally a line that says “somehow we managed to morph fleas.” Really? “Somehow we managed…” It’s the most cop-out explanation of all cop-out explanations. They would have all had to go through human morphs and Ax had to go through Andalite to get to his human. And there is ZERO explanation for how they manage this in a crowded room. It’s incredibly stupid.
<I am confused,> Ax said. <Are you saying that your father is considering taking this woman as a new mate?>
“You could put it that way,” Cassie said.
“But I’d rather you didn’t,” I added. “He’s just -”
<Ah. Perhaps your father is Young and Restless. Those who are Young and Restless frequently change mates.>
And I couldn’t have put my feelings for this book any better myself:
<Someday when this is all over people will ask us about the war against the Yeerks,> Tobias said. <Let’s leave this part out>
Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14
No score! Sure, the Animorphs technically succeed. But I’m mad at having to read a repeated book essentially, so this is what happens, I take it out on my score sheet.
Rating: I really disliked this book. Not because it’s the dumbest one out there (pretty hard to top the horse!Controllers/Andalite toilet book or the split Rachels), but because I’ve already read this freaking book!!! Whomever was the ghost writer for this thing has to be, up to this point, the laziest of the bunch (just looked it up, this guy also wrote the polar bear!Marco book which I also didn’t love, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised). Others have come up with some pretty wacky and questionable bits, but at least those were original. This book is essentially the exact same book as Rachel’s crocodile story. Not only do you have the same morphing problem (though at least Rachel’s allergy made more sense, as Marco’s issue, here, just comes out of nowhere conveniently for plot purposes and then disappears again, also, conveniently for plot purposes), but the Yeerk plot was the same: some famous guy getting on TV and telling people to join The Sharing and the Animorphs breaking it up by crazy shenanigans on a TV studio! I mean, c’mon, at least mix and match your plot points!! Re-use one or the other, but both together just highlights the lack of creative thought in this book. On top of the two major plot points being directly lifted, you have the re-use of jokes (the “minutes” thing) and repetition of Marco’s major philosophy, with nothing added. By the end of the book, I was just mad. The stupidity of other books is frustrating enough, but again, at least those were original. A bit thumbs down for this one. All the more upsetting coming off the rare good Cassie book, only to have the usually good Marco book turn out to be a hot mess. The only good thing about this book, really, is the last paragraph or two that sets up “Visser.”
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!