The Great Animorphs Re-Read #50: “The Ultimate”

363403Animorphs #50: “The Ultimate”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: “Really big trouble” is an understatement these days. The war between the Yeerks and the Animorphs is full on–and it’s definitely going to get worse. But Cassie, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a lot more going on than just trying to stay alive. Now they have to actively protect others. And they no longer believe they can do it alone. The Yeerks are just too powerful.

So, Cassie and the others have to ask themselves a very important question: Is it time to increase their numbers? They all remember too well what happened with David–the Animorph gone bad. But this time do they really have a choice?

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: I was kind of dreading this book. I only really remember one part of it, but it’s one of the two big moments that made me dislike Cassie as a character when looking back on the series: when she gives up the blue box, inexplicably. So, it was with trepidation, I started reading…

Cassie and the other Animorphs are drilling for the inevitable day that the Yeerks discover the new Hork Bajir valley where they, the Hork Bajir, and now their families are hiding out as the war continues. The drills aren’t going very well as Cassie is distracted by worries over her parents and Jake’s head and heart are clearly no longer in the game after the loss of his parents to the Yeerks.

What’s worse, their parents don’t seem to be catching on to the reality of their situation. Rachel’s mother keeps trying to escape the valley to contact the authorities, putting them all at risk and driving Rachel crazy. And Cassie’s parents don’t have a grasp on the enormity of the situation, fixating on the size and comfort of the enclosures where the Hork Bajir will hide if they’re attacked, not only treating the Hork Bajir like animals but clearly not understanding that comfort is the least of everyone’s concerns.

To try and get Jake’s mind back in the game, Cassie calls a meeting, putting Jake on the spot to come up with an idea. They eventually decide that the only real power they have is the blue box and their ability to give others morphing abilities. Due to the adults inability to, you know, act like adults, they rule out all of their parents, one by one. They then proceed to rule out all adults, deciding that adults struggle too much with coming to terms with so many changes to their world view. This leaves recruiting more kids. And to avoid the concern about approaching Controllers, they decide to target disabled kids. They figure that they Yeerks would never infest them in the first place, and after morphing cured Loren’s eyesight, they also wonder if some of these kids could be cured in the same way.

Dressed up in costumes, a few of them sneak into a facility to try and find some volunteers. They meet a group of kids, lead by a boy in a wheelchair named James. After various forms of show and tell, they manage to recruit some kids to the cause. With the first set, only James is cured of his disability, able to stand again after he demorphs back to his human form. It is also decided that James will be the leader of this other group of Animorphs. Over the next few days, the Animorphs continue to recruit more kids and even manage to bring them to the Gardens to acquire some fighting morphs.

Ax locates a new facility, one that is a home for blind kids. They decide to check that out next. Cassie’s dad overhears them all discussing this process and comes down on Cassie for it, asking whether or not she thinks it’s humane. She snaps at her dad to come to grips with the stakes they are working with and leaves with the other Animorphs.

They arrive at the school for the blind at night, but as they start to approach the kids, Cassie feels that something is off. She eventually morphs a fly and spots an infrared camera, but before they others can escape, Tom and a bunch of Hork Bajir burst in. They force Jake to hand over the blue box and march the others out of the room to the loading dock. Fly!Cassie escapes, morphs owl, and heads to the rehab center to fetch James and the others.

They wrangle everyone up and head back. On the way, they see a limo speeding towards the loading dock; Cassie guess it’s Visser One. Once there, she tries to give the others a quick pep talk on what the fight will be like, but they begin to freak out. It’s only a steady speech from James that gets them back on track. They all morph battle morphs. James has chosen a lion, which makes Cassie think of David and how very different he and James are.

A massive fight breaks out and in the chaos Tom loses the blue box which lion!James snatches up. Visser One arrives with Taxxons in tow and blames Tom for losing the blue box. The Animorphs all line up, ready to escape with the blue box. It’s a strange feeling, having enough numbers on their side for once. Visser One fights with Ax and Jake before beginning to morph himself. Bull!Kelly gets injured badly and has to demorph in the battlefield, leaving her fairly helpless. Gorilla!Marco snatches her up and heads away to allow her time to remorph.

Visser One completes his morph, becoming a tentacle monster of some sort. He snags tiger!Jake by the throat and begins slowly throttling him. Tobais is smashed into a wall, and things generally take a turn for the worse. Jake almost dies but is saved when a rogue Hork Bajir, a member of the Yeerk Resistance, slices off the tentacle holding Jake. The Taxxons converge on Visser One and the Hork Bajir have to fight them off. In the chaos, the Animorphs retreat. As they do, they see Tom take off with the morphing cube, clearly having decided to keep it for himself. Jake and Cassie set off after him.

In the woods, they come to a stand off, and Cassie decides that it’s not worth it, not worth Jake having to kill his brother to retake the morphing cube. Just as Jake is about to spring, she grabs him by his injured let. Tom escapes into the night.

The next day, Jake is still angry with Cassie. She tries to explain that she was saving him from having to kill Tom, but he asks why she didn’t go after Tom herself then. She doesn’t answer, because she doesn’t know, other than the fact that it had felt right and she still thinks it was the right choice.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is an interesting Cassie book, I’ll give it that. We essentially have two different Cassie’s: one, the girl who has been fighting a war for years now and, when confronted by her parents who are pretty much spouting some of the same naive things she’s said herself in the past, she finds herself coming down on the other side of an argument from her usual stance.

Cassie, the Animorph who has arguably the best relationship with her parents throughout the series, has to have tough conversations with both of her parents. Her mom fixates on the state of the hideaway shelter, falling into the trap of thinking about the Hork Bajir as animals whose habitat isn’t satisfactory. She is having trouble accepting that these would be shelters in the case of an invasion where to be found is to be killed. Comfort is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Cassie’s dad is then concerned when he overhears Cassie and the others discussing their project to recruit more Animorphs, saying that recruiting disabled kids is not “humane.” This is also an interesting point. I think in any other book, we would have expected Cassie herself to be making this same argument and to have never agreed to it in the first place. But there is also an underlying discussion throughout the book on how we view those with disabilities. Ax points out that putting them in a hospital and stashing them away is almost as bad as his own people’s problematic attitudes. Even the Animorphs themselves fall into this trap and James has to point out that they are capable of making their own choices. He uses this same point, that their hardships have made them more capable of fighting, not less, when he’s giving his pep talk at the end of the book.

So, Cassie’s dad, essentially, is doing the same thing that her mom was doing: he’s saying that Cassie and her friends are “using” the disabled in the same way you would use animals. This attitude completely disregards the kids’ choice in the matter, treating the disabled kids as not capable of making decisions for themselves or almost so helpless that “able bodied” people like Cassie and her dad need to protect them from the choice at all. And really, the fact that Cassie’s mom and dad have taken themselves out of the running as soldiers themselves by behaving so poorly and needing their own kid to parent them is much more worth her father’s reflection.

On the other hand, however, to counterbalance all the thoughtfulness and moral pondering that Cassie goes through during much of the book, her decision to let the blue box slip through her hands because it “felt right” is a return to the complete nonsense decision making that we’ve seen from Cassie a few times. The decision on its own is infuriating, but the fact that it’s slotted in at the end of a book that is really discussing some big issues head on is rather unfortunate. There’s a line where Cassie tries to draw it all together, that some things maybe aren’t worth the moral compromise, but I think the point is lost when you actually look at the stakes. Just like her father was wrong to behave so poorly that his own kid can’t turn to him as an option when looking for support and then to question the only option (as far as the kids see it) for winning this war, Cassie is also wrong to let the blue box go, potentially losing the war right there. It’s not “just morphing.” The whole premise of the series is that morphing is powerful enough to allow five kids and an alien kid to stand up to an evil alien empire.

Our Fearless Leader: Man, there’s a huge change to Jake from the last book to this. It really highlights how tenuous was Jake’s mental space and that losing his parents was really one of the last straws to his ability to lead. Even when he gets it together somewhat, we see him going into missions without plans and failing to provide the general strength and assurance that the others rely upon so much. The events in this book don’t help and the contrast between Jake now and James (very much like Jake was at the start of this war) is really heart-breaking.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot, but she does have a scene where she gets in her mother’s face about sneaking off. Apparently, her mother has done this several times, and each time she does it, it sets the whole valley on high alert and risks everything. Again, with adults behaving has poorly as all of this, you really can’t blame the Animorphs for coming to the conclusion that recruiting more kids is the way to go, even if, on its own, that seems like a really terrible idea.

A Hawk’s Life: We see a few brief moments of Tobias with his mother that are very sweet. It’s not clear whether or not Tobias has told Loren about her history at this point, but you think that would come up soon. And, given what we know of Loren, it’s almost hard to believe that she wouldn’t be insisting on getting into this fight on her own. She already has morphing powers and has proven that she is still brave. Losing her memory wouldn’t make her lose her entire personality, and the Loren we know of old would definitely insist on helping her son in this war.

The Comic Relief: Marco is probably doing the best in the ole parent arena, his mom being the only adult to truly understand what they’re in the middle of. But it also seems to make him oddly complacent about the fact that things are falling apart, especially his best friend Jake. This all felt a bit out of character for him. Yes, his mother was his main motivation, but we’ve also seen how singled minded and strategic Marco has been in the past about winning this war, even in the face of losing his mother. So it’s kind of strange to see him as disconnected as he is here. Obviously he has to be to push Cassie into being the one to take action, but it doesn’t really ring true on a character level. We do see how important his gorilla morph is though when he’s able to carry Kelly away from the battlefield when she had to demorph to heal herself and ended back up in her body which has limited mobility. One other new Animorph has a gorilla morph, but given this situation, more might have been better for just this circumstance. Plus, we’ve seen how valuable Marco’s gorilla morph has been in the past. Way more so than a bull. Just saying.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s prejudices about the disable make an unpleasant reappearance in this book. But it’s clear that he has learned a lot from his original book and has now evolved to the point where his questions shine a rather harsh light on the reality of our own world’s treatment of people who are different.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Bull!Kelly gets gored pretty badly during the fight. And then the Taxxons get at her. She survives it, but I do think that getting eaten alive by the Taxxons has to be one of the most horrific things. But, on that note, I do have to question these battle morphs that the new Animorphs chose. I get that from a book-perspective, it’s cool to use new morphs. But from an actual war standpoint, these are some pretty limiting and poor choices. A bull is a prey animal. Sure, it can do some damage, but it simply isn’t built for fighting, with no natural armor, pretty spindly legs when you get down to it, and only one way of attacking, one that isn’t very nimble and depends on a lot of open space for charges. I could go down the line with the others, too. Crocodile? Bobcat?? Bobcats are only a tiny bit bigger than a large domestic cat!

I also think a case could be made for getting the same morphs the original Animorphs already have, if possible. For one thing, everyone knows that Jake is the tiger and also the leader of the group. Having a bunch more tigers is not only good due to their fighting abilities but also camouflage for the general of the resistance, essentially. And Rachel’s grizzly and Marco’s gorilla are pretty hard to top. We saw the Animorphs try to direct David’s morph options, and while that didn’t go over well, I think a well-reasoned suggestion would fly with James and could have been helpful with some of these choices.

Couples Watch!: Nothing from Tobias and Rachel. And as for Cassie and Jake, this is the beginning of the end. It actually feels like it’s coming a bit after the beginning of the end as Cassie mentions that their relationship was already strained at the start of the book. We’re left to guess that their romance is yet another casualty to Jake’s loss of self when his parents were taken. And the events of this book sure don’t help things.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One uses his tentacle morph to pretty devastating effect in the last battle in this book. He flings tiger!Jake around like a ragdoll and almost kills Tobias when he smacks him into a wall. The only thing that saves Jake is a Hork Bajir member of the Yeerk resistance coming to his aid at the last minute.

There’s also an interesting bit where we see Tom make the decision to go it on his own with the blue box. Given Visser One’s penchant for killing his underlings on the slightest provocation or whim, it’s a wonder other smart Yeerks didn’t pull something like this ages ago. Visser One definitely doesn’t inspire loyalty, so it makes sense that an ambitious Yeerk like the one in Tom would think twice about handing over a powerful weapon like the blue box. Especially when he was already on the outs with Visser One after losing it earlier in the fight. Visser One isn’t one to forget and forgive, so there’s a decent chance that getting it back wasn’t going to save him anyways.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Jake’s situation is by far the worst at this point, which is saying something since Tobias has had that spot staked out since pretty much day one. In his own books, we’ve seen his inner struggles with the burdens of being the leader, but this is the first time where it’s really clear to everyone around him and his actual performance is starting to suffer. He’s angry, sad, indecisive, and generally lacking the patience and focus it takes to continue on as he has been. It’s only being pushed by others that gets him through this book, and even then, we see mistakes along the way. Knowing how he ends up after this all, this book is really the first one where it all begins to be foreshadowed.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if it’s so much crying out sadness, but the way the parents behave in this situation is really bad. At one point Cassie even narrates that half the reason she’s angry at her parents is because they are forcing her to be the adult in this situation. They’re all acting as if they don’t even know what war is. It’s one thing to question the enemy itself (though the Hork Bajir are right there), but general war time tactics and life should be perfectly clear with a simple history lesson. When your life is at stake, you don’t quibble about the conditions of the hidey-hole. When humanity is at stake and you find out your child has been fighting a war for years, you don’t leave them out there on their own still, essentially making yourself so useless (or an active problem, like Rachel’s mom) that your kid is forced to resort to recruiting other kids because all of the adults so far have proven to be completely incapable of adapting. It’s pretty tragic, when you think about it that way. For all the criticism about recruiting disabled kids, it’s pretty solidly on the parents’ shoulders at this point for being so unhelpful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Cassie’s decision to let Tom escape with the morphing cube is one of the most controversial decisions the character makes in the entire series, right up there with letting herself get infested back in book #19. There’s a decent build up to the emotional side of this decision, Cassie’s concern that she is losing her humanity to this war (well-trod ground for the character, so not super new other than its contrast with her parents who are somehow even more out to lunch about reality). But this time she’s also concerned about Jake’s downward descent, and from this emotional view, she believes herself to be saving the remaining thread holding Jake’s sanity together.

Sure. I can’t argue whether or not that is true. But in the very end of the book, Jake asks her why she did it, why, if she was just trying to spare Jake, she didn’t go after Tom herself and leave him behind? Cassie was in wolf morph, the perfect morph of them all to track someone down in the woods. Her going after Tom herself to spare Jake makes sense. Her choosing to let Tom get away with the cube? Is idiotic to the extreme and really enough to make others question whether she should be on the team, if her decision-making is really that screwed up.

The only thing they had going for them was that cube, a fact that was made all the more clear in this book. And she just let Tom take it. And her reason? “It just felt right.” She even goes on to say that she can’t understand it herself but that, even now, it still feels like it was the right thing to do. And we’re all the way back around to the Cassie who essentially breaks the third wall with the readers. She’s a character who has authorial finger prints all over her and pretty much just announces it with the line about it “still feeling like the right decision” even though she can’t even justify or explain it herself. Her decisions, in the world she lives in, don’t make sense or they are indicative of a person you sure has hell don’t want on your team in a fight to save humanity. They are only “right” because the author allows them to be in the end. Under no circumstances was this the “right” call in the world the character lives in.

Favorite Quote: 

These are two bits from the section where Cassie talks about her frustrations with her parents and the adults, and it really gets at what I was talking about:

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was angry. Mad that my mother, a scientist, wouldn’t—or couldn’t—face the awful truth. That we were at war. That the rules had changed. That we had to do things we’d never choose to do under peacetime circumstances. That we didn’t have that luxury. That every single minute of every single day we had to make scarifices we’d rather not make. And I was angry that my mother was forcing me to confront her with this truth.

“That’s right, Mom,” I said, my voice hard. “The Hork-Bajir could die. Every single one of us, human and Hork-Bajir and Andalite, could die. Any day. At any time. I still don’t get your point.”

______

Angry mostly because I had wanted to hurt her. Because she was making me be the grown-up. And even after all the endless months of fighting, with all the disgusting acts I had witnessed—or committed—I still sometimes wanted to be normal again. Also, because I was worried. Not just about my own parents. If the adults didn’t accept the reality of the war, they would never be prepared when the time came to fight. And if they weren’t prepared, they wouldn’t survive.

Also, for some irony, here is Cassie giving the speech that she’s been on the other end of a few times and chosen to ignore coughQuitTheAnimorphs#19cough:

But being here, talking to James, seeing these kids, I realized in a serious way, maybe for the first time, that they weren’t helpless. Just like our parents. “You know what,” I continued. “You don’t really have a choice here. This is duty time. You’ve been tapped. So step up to the plate. Whatever. Fact is, we need you. Your friends need you.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 17

I’m giving them each a point. The Animorphs get a point for recruiting 17 more people to their cause, but the Yeerks definitely get a point for walking away with the blue box in the end.

Rating: I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s almost the exact opposite experience of the Super!Rachel book. Instead of hating the first 3/4 and then loving the last quarter, it was flipped. I enjoyed the majority of this book up to the last bit where Cassie undoes all of her good work by making one of the most boneheaded decisions in the series with no other excuse than an author-magic-wand-wave that it “felt right.” And yes, I know the explanation has been floated that it’s because of Cassie’s status as a disrupter (from Megamophrs #4) that she has a predictive feeling like this, but I don’t buy it. Even if that’s the case, it’s lazy writing. This moment also feeds into my overarching anger with the character at the very end where she’s the only one who comes out of this all OK and it’s mostly just because her bad decisions were allowed to be right ones without her having to pay the logical price that would most likely have occurred by these choices.

But, like I said, I did like the majority of this book. It’s a new side of Cassie to see her as one of team members who is more committed to the war effort. It also makes sense that having her parents present would have a tangible effect like this, making her more invested, not less. I also liked the reflections on Jake’s descent coming through her eyes. The only other character who would have a similar point of view would be Marco, so we’ll see what he has to say in the next book.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

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