The Great Animorphs Re-Read #54: “The Beginning”

125344._SX318_Animorphs #54: “The Beginning”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: This is it! Yeerk ships are pouring in from all ends of the galaxy. An all-out war for the planet has finally begun. The winner will control Earth. The loser will perish. The President of the United States is a Controller, and the Animorphs have been forced to rally their own military force of 5,000. Will this be enough to defeat the seemingly endless onslaught of Yeerks? Rachel has always prepared for the final battle. But is she too eager? It’s her moment…and this time there will be no compromise!

Narrator: All

Plot: I again don’t have a quippy intro for this book. I will say that while I remember the major events at the beginning and end, I had very little memory of the details in between. Pretty sure it’s because as a kid I was completely traumatized by both of those events and blocked out the rest of the book.

So. Many. Tears.

Rachel is on the Blade ship. She knows what she has to do, and she’s afraid. But there was a reason she was picked for this mission and so she continues. She demorphs and remorphs grizzly, raining terror down on the Blade ship crew. But with all of the Yeerks having morphing abilities, she is critically injured, just shy of her mission. Tobias, watching through the view screen from the Pool ship, navigates a now-blinded Rachel to cobra!Tom who she finally kills. She demorphs to her vulnerable human self. Looking back at her friends on the other ship, she tells Tobias she loves him and is killed with one blow by a polar bear!Yeerk. The Blade ships speeds away, lost to space.

Back on the main ship, the Animorphs are all in various states of shock. Toby arrives to let them know that the remaining Yeerks want to surrender. Cassie and Marco manage to prod Jake back into action who meets with the Yeerks’ temporary leader who says they will surrender if given the ability to morph into another form permanently. Jake agrees, though Ax reminds him that the Andalites may feel differently and now that they’ve lost their blue box with the Blade ship, they don’t have many options.

Jake orders Ax to open a communication portal to the Andalite fleet and one to the public channel on the Andalite home world. He also forces Visser One to leave Alloran and be trapped in a carrying case. The Andalite commander is gruff as expected, distrustful that the whole thing isn’t a Yeerk trick. But with the Andalite world viewing them, they have to agree to meet peaceably. Once on the Pool ship, the Andalite War Prince informs Jake that they absolutely will not abide by the deals Jake has struck with the surrendered Yeerks and Taxxons. With nothing left to bargain, they are in a bind, until Ax steps up and calls a challenge. He needs the support of a Prince to do this, however, but Alloran throws his weight behind him.

The other Animorphs learn that a challenge allows a soldier to confront a leadership decision that they feel is against the common interests of the Andalite people as a whole. The consequences are dire if the judging is ruled against them. But it is also noted that the Andalites are wary and conservative when it comes to these things, so a challenge is only likely to go forward fully if the Andalite leadership think they have a strong case to win. Turns out they don’t think this, and the Animorphs are given 4 morphing cubes to fulfill the peace agreements with the Yeerks and Taxxons.

They then land in D.C. and the truth comes out to everyone. Speeches are made, and at some point Tobias flies off. A few days later, the Andalites bring in the body of a human girl they found floating in space. It’s Rachel. There is a massive funeral held for her and a monument built. Tobias shows up and flies away with the ashes.

One year later. Tobias has not been seen since Rachel’s funeral. Ax has been made a Prince and is the diplomat between Earth and the Andalites. Marco has found fame as the one Animorph who is capable of talking about the war experience in a way the public appreciates (Jake is too weighed down by it all still and Cassie moralizes too much about the ethics of fighting defensively). Cassie is helping work with the free Hork Bajir as they are set up in Yellowstone. She also helped the Taxxons all morphs large snakes and be relocated to the rain forest. Jake is struggling with depression and PTSD. Marco, who has been spying on him in his spare time, thinks that he hasn’t morphed since the war ended but has been heading to Rachel’s monument and spending a lot of time just sitting there, staring off. They theorize that he might be hoping Tobias will show up.

It all comes to a head at the trial for Visser One. Jake is called onto the stand and crumbles after the defense attorney calls him a war criminal and mass murderer himself for what he did to the Yeerks in the pool he flushed into space. When a break is called, the other three Animorphs capture Jake and dump him into the freezing ocean, forcing him to morph dolphin. He finally releases a bit and plays in the water. Back on shore, the other three confront him. Cassie tells him that they are all complicit and have had to come up with ways to manage it, and that the victim is not the same as the perpetrator. Marco says it doesn’t matter how vicious Jake’s thoughts were when flushing the Yeerks, he was still operating as a victim defending his home. Jake is unsure about any of this, but begins to work through it somewhat. The trial ends and Visser One is sentenced to hundreds of years in prison.

Two years after this. Cassie has moved into a subcabinet role with the federal government and continues to work with the free Hork Bajir. She has also begun dating someone, knowing that her relationship with Jake is over. Marco is thriving in his fame, though also showing signs of boredom (morphing lobster to retrieve keys from the bottom of his pool). And Jake has written a book (Marco and Cassie did earlier as well) which he sees as a way of bringing in the stories of the “lost Animorphs,” Rachel and Tobias, more. He’s also secretly training a select group of military personnel from a bunch of different governments to deal with the increasing terrorism that has come from aliens showing up on earth (all sorts of conspiracies, ranging from religious fanaticism to species-ism, etc.) Ax has been patrolling the galaxy as the Prince of his own ship. He comes across a strange, abandoned space craft and leads a crew aboard.

Jake is approached secretly by a group from the Andalite high command. They report that an Andalite has returned from Ax’s ship. The ship had been destroyed and Ax is missing. When he boarded the strange vessel, they found animal DNA and polar bear hairs. Jake immediately connects this with the Yeerk who killed Rachel on the Blade ship. The Blade ship itself then appeared in the wreckage and destroyed the Andalite vessel and shot away. The sole Andalite survivor claims that he heard a fragment of thought speak from Ax and all he said was “Jake.” But Ax has gone missing in a part of space that is home to a hostile race of aliens with whom the Andalites have agreed to not interact; they leave the Andalites alone if the Andalites leave them alone. Enter in humans and a stolen Yeerk craft.

Jake first approaches Cassie. But he’s come to tell her that she’s off the hook. She’s serving an important role, helping the free Hork Bajir, and she’s created a new life for herself. Instead, he knows that she must know where Tobias is and wants directions. He then finds Tobias in a meadow. He’s been camped out for years, living a solitary life as a hawk and mourning Rachel. Tobias’s first instinct is to blow off Jake, but when he hears that Ax is missing, he signs on. Marco is the last to be approached. He points out what’s really going on for Jake: that this is the life line that Jake was waiting for. And that Jake has been internalizing and doubting his every decision that was made during the war with the Yeerks and that this is dangerous. He points out that the only reason they won, 6 kids against an alien empire, is because Jake didn’t flinch and made the reckless, brave, and ruthless decisions. If he tries to fight a “perfect” fight or correct past wrongs, that’s what will get them all killed this go around. Jake doesn’t seem to have an answer for this, but Marco signs on anyways.

Jake enlists two of his students to round out their numbers and they steal the Yeerk ship (it has been oddly modified for humans and stashed with supplies; the Andalites’ work though they will never claim it). They name the ship “Rachel” and head off into space. It’s a long journey, and they’re out there for 6 months before they finally are approached by the Blade ship itself.

The polar bear!Controller opens the communication portal to them. They claim to be Yeerk refugees who have been looking for the Blade ship for the past 3 years. The leader seems to be falling for it, but says he has to check with with The One who is running things now. His image goes blurry and he seems to be suddenly spiced together with a bunch of other beings, including one that looks like Ax. A new voice emerges and he says he knows who they are and that Jake should reveal himself. He says that he has “absorbed” Ax and that they are next. Their ship clearly out-powers the Rachel, so Jake looks at Marco and asks if he’s ready for a reckless decision. He then orders them to ram the Blade ship. THE END.

Our Fearless Leader: While this is technically a book featuring all of the characters as narrators, at its core, this is a Jake book. Which is really only right and necessary, all things considered. He has had the biggest arc throughout the series, and he’s the one to come out of this all with the greatest burden. And we really see all stages of things for Jake as this book plays out.

The initial moments after Rachel’s death, you can tell that things are a bit surreal for Jake. Marco and Cassie have to pull him back into things and we see Jake’s amazing leadership on display once again when he deals with the Andalites (though Marco also has to keep pushing him through it to some extent, as the exhaustion of finally winning is also setting in).

And then afterwards…Through the other characters we see how far Jake falls. It’s an excellent portrayal of depression and PTSD, especially given how little page time is devoted to it. He withdrawn, doesn’t morph, doesn’t keep in touch with his friends. And then during the trial for Visser One, he is almost overpowered with flashbacks after being called a war criminal and mass murder himself. Even after he morphs dolphin and talks to his friends, it’s clear that the burden hasn’t been lifted. He’s again more capable of shouldering it, but it’s still there and he’s still just able to keep moving.

During the next two years, we see him settle in somewhat with the new role teaching others to morph. He also notes that writing his autobiography is helpful as he feels able to give a better voice to Rachel and Tobias, the two Animorphs that public knows little about. But the most striking thing is the notable difference that even the reader can perceive between the Jake we see throughout most of the book, and the Jake who seems to re-emerge after he’s given the mission to find Ax. Cassie and Marco both note that it’s a lifeline for Jake, to be called back to war. For all the talk about Rachel’s inability to live without it, it’s pretty clear that it was a family trait (Cassie even remarks that he has a smirk just like Rachel’s). And then it’s incredibly gratifying to see him back in his element on the Rachel making the typical, foolishly brave, quintessential Animorphs game call to ram the Blade ship.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Man, these first Rachel chapters are just as rough as I remember. Let’s face it, I think I probably cried even more this go around than as a kid. Sorry, not sorry. The parts about how she knows that this was the role she was born to play, and yet even so, she’s scared. And then when blinded how she asks Tobias for help, and he at first confuses it for help out of the situation. But then realizes that she just wants help to finish, to kill Tom before she goes out. And her last moments looking back at her friends, telling Tobias that she loves him.

The replay of the scene with the Ellimist is just as striking a second go-around. Like I said when I re-read “The Ellimist Chronicles,” I’m not sure whether kid-me put two-and-two together that it was Rachel, but on this re-read I clearly knew it was her. So the first read of that scene, it’s powerful knowing that it’s Rachel. But this one is all the stronger as it plays out immediately after this ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice. I’m can’t help it, I have to quote it again. This has to be one of the best quotes in the entire series:

“Answer this, Ellimist: Did I .. . did I make a difference? My life, and my .. . my death . . . was I worth it? Did my life really matter?”

“Yes,” he said. “You were brave. You were strong. You were good. You mattered.”

“Yeah. Okay, then. Okay, then.”

A Hawk’s Life: Probably one of my biggest critiques of this book is the lack of Tobias chapters. I think we get only one at the very end when Jake comes looking for him. This is a shame on so many fronts. The first being that Tobias arguably has the most solid collection of books in the series out of all of the characters, so there’s clearly something particularly compelling about him and his narrative. And then second, we never get to see his immediate reaction and feelings to Rachel’s death. We know he demorphs to be human when she sees him the last time and so that he can cry. We know he takes her ashes. And we know that to some extent he’s kept up with Cassie enough for her to know how to direct Jake to him. But by the time we actually hear from him, it’s been three years. It’s good stuff, but I feel like even one more chapter, perhaps set during the “one year after” section would have rounded it out a bit better.

Also, in the re-read, I caught a very dark line that I didn’t notice before. When they’re all at Rachel’s funeral, Cassie mentions looking to the sky to see if Tobias was there, noting that “if he was still alive, he’d come.” What. If he was still alive?! In one throw away line it seems to be saying that at least Cassie thought that there was a chance Tobias would return to his semi-suicidal ways and off himself after Rachel’s death. This is so, so dark. And I didn’t even notice it the first time around. But there is is. IF he was still alive.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Marco considers himself and Cassie as the two “survivors” of the war. Ax is pulled back away. Jake doesn’t seem to recover. Tobias disappears. And Rachel died. These two are the only ones who seem to thrive and find places for themselves in the world. And it doesn’t take a genius to see that Cassie’s is a more stable, healthy version of a life. She is able to use her fame to further the cause of the free Hork Bajir, the Yeerk rebels, and the Taxxons. She ties this all together with her love of animals and conservation by helping set up homes for them in Yellowstone and the rain forest. She’s healthy enough to recognize that her relationship with Jake is doomed and to move on to find a new, seemingly solid, relationship. She even goes to school to pursue her dream of being a veterinarian. All this adds up to Jake making the call for her to stay behind. She immediately offers to go with him, but also doesn’t fight him much on staying back. He notes that she is needed; that the free Hork Bajir was their only clear win and she needed to protect it.

It’s all well and good, and it makes sense. But again, I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed by her role. All and all, she felt too passive in this last book. We only get a few lines about the loss of Rachel, and Cassie being her best friend, I would have liked more from her with this. And then her relationship with Jake just…fades away. I get why Jake wouldn’t call her; he’s falling apart. But Cassie, the girl who gave up the morphing cube to “save” Jake…she just lets him fade away completely? To the point that she’s asking Marco how he’s doing?? And Marco is the one who has been morphing and spying on him? It seems out of character that she would step back this far.

And, even if I just said how it makes sense for her to stay behind, a part of me still wishes that she would have went. That as an adult she would have recognized more than ever the important role that she played and  how needed she is as a member of the team to balance the others out. And, like Applegate says in her afterword, she wanted the Animorphs to go out as they came in: fighting. I wanted that for all of the Animorphs, no matter how much sense it made for Cassie to stay behind.

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up with quite a few chapters, almost serving as the primary narrator it seems after the war is over. But amidst all of the glam, cars (nice call back here, that he buys a bunch of fancy cars), TV shows, and such, it was great to finally see a return to the clever Marco of old. In the first negotiations with the Andalites, for example, he’s the one to keep pushing Jake through, knowing that if they come off as weak in this exchange, humanity will always be under the thumb of the Andalites going forward. It’s nice to see a return to his good comedic lines too:

“I guess we won, Ax.”

<Yes.>

“Shouldn’t someone be singing ‘God Bless America’?”

And as I pointed out in Cassie’s section, it is Marco who keeps an eye on Jake and works to keep up his friendship with him. Spying on Jake seems exactly up his alley. He’s also the one not to mince words when Jake finally approaches him at the end. He’s quick to tell Jake that the public has it wrong: Marco was the tactician of the group, not Jake. What Jake had going for him was his determination, bravery, and willingness to just move forward with the options he had, not second guessing himself. Marco is pretty frank about the fact that Jake’s habit now of looking back on the war and over-analyzing all of his mistakes is the trait that will get the group killed going forward.

I think Marco’s life after the war is one of the more interesting representations. On the surface, it could seem very shallow, silly, and almost like a caricature of the character. But at one point in his narrative, Marco himself says that he expects the reader is waiting for him to say his life was meaningless and he was just filling a hole with all of these superficial things. But no, he says he was happy. I think this is a good balance to Jake, Cassie, and Ax. They all show different ways of coming out of the war. And Marco’s makes sense. One of the reasons he was successful with his strategies and ruthlessness was his ability to compartmentalize things. That same trait it seems could allow him to come out of a war like this and be able to hop into a celebrity life like this and enjoy it. Everything is in its own tidy box. Though we do see, after three years, that he is at least somewhat bored, what with morphing lobster for no really good reason. And it’s not like that was a favorite morph of his or anything.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Without paging back through my book, I seem to remember only one chapter from Ax’s perspective as well, which is a shame. We don’t get anything from him immediately after Rachel’s death when he is negotiating with the Andalites or during the trial for Visser One, both of which seem like huge missed opportunities. I really liked the concept of the “challenge” and the way it played out, especially with Alloran stepping in to support them. It would have been great to get into Ax’s head during all of that. There’s a bit where they Andalites go off to confer and it seems like that would have been a perfect place to cut to Ax so that we could see some of his reflections on everything.

And then the one chapter we do get is many years later when he’s operating his own ship. It’s pretty brief even then. Though it was particularly nice to see how his experiences on Earth changed him as a commander. He regularly explains why he makes the decisions he does, something that Andalite Princes don’t do, but is clearly a reflection of his time fighting a war in a more democratic, small team where their missions were always discussed. We also see him lead the boarding mission, wanting to take a more active role in the missions he assigns.

As for the end, I’ve got to say, it doesn’t look too good for Ax. We don’t know much about The One, but I can’t imagine it’s ever a good thing to be “absorbed” into another being. Regardless of the outcome of the ship ramming, it seems like there is a fairly decent chance that poor Ax-man is out of it for good.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: For all that it’s the last book, there isn’t necessarily a lot of body horror in this book. I mean, definitely don’t think too hard about Rachel’s death and the fact that she was flushed into space (also don’t think about the odds of her body being found). It’s not so much body horror, but the fact that Arbron gets killed by poachers down in the rain forest is almost too real. Of course that’s what happened. Never underestimate the stupidity and cruelty of people. There’s a throwaway line about how maybe Arbron was relieved. And, maybe. But I really doubt that being killed by a poacher looking for bragging rights is anyone’s preferred way to go.

Couples Watch!: For me, it seemed like Jake and Cassie’s relationship was doomed ever since she gave up the blue box. There was a weird moment in Jake’s next book where he mentioned getting married after the war is over, but, to me, that read more out of character than anything at that point. Even if Jake forgave her, that moment was pivotal and not something that could be simply brushed past easily.

To go even further back though for Cassie, the writing was probably on the wall for her ever since she  went to Australia and caught herself being drawn to a nice, regular boy. Understandably, as the war became more intense, Jake became more and more singularly focused and was bearing a greater load on his shoulders than ever before. It seemed like he simply didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to be there for Cassie, too. And in some ways, Cassie herself seemed to recognize this and her decision with the blue box could be read as a last, frantic attempt to save the Jake she knows she’s already losing (not just romantically, but Jake is slowly turning into a different person than the boy she had a crush on in the beginning of the series).

I won’t rehash how strange I found it that Cassie just let Jake slip away after the war ended, but I do like that they showed a healthy end to that relationship, at least for her. That Cassie knew when to let him go and move forward herself. However, she does make a mention of the challenge it must be to be the boyfriend to come after Jake, pretty much having to compete with a guy who, in the public’s eye, is a combination of George Washington and Batman.

And then there’s Tobias and Rachel. Their last moments are about as tragic as you can imagine, especially the asking for help line.

<Rachel!> Tobias cried.

<Help me, Tobias,> I pleaded.

<l can’t. . . I . . .>

He didn’t understand. <Help me get him. Help me get him!>

And the fact that Tobias morphs human so that’s the last version of him that Rachel sees and so that he can cry. And her telling him she loves him. And then he steals her urn and disappears. And man, it’s all just a lot of sadness. These two have definitely had the more stable relationship throughout the series. They seemed to “be together” much earlier than Jake and Cassie. And then that “togetherness” was pretty solid. Cassie and Jake were pretty much tip-toeing around each other the entire time. Not to get super nerdy and everything, but it’s kind of like how in “Friends” Rachel and Ross were set up as the major romance of the show. But then after season after season of drama and will they/won’t they, the Monica/Chandler relationship, with all of its solid, normalcy kind of ended up overshadowing it at the end. I think Jake and Cassie were set up to be the big romance, but in the end, I think Rachel and Tobias were. You can’t beat the tragedy, sweetness, and uniqueness of it.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: We don’t have a whole lot from our villains in this book given that, well, they all lose pretty early on. Visser One had a few good quips, but we didn’t get to hear anything from him  during his trial. I’m pretty sure I would definitely have been down for an entire book of the trial of Visser One.

Tom’s death is also pretty quick in the coming and the event itself and the after effects are, rightly, much more focused on Rachel and her death. He only really showed up as a player in the last few books, so it’s not a huge loss really. Though you do have to question his decision to morph cobra there in the last fight. Kind of opened himself up for an easy take-down. Rachel was already on her way out, why even chance it with a morph that can be killed pretty easily by an even 90% out of it grizzly bear? She didn’t even need her eye sight to pull it off! But they did talk again about the difference between the Animorphs who are familiar with their morphs and the strengths that go with that knowledge as compared to the Yeerks who still don’t have much experience, so maybe that’s all it was.

The One, again, shows up only briefly at the end. I have mixed feelings on this. As a kid, I was pretty mad through this entire book over Rachel dying so didn’t spend too much time thinking about the rest of the story. The description of The One is terrifying for sure and definitely sets up a compelling new villain. But it’s almost too good. After an entire book filled with depressing scenes about Jake’s downfall, the loss of Rachel, Tobias’s potentially suicidal depression, Cassie pretty much checking out of the story, and Marco doing his own thing, the brief few chapters at the end where they’re teamed up again are so thrilling that you’re just left kind wanting more there at the end. You build the reader right back up, and then bam, the end. And there are just so many mysteries. Who is The One? Is Ax dead? Do they survive the ramming of the ship? One mystery, sure. But that many made it more frustrating than I would have liked for the end of the series.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Wow, so the entire book? Obviously, Rachel’s death is the worst of it. I do find it kind of funny that the tag line on the cover and the book description itself is trying to be all secretive about which Animorph dies. But then you open the cover and…bam!

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Yeah, not too subtle there. Plus, anyone who had read the previous book knew which one it would be. Anyone who read “The Ellimist Chronicles” and Megamorphs #4 closely knew who it would be.

Obviously, the one line about Tobias being potentially suicidal again is pretty bad. Marco and Cassie both address why this loss was so much worse for him than anyone else. Marco says:

I knew why Jake had sent Rachel to Tom. I agreed with his thinking. But then, I wasn’t in love with Rachel. I wasn’t some lonely kid trapped in a hawk’s body, half in one world, half in another with only Rachel’s love tying me to my humanity.

And Cassie says to Jake when he’s asking to find Tobias:

“He doesn’t hate you, Jake. He never did. His heart was broken, that’s all. And you know, Tobias never had anyone. No one before Rachel. No mother, really, no father he could ever know. Rachel was the first and only person who ever loved Tobias.”

When you really think about Tobias’s story over all, there’s really no competing for sadness. He had it the worst before. He had it the worst during. And he has it the worst in the end, losing the one person who grounded him and spiraling so far down that, while he doesn’t kill himself, he retreats completely from humanity, essentially killing his human side in the process. Those three years couldn’t have been good. The one strange thing about this is the lack of any mention of his mother, Loren. I can see how since the relationship is so new and Tobias isn’t one to form bonds quickly or easily, he might still have retreated from humanity. But I find it surprising that there’s no talk from Cassie of Loren trying to find Tobias and bring him back from the brink.

And Jake’s entire arc is sad, too. Even at the end, both Cassie and Marco don’t see his return to action as a good sign. Cassie notes that Jake seems almost like Rachel, which from Cassie’s perspective isn’t a good thing as she always worried that Rachel needed the war too much. And here, it’s like Jake, too, has gotten back his drug of choice. Marco, too, sees the problems with Jake’s renewed energy and knows that Jake will try to use this new fight as a way to correct the mistakes he sees in the past. But Marco knows that this return to action will just be more of the same, the same burdens falling on Jake’s shoulders, the same impossible decisions with no “right” answers.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, not to undermine what Rachel did and all…but what exactly was the plan here? I get that Erek kind of threw a wrench in things by depowering the dracon cannons, but it seemed like a lot of fuss was already made about how the Pool ship couldn’t really stand up to a major fighter like the Blade ship. So, was Rachel somehow supposed to take out Tom and destroy the ship? Were they hoping that the loss of Tom would make the rest of the Yeerks aboard suddenly surrender? It’s clear that things didn’t go to plan, but I’m not sure really what that plan even was. Jake knew the cannons had been depowered before telling Rachel to go for it and reveal herself. Were they just going to blow it up with her in it as Plan A? And then Plan B was a single Animorph somehow taking out the entire Blade ship from within? Tom was a factor, for sure, but either Jake had built him up into more than he was and expected the others to wilt under the loss of their leader, or it was really just personal, at the heart of things, and there wasn’t really a solid plan behind any of it.

On this re-read, I do really like the plan to ram the ship at the end. It ties in perfectly with that pretty major speech Marco gave Jake about why the Animorphs won the war and why Jake succeeded as a leader. And then there is a nice symmetry to Elfangor ramming ships and the fact that there is a precedent for characters surviving maneuvers like this, so readers aren’t left to assume that they all just died. We’ve been hearing about how indestructible cockroach morphs are for about 50 books…just saying.

Favorite Quote: There are a ton of really great quotes. It was hard not to just pepper them all throughout the review, and I still ended up including a bunch. But I think the one I want to highlight is this one:

The six of us stood there contemplating our dangerous-looking new home, set against the sunrise over Earth.

“So what do we call her?” Marco wondered.

<She’s beautiful,> Tobias said. <She’s beautiful and dangerous and exciting.>

I turned in surprise to look at Tobias. He stared back at me with his eternally fierce hawk’s gaze. Marco laughed, realizing what we were thinking.

“She would love it. A scary, deadly, cool looking Yeerk ship on a doomed, suicidal, crazy mission that no one can ever know about? She would love it.”

So it was that we went aboard the Rachel.

Scorecard: Yeerks 16, Animorphs 21

Obviously the Animorphs win this one. But I think the bigger win in this book isn’t so much the destruction of the Yeerks (that was pretty well covered in the last book), but the way that Jake and the rest set up humanity as a equal voice on the intergalactic playing board. The negotiation scene with the Andalites was crucial and the fact that a bunch of traumatized teens were able to manage it and put Earth in a strong position is pretty impressive. Jake notes that had that not gone well, humans could have very well ended up as second class citizens on their own planet.

This is the final score of the series. The Animorphs win, but the Yeerks held their own pretty well, too. (No reason to point out the fact that they may have won some of these points based more on my irritation at the idiocy of the Animorphs than on them actually winning a battle in a particular book.)

Rating: Well, we made it. 54 regular books, 4 megamorphs, 4 chronicles. I’m pretty sure if I did a word count for these reviews, I would find that I have written a literal novel about this series over the last 2 years or so. But what a blast it’s been! I found out that some of the opinions I held as a child remained the same. And some changed.

Things that stayed the same include my eternal love for Rachel and Tobias, as separate characters and as a couple. My struggles with Cassie as a character and several of her books and decisions. The fact that the series had a definite trough in the last third of the series, with a few notable exceptions. And that I cried way more often than is appropriate for a middle grade series.

Things that changed included my deeper appreciation for Marco as a character. I always thought of him as the funny guy, but failed to remember how supremely clever and with it he was. Of them all, in this read I think I identified with his approach to the war the most.

While most of my opinions on Cassie stayed the same, there were definite books and moments for her that I had forgotten were so good and important. So she’s now a mixed bag character for me.

My appreciation for the war story at its heart and the deep, sympathetic, and really tough to read look at the experiences of soldiers fighting a war day in and day out and what life can be like when that war ends.

 I still really wish Rachel had lived, just because she was one of my favorite characters and no one likes it when their favorite character dies. But I can now appreciate the huge impact her death has on the reality of the story.

And, most of all, my appreciation for the way the book ended. I was really pissed about that as a kid. While I wish there weren’t quite as many threads dangling there, I think it was an awesome way to tie things up, ultimately. There’s also plenty of evidence to make you think they live through it to fight another day. You have the fact that major characters have done the same thing in the past and lived through it, so the author has set the stage for that ending. And then the fact that in this very book Marco talks about how they won by not hesitating and making crazy decisions like this. Jake’s order to ram the ship is a triumphant return to the Animorphs who win and the Animorphs who live.

I really loved reviewing this series and I’m not sure what I will use to fill the hole in my reading that will now open up (not to mention the blog itself…) now that they’re gone. I’m so appreciative of those who have read along and still love talking about this series, twenty years later. Thanks for coming along on this journey! Also, if you have some “read alike” suggestions, leave them in the comments. That ending, while cool, definitely left me craving more!

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #53: “The Answer”

125347Animorphs #53: “The Answer”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The war is raging on, and the Yeerks are everywhere. Jake tries to convince the government to help him and the Animorphs destroy the Yeerk pool. But when that plan fails, they try to do the job themselves. In an effort to deter new arrivals and finish off the ones still around, the Animorphs and Ax blow holes throughout the Yeerks pool. In these gallant efforts, some innocent bystanders are hurt, but that is the way of the world they live in. But the plans go awry, and Jake and the Animorphs find themselves trapped in the new Yeerk Pool. They have lost all hope, when they find unexpected comfort and comradeship from the disgusting Taxxons — who have always been associated with Yeerks and have their own problems with the destroyers. They might just be able to save planet Earth — but has the end already begun?

Narrator: Jake

Ha. I realized I posted this without an intro and just a placeholder text saying “INTRO.” Well, it could have been some sort of artistic thing where I had so few words due to the trauma this book inflicts that I just skipped over the intro right to the crying gif. But alas, it was just an error that I just now caught, weeks later. Ah well. Anyways…yeah, I still don’t have a quippy intro for this so….on to the crying!

Me trying to hold it together during this book.

Plot: The Pool ship has landed and all out war has begun with Yeerk Bug Fighters easily taking out any jets and weapons the military sends against them. The Animorphs know that this is an opportunity they can’t pass up. They also know that Visser One will fully expect an attack of this sort on his precious Pool ship. But simply blowing it up comes with too many casualties, both human and Hork Bajir. Instead, what if they captured it?

Jake calls a meeting of only the original Animorphs but accidentally (subconsciously?) excludes Cassie, much to the anger of the others. They plan to set up a diversion of them attacking the Pool ship, all while the original Animorphs will already be on the Pool ship.

Over the next day, they learn that the Yeerks have the Taxxons building a new Yeerk pool out in the open. Marco also manages to locate the military general in command of the human forces arrayed against the Yeerks. All of the original Animorphs head off to meet with this general, General Doubleday. Jake and the others arrive in fly morph. Jake demorphs and is immediately arrested and put in a cell. After this happens a few times, with Jake always reappearing and demorhing in front of the general, he finally agrees to listen. After a few of his soldiers reveal themselves as Controllers, he even more fully commits to hearing Jake out. But in the midst of these talks, the Yeerks attack.

They manage to fight their way out, towing the general along with them. Jake is badly injured, but is saved by the others. After they get away, the general is quick to follow their instructions and lock down the base. However, they realize it will take 3 days before the general has enough men that are known to be non-Controllers and in that time the new Yeerk Pool could be completed. So now they have another mission: stop that project. Cassie points out that destroying a hole in the ground is pretty hard, and instead they need to go after the builders themselves: the Taxxons. With this in mind, they, the auxiliary Animorphs, and the free Hork Bajir go in with only one mission, to kill Taxxons.

They go in, staggering the battle with forces arriving at different intervals and from different approaches to prevent the Yeerks from forming a solid defense. They do a lot of damage and Jake begins ordering the retreat. But the ground opens up beneath him and he finds himself alone in a Taxxon tunnel. He is met by a handful of Taxxons with Dracon beams, and his shocked when one of them speaks to him in thought-speak and identifies himself as Arbron, a friend of Elfangor’s. He has a proposal: that he and the Taxxons have seen a way out of their perpetual, driving hunger by using the morphing cube to become nothlits in another form. If Jake and the Animorphs agree to help them with this, the Taxxons will fight with them to capture the Pool ship.

Jake meets back with everyone to discuss this sudden turn of events. Cassie reveals that she had secretly been hoping this would happen. Ax makes it clear that the Andalites will never go along with the idea of giving Taxxons access to morphing power, and Cassie calls him out, telling him that now is the time to reveal his secret, that he has been in secret communication with Andalite command (she followed him as a flea on his body). Jake and the others feel very betrayed by the knowledge of what Ax has been up to and even more horrified when they learn what the Andalites have in mind for Earth. This decides it and they know they have to at least try to make a deal with the Taxxons. Cassie comes up with an anaconda morph has a potentially intriguing alternative for the Taxxons.

The next day, Jake, along with several flea!Animorphs, makes his way to the meet Arbron. He gets in an abandoned car that then rolls down an opened tunnel into the Taxxon lair (definite callback to “The Andalite Chronicles” and  you have to imagine that Arbron got the idea from that). There are tons of Taxxons gathered and after Arbron makes a speech about the potential idea, Jake does a neat little show of morphing, ending with the anaconda morph, emphasizing its calm mindset, not driven by an insatiable hunger. Arbron reveals that he knows the other Animorphs are there, and they demorph. And then he invites Tom to come out.

Turns out that Tom, too, has a plan and wants to turn against Visser One who he feels has deprived him of the promotions and respect he deserves. In exchange for his help, he wants the Animorphs to allow him and about 100 of his Yeerk compatriots to fly off in the Blade ship. As an extra wrench in the deal, he informs them that he has updated the security codes in the Pool ship and the way they are currently, Ax and the others have no chance of cracking them.

On the way back Jake contemplates his option. Cassie points out all of the problems with allowing Tom to fly off in the Blade ship (which is surely where the morphing cube is located as well). Jake also knows that there has to be more to the story, and that Tom can’t be trusted. With these facts in mind, he begins to form a plan.

First, he talks to Marco telling him that he has to find the Chee at all costs (sending Marco into a pretty dangerous part of the city to do it). Then he talks to Rachel. He doesn’t come out with what her role will be, but we know that it has to do with Tom, that it’s a last gamble that could be deadly, and that it’s bad enough that he doesn’t want Cassie to know about it, because she loves both Jake and Rachel and would blame herself for not trying to stop it.

Marco returns with Erek the Chee and Jake has to go to extreme measures to motivate him. Essentially, he tells Erek that if he doesn’t go along with their plans, Jake will kill Yeerk prisoners, starting with Chapman, who they had captured. It’s a new low for Jake and Erek is none too pleased about it, but his programming won’t let him resist. Jake then has Ax call the Andalite flight and tell them that he is going to deliver a major Yeerk ship into their grasp and they better get here quickly.

He then tells James that he needs him and the other auxiliary Animorphs on the ground with the military forces to serve as a distraction. It’s a dangerous role and James is hesitant. But Jake insists, telling him that this is what they were given these powers for, to fight. He gets into a pretty firmly worded rant, saying that he doesn’t care about the lives of any of them, that this is it, they either win this battle or it’s all over. Either the Yeerks will take Earth out or the Andalites will do it for them.

The next day they put the plan into action. Jake flies in to a truck that Tom is driving with Cassie bound and beaten in the back. He secretly confirms that Rachel is there in morph and the morphs a fly and makes it way to “Cassie” who is really Erek disguised. Tom gets them through security and then calls over Visser One to present the captured Animorph (he thinks Cassie is real). He reports that the Animorphs and humans will attack soon as a diversion while they try to sneak onto the Pool ship. A Taxxon prisoner is brought in and Tom explains how he discovered collusion between some Taxxons and the Animorphs. Tom maneuvers the situation so that he is put in charge of the Blade ship and gets Visser One to test his plan by having the Taxxon eat Cassie. This would have been Tom’s betrayal had the Animorphs simply believed him.

As it is, Taxxon!Tobias pretends to chow down as “Cassie” dies screaming but really Erek is just creating a show while slowly blending himself into the floor until nothing is left. Tom thinks that he has now killed off all of the Animorphs and won the Visser’s trust enough to be given the Blade ship. The other Animorphs wonder where Rachel is but only Jake hears her speak as she drifts away, hidden somewhere on Tom.

As the Pool ship lifts into the air, Erek and the other Animorphs retreat further into the ship. Jake remains behind on the bridge and gets to witness the horror that Visser One rains down on the fighting forces below as the military and auxiliary Animorphs attack. Jake frantically checks in with Ax and the others on their progress on taking over the ship, but as they work, Visser One picks off all of the auxiliary Animorphs. But the diversion prevents Visser One from firing off his largest canon that would take out thousands of the fighting human soldiers.

Just as he finishes killing them and decides to move to his larger weapons, Marco and the others gain control of the ship and move it up into low orbit. Visser One frantically calls in Tom with the Blade ship. Visser One and the Hork Bajir head to engineering. It’s a long trek and Jake understands why it took so long for Marco, Ax and the others to get there and take control. They blast away at the engineering room, killing most of their own, but the Animorphs had already escaped out a vent.

As Jake reports on what happened on the ground, that James and his people are dead, he is forced to admit that Rachel is on the Blade ship with Tom. Tobias is enraged. Cassie sad And Marco is grimly resigned, knowing that Tom needed to be stopped. While they have control of basic maneuvering for the Pool ship, Erek’s programming flatly prevents gaining them any access to the larger weapons systems: they’re sitting ducks for Tom’s Blade ship.

Jake and the others make their way to the bridge, fighting along the way. They pass by access to the Pool ship’s controls to the interior Yeerk pool itself. There is a flush option. But Jake needs Visser One to come to the bridge. He orders the flush, and 17,372 Yeerks are jetted into space to die. When they arrive, Visser One is there, staring out into space at the dead Yeerks. He has also figured out that Tom has betrayed him. He tries to say that it isn’t Jake who has beaten him, but the fact that he was betrayed because Visser One was “too trusting.”

Jake tells Visser One that he could disable the Blade ship, but Visser One notes that the Dracon beams are being drained of power. Erek’s doing, against their wishes, and to the detriment of the last chance to disable the Blade ship and save Rachel. They try to fire what they have, but the Blade ship avoids the shots and neatly disables the Pool ship itself. Tom hails the ship to gloat but is horrified when he sees Jake on board. He orders his ship to destroy the Pool ship, and Jake orders Rachel to go in.

Our Fearless Leader: Whelp, here’s where it all comes to a head for our Jake. Having gotten through the malaise that seemed to set in after the loss of his parents, he’s in full leadership form in this book. It’s action packed from the beginning to the end, and we see Jake needing to balance more and more moving pieces. Not only are there his own allies, but now we have the Taxxons and Tom and his people in play. Both of whom have their own goals and motivations and can only be trusted so far.

Jake’s strategic thinking is at the top of its form here, and his plan for the final battle is brilliant and ruthless. As he deploys his people we are in his head to see how, while he still struggles with the challenges of these decisions, he has really embraced the cold reality of the situation. The Yeerks will get them or the Andalites will. With those two fronts against them, any consideration for personal losses is now weighed against the loss of the entire planet. He’s brutal and efficient.

The hardest decisions to witness, as the reader, are the ones that affect our main characters directly. He sends Marco out into a war zone with an impossible task to locate the Chee, knowing he could be killed doing it. He keeps Tobias and Cassie back, not informing them of key pieces of his plan, knowing he needs to use them without the distraction of their opinions on other decisions. James and his crew get sent out onto a battle field that has already been lost but needs to serve as a distraction. And Rachel…in this book it’s not made clear what exactly her role is. But their discussion is enough for us to know that it is likely one that she won’t return from.

All of that aside, one of the biggest decisions Jake makes is one that is given very little page time and happens in the midst of a lot of other action: the flushing of all of the Yeerks. We’ll see how this plays out in the next book, but it’s a huge move and one that Jake didn’t plan in advance, but had to decide in the heat of the moment. We can see him trying to justify it in his head as he goes: The Yeerks brought this fight to them. He needs Visser One to come to the bridge if there’s any chance of saving Rachel. It has to be done. It has to be done. It has to be done.

Xena, Warrior Princess: For most of this book, Rachel is away on her secret mission, only checking in periodically with Jake. There’s a lingering sense of horror around all of this as it’s always strange when the group isn’t operating together. Throughout the last half, various members of the group wonder where she is. I do feel it’s a bit unbelievable that Cassie and Tobias wouldn’t press more for details on this, but oh well.

Rachel’s conversation with Jake is short, but so important. It perfectly illustrates how well they each understand and accept the role they play. Rachel knows the risks and knows how coldly Jake is using her to complete a goal. But she’s not angry about it and knows that she is the right choice. She also agrees to not telling Cassie ahead of time about it.

Lastly, Rachel is one of the more angry members when she learns about Ax’s betrayal with the Andalite leadership. This holds true for the rocky relationship these two have had throughout the book. Marco usually joins her in this area and, in form with a complaint I’ve had throughout the last several books, it’s strange that he doesn’t react more strongly himself. It’s pretty clear that while she’s betrayed by Ax himself, she’s also written the Andalites off as a whole, snorting her derision when Jake claims they are allies when talking to the Taxxons.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias really doesn’t have a lot in this book. At one point when Jake is assessing his use of people, he mentions that he has to use Rachel because of various reasons for the others and because he “needs Tobias.” I’m really not clear why this is exactly. I mean, obviously it makes sense that Rachel is the correct choice, just on merit of her being who she is. But Tobias specifically doesn’t seem to be needed. Seemingly it is because he needs to play the role of the Taxxon who “eats” “Cassie.” But Ax also has a Taxxon morph, so I’m not sure about this reasoning.

When Rachel’s role is made clear, Tobias is furious and inconsobale, alternating between cussing Jake out and begging him to save her. Jake mentions at one point that he can feel that Tobias now hates him.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has some very interesting moments in this book. For one, when she hears about the Taxxons, she admits that she had hoped this would happen. Of course, this is another after-the-fact thought to her choice, but it does prove that she’s been thinking more creatively about the impact that morphing will have on the Yeerk forces. And when you think about it, she’s completely right that this would be a logical next step. These are the best moments for Cassie’s character when we see how her approach to things is so different than the others and often very ahead of the game. It almost makes up for some of her more boneheaded moments.

She is also the one to push Ax into confessing that he’s been talking to the Andalites, as she’s followed him in flea morph. The book doesn’t go into this very far, but again, it’s a nice highlight for her character. For all of her sometimes preachy ways, she’s not a blind optimist. We can guess that she may have thought that Ax might waver in light of recent events, and she’s suspicious enough to take it on herself to follow him. They may be team members, but she doesn’t simply blindly trust him in this instance. It does makes me wonder whether Tobias would have said anything at this point in the book. He’s the only other one who knew about Ax’s actions.

Lastly, unlike Rachel and Jake, we see Cassie’s embitterment about her own role on the team. At one point, she makes a few bitter statements about how Jake is expecting a morality lecture from her with regards to the choices they are making. Jake admits that he is waiting for that, but that he also values it, as he’s used Cassie to gauge his own actions for some time. It’s notable also that when it comes down to it, he chooses to make some choices without telling her about them, because he already knows what she will say and he can’t afford to be influenced by her completely, here at the end of it all.

The Comic Relief: My biggest complaint about this last section of books is the lack of good Marco action we’ve gotten. Seriously, it’s like he disappeared from the series. His action is almost always off page. We get only a handful of lines from his all told. And many of those are out-of-character, or at least out of the character we’ve know for so long. Yeah, his character has changed, and saving his mom is a big part of that, but there are things about him that would remain the same. Like what his reaction to Ax’s betrayal would have been. Marco, like Rachel, was always the slowest to warm up and most suspicious.

When forming the complete plan in his head, Jake references Marco’s “clear straight line” mode of planning, so that’s a nice connection. And then Jake entrusts Marco with quite a lot in this book. He has to locate Erek (the Chee base disappeared when the Yeerk Pool was blown up). And he and Ax lead the charge to try and disable the Pool ship.

There’s only a brief line, but Marco is the most resigned to Rachel’s fate. He clearly jumps quickly along the same train of thought that Jake has had and sees that Jake’s choice here was necessary. Brutal, but necessary. This is the Marco we all know and love. Practical to a point of coldness.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has to come out with what he’s been up to in this book. More importantly, he has to admit to what the Andalites have planned. This book makes it pretty clear that all of the tragedies of the action in this book (the death of the auxiliary Animorphs, the Yeerks being jettisoned into space, Rachel) happen because Jake feels that they are being pushed into endgame level fighting due to the Andalites quarantine plan. They don’t have time to take things slowly, really figure out what to do with the Taxxons, with Tom, with all of it. The Andalites are coming; it has to be now. It’s pretty tragic, really, that the people who through much of the series have been heralded as the saviors they’re all waiting for instead turn into the catalyst that drives the Animorphs to the most desperate and brutal decisions we’ve seen. Here’s how Jake puts it to Cassie:

And when they’re negotiating with the Taxxons, Ax is also quick to note that the Andalites will never agree to the Taxxons getting morphing technology. So another blow against the Andalites. They want to beat the Yeerks. They often do this by removing host bodies from the field of play. But they’d rather just commit genocide against entire species than share their precious morphing technology with a different species. A technology that we know from other books isn’t even that highly valued by the Andalites.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There are a lot of pretty horrible bits in this book, but I’m going to focus on a less obvious one in this section: Taxxon!Tobias eating Chee!Cassie. I mean, that has to be psychologically damaging. Even knowing it’s a hologram, we know how realistic the Chee can make these things. And this is your close friend and you’re having to listen to her “scream” and be torn apart with a close up view of it all, with it seeming like you’re the one doing it. I don’t know, it seems like that would mess with your mind.

Couples Watch!: I had completely forgotten this part, but about halfway through the book Jake and Cassie have a one-on-one conversation about their relationship and what they see for the future. It’s telling for both of them as individuals, with Jake thinking about the bigger impact on the world of the reveal that there are aliens out there, and Cassie focusing back in on her life, think she’ll just slip back into it and take over where she left off. They also briefly discuss their relationship and Cassie says that if they make it, essentially, she’ll marry him after a year. Woah nelly! They’re like 17 years old! I mean, I get that they’re older than this in most ways, having gone through all of this. And with that in mind, Cassie’s one year plan is sound in that it gives them some more time. But still. Funny the things you don’t even notice as a kid reading it, but as an adult, I’m like “But…but…you’re still babies!”

And then poor Tobias. I will always be bummed that we didn’t get much more from this couple for the last oh….tons of books! And we don’t even get a good scene between them in this last-ish book! Obviously, Tobias can’t know what’s going to happen, but throw readers a bone, why don’t you? The few lines we get from him after he finds out are so tragic. Even had Rachel lived, you can sense that Tobias would never forgive Jake for this.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: We haven’t seen a lot of Visser One for a while either, other than his token appearances where he morphs something freaky and then promptly exits the field for some reason or another. So it’s good to see him here. Tom mentions how Visser One is like a bludgeon, just hitting away at his enemies. This is definitely true, but we also see how he has changed after fighting the Animorphs for so long. He’s immediately suspicious when Tom shows up with “Cassie,” suspecting a trap right off the bat.

And when he’s in the Pool ship, he has massive weapons at his disposal that could quickly end the battle on the ground, but instead chooses to snipe at the morphed fighters, clearly taking personal satisfaction at taking them out after so many years of losses against them. I mean really, there have been 6 fighters against him (he’s probably been pretty clear on the number for a while due to the same morphs, regardless of any ploys the Animorphs have tried to play in the past to make it seem like there are more of them. Six fighters against all of the Yeerks and in years, YEARS, he hasn’t killed a single one of them. It’s more shocking than anything almost that he was ever promoted, given that record. And then when the Yeerks are flushed, the quieter moments when he realizes he’s lost. Not only are thousands of his people dead, but he knows that he has also been betrayed. But in that instance, the most important thing to him is to reconstruct it that Tom, a Yeerk, beat him; not the Animorphs.

Tom is also an interesting villain, for the short bits we get from it. Jake is on to him from the beginning, that a Yeerk who is smart enough to approach them in the way he did, is smart enough to not want to team up with them forever and will have his own plans in mind. It says something about how well Jake has grown to understand Tom’s Yeerk that he can anticipate him so well. Towards the end, Jake also breaks when everyone keeps referring to Tom’s actions as “Tom’s,” especially in the light of what he has ordered Rachel to do.

I exploded. “It’s not Tom! It’s not Tom, don’t call him that. It’s the Yeerk in his head. It’s the Yeerk, not my brother!” No one even looked shocked at my reaction.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Oh man, so many things. But everything to do with the auxiliary Animorphs probably takes the cake. It starts out early with the first attack on the Taxxons at the new Yeerk Pool resulting in the death of several Hork Bajir and Ray, one of the guys. And then, when Jake informs James of their role, James says he’s not sure they’re up for it, that they’re all still reeling from the death of Ray. Especially the younger ones. Oof. And Jake explodes again. But instead of the cool inspiration “Independence Day” style speech that make everyone feel uplifted, his is darker, and more brutally honest about what the stakes really are.

“Look, if we lose this battle it’s over, you understand me?!” I raised my voice to be heard by everyone. “If we lose it’s over. This is the battle. This is the last stand. We lose and here’s what happens: The Yeerk fleet fights the Andalite fleet. If the Yeerks win they’ll be free to enslave every living human being and kill the ones they don’t want. If the Andalites win there’s a very good chance they’ll sterilize Earth: kill everything in order to end the Yeerk menace once and for all. So, you don’t like me telling you what to do, you don’t like your job, you don’t like me, period? I don’t really care. Before this night is over the casualties will be piled high and some of you standing here right now will be dead and I don’t care because we are going to win. Is that clear? We’re taking that Pool ship and before this night is over we’ll have Visser One right here.” I held up my tight-clenched fist.

And then of course the end, with Visser One picking them off one by one. It’s by no means a short scene and the tension holds throughout, with the hope that Marco and Ax will get control of the ship at any moment. And Jake, like the reader, is trapped just watching it happen. Knowing that it is part of the plan and a risk from the start that they wouldn’t make it through. The dialogue from Visser One is just crushing, with his obvious glee in it all. He plays with them, like a cat, at one point and it’s just awful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Obviously the final plan is terrible in the other sense of the word. But it’s also the most brilliant of the ones we’ve seen. Jake has the most moving pieces on the board that he’s had the entire time and that are various levels of deception at play throughout. Not only does he have to keep Tom in the dark about the real plan, but several of Jake’s own crew don’t know the full plan until the last minute, with regards to Rachel’s role. And then Jake is having to improvise to a certain extent along the way as well.

The one bad plan of it all, I have to say, is the morphing scene when Jake is trying to get the attention of the general. It plays for good reading, but as a solid plan, it’s super risky. Here you have a general who has just found himself in the middle of a war with aliens who have unknown technology at their hands, and Jake just bursts in, de-morphing several times. He’s just lucky that some trigger happy soldier didn’t shoot him the moment he showed up. It’s showmanship for the sake of showmanship and would have likely ended in Jake’s quick, needless death.

Favorite Quote: 

This quote gets at what I was saying about the Andalites’ role in all of this. It’s also a really neat reflection on how much more complicated and evolved this series became over time. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but it did start out as simply as 5 kids try to hold it together until the savior aliens show up.

<It’s never completely clean, Cassie. Doesn’t work that way. But you try your best to keep it clean. The fact that you know you’ll be dragged in the gutter doesn’t mean you don’t try like hell to stay out of it. You don’t get a lot of straight-up good or evil choices. You get shades of gray. I mean, we started this war thinking we’d hold on till the great and glorious Andalites came to rescue us. Now we’re making deals with Taxxons and Yeerks to gain a victory fast enough to keep the great and glorious Andalites from making their own shades-of-gray decision.>

<What are you going to do?> Cassie asked.

<I’m going to win,> I said

And, of course, the discussion between Jake and Rachel about his plans for her is just one of the most solid conclusions you could ask for for the two characters who arguably had the biggest arcs throughout the series.

<You’re sure, Jake?> she asked solemnly when I had finished. <Because if you tell me ” Go!” I’ll follow your orders. You know what that means.>
<Yeah, Rachel, I know what it means.>
……
<Okay, then. Get started. Make sure Cassie doesn’t know.>
<You still don’t trust her?> Rachel said angrily.
<She loves us both, Rachel,> I said. <I can’t make her part of this. I can’t let her know in advance, so, you know, if it happens, if it happens, I don’t want her spending the rest of her life wondering if she could have stopped it somehow.>
Rachel said, <Okay, Jake. You’re right. And you’re right to use me for this. Not exactly something I’m proud of, maybe, but later, you know, if — don’t be blaming yourself, okay?>

Scorecard: Yeerks 16, Animorphs 20

I’m actually going to give a point to them both for this one. Yes, the Animorphs clearly win this exchange, but it feels wrong not to acknowledge the terrible loss of James and his crew. It was the biggest blow the Animorphs ever struck and they pretty much won the war right here. But it was also the biggest blow the Yeerks ever dealt, too, with them taking out 20 of the Animorphs, plus tons of soldiers and Hork Bajir.

Rating: There’s still one book left, but man does this almost feel like a conclusion on its own. This has to be one of the best books in the series. It has everything, action, character development, romance, tragedy. And it’s by far the most complicated, not only the plan itself, but the tangled moral lines that are crisscrossed throughout the story. And theses decisions aren’t just blown through; the story stops and takes the time to really look into them, and, rightly, often ends with a big ole question mark remaining. The reader is left to wonder for themselves what is right or wrong in these situations, whether Jake made the right or wrong decision at any given moment. It’s made clear that Jake himself doesn’t even know.

It’s also so perfect that the series comes full circle with the final single narrator book going to Jake. It would be an interesting experiment to now go back and read book 1 again, right after finishing this one. I’m sure the tonal difference would be astonishing.

I could probably go on and on about this book, but since this post has already gotten super long, I’ll leave it at that. This book is gutting, which right there proves how great it is. How could this final battle be anything else?

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #52: “The Sacrifice”

125338Animorphs #51: “The Absolute”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks have abandoned all secrecy. They are loading people onto underground trains that run directly to the Yeerk pool where they perform mass infestations. The vast army of Controllers is growing rapidly and will soon be unstoppable. Ax and the Animorphs can think of only one solution‹to use one of the trains to blow up the Yeerk pool. But the cost will be measured in hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent human lives. 

Narrator: Ax

Plot: This really start to heat up in this one, and unlike the previous book, we get a lot more of the emotional fall-out of Cassie’s decision. There’s a good balance of character work with some significant (and important!) action. Unfortunately, for all of that good work, we also have a huge retread and out-of-character thinking for our main character, Ax.

Really? We’re doing the “Ax questions his loyalties” thing again?

The Yeerks have taken the war more and more public. Now they’ve started rounding up people by the hundreds and herding them onto subway trains that the Animorphs can only assume run directly to the Yeerk pool. Ax, Rachel, and James see the horrors for themselves when out on a scouting mission: people dragged out of their cars and herded down to the station. In a rash plan (lead of course by Rachel), the three head off into the subway system to try and save people. Instead, they end up on a wild ride, chased by falcon!Yeerks. Most of the Yeerks are taken out, inexperienced as they are in their animal morphs. Ax catches up with one that pleads with him to let him go, that he only has a few minutes left before he is trapped in his falcon form, which he sees as a vast improvement on his original Yeerk form as a slug. Ax lets him go.

Back in the camp, the team discusses what they’ve seen. They know that something must be done, and slowly come to the realization that only an extreme action can be the next step: bombing the Yeerk pool. Cassie is opposed, but Jake snaps at her that given the morphing abilities of the Yeerks now, they’re left with fewer options. Ax and the team are surprised by this. They decide that a nuclear weapon would be too hard to get and do too much damage, but that there might be some large bombs at a nearby National Guard station. But it would also take them all, original Animrophs, parents, and auxiliary Animorphs, to get in and find the bombs before they are detected.

Later that night, Ax sneaks away into the forest and makes contact with the Andalites. It is clear that this isn’t the first time, and they ask for a report. Ax dutifully gives details of the situation, noting that the human resistance seems to be fraying under the increased pressure of the more open war. He does hold back the information about the Yeerks now having morphing abilities, however. For their part, the Andalite leaders inform him that the plan of action is to quarantine Earth and try to hold the Yeerks there. Ax knows this terminology for what it is: they have decided to surrender the humans to the Yeerks, and, to enforce the quarantine, they will eventually take out the planet and wipe out humans and Yeerks alike.

The next day as they continue to put their plan in place, Cassie informs them that she won’t be participating. This leads to another fight between her and Jake and during it she confesses to having let Tom escape with the blue box. Everyone is horrified, especially Ax who immediately labels her a traitor. Cassie cries and apologizes for her actions, saying that she doesn’t know what made her do it, and she’s sorry to see where it has taken them all. Jake forgives her, hugs her, and informs the team that they now have to work in the reality they have, that there’s no point wishing for what was. Ax, however, is not really listening, too angry at Cassie to hear.

They continue to plan and decide to give a 5 minute warning before the bomb explodes to allow as many people to escape the Yeerk pool as possible. Cassie agrees to this, and Jake reflects that their new motto will be to defeat the Yeerks, but not to become them. Ax, however, is more focused on the fact that while before he had thought Rachel’s reckless pursuit of battle was the most dangerous, maybe the opposite extreme is the more deadly: Cassie’s kindness, so like Seerow’s.

Later he makes time to speak to Cassie about why she did what she did.  He calls her out for betraying her friends, humanity, and even Elfangor who entrusted them with the awesome power. While she says that in the moment she didn’t know why she make the decision she did, now, later, she’s begun to think that the morphing ability could provide a wedge in the Yeerk forces. That those who are less interested in war may see the morphing ability as a legitimate alternative. Ax mentions the falcon!Yeerk he ran into earlier and Cassie sees this as proof that there may be Yeerks out there who just want a way out. Ax isn’t sure, but thinks he won’t ever feel the same about Cassie or (bizarrely) humans in general.

Even later that night, Tobias approaches Ax and asks him what he’s going to do, having followed him the other night and seeing him communicate with the other Andalites. Ax admits that he doesn’t know and the two of them continue the discussion about how morphing now changes the situation with the Yeerks.

They finally put the plan in action. Ax leads adults from the group through the woods where they run into a National Guard station and the parents pretend to have been lost in the woods. Cassie’s dad fakes heart problems, and they’re all loaded up on trucks and headed towards the base. Several Animorphs and auxiliary Animorphs hitch a ride in various morphs and the Hork Bajir follow in the trees. Once at the base, they all split into groups and begin searching the many, many buildings for the bombs. They manage to locate them eventually and load as many as they can on a few trucks. On the way out, however, they’re stopped by a head operative of the National Guard. With no other choice, they reveal themselves and explain that what the Governor said on TV a while ago is true: aliens are really invading Earth. Ax plays his usual role, demonstrating that he is, in fact, an alien. Luckily the head guy is not a Controller, though they do have to capture a few Controllers in the mix of witnesses. He also happens to know Rachel’s mother, and this connection further helps them convince him to let them pass.

They make their way with the bombs to a subway station and prepare for a confrontation. Many of the Yeerks morph as well, including several to wolf form. Just as things are beginning to look bleak, the National Guard guys show up and help them win the fight. All of the wolf!Yeerks are dead and Ax has a brief moment of panic thinking that Cassie died, too, since how could anyone tell the difference in the midst of the fighting. She’s ok, however, and he realizes that he doesn’t hate her.

When it comes to the next stage, a smaller group is needed. It is agreed that Jake is too valuable to send on such a risky venture (the timing of the bomb going off while also giving enough of a warning to get people out will be pretty tight.) In his stead, Jake insists that Cassie go, that he trusts her to make the right decision. Marco and Ax will go along with. Ax notes that it feels like the team is beginning to come together again.

The bombs are loaded on to a cleared out subway train and the three get on. As the train barrels towards the Yeerk pool, they all morph cockroach to survive the impact. The train crashes into the Yeerk pool, killing many Yeerks in the process. Cassie, Marco, and Ax demorph and Cassie climbs on top of the train yelling a warning to everyone around. Marco and Ax work to free humans from the cages and Ax is amazed to see human Controllers help with this effort as well.

Visser One morphs some huge octapus-like beast in the Yeerk pool but quickly realizes that with a bomb ticking it’s in his best interests to just get out of there. By the time Cassie, Ax, and Marco head out, the Yeerk pool is mostly empty, except for the pool itself that is still full of Yeerks.

The next day, the Animorphs all come to survey the damage. Almost the entire downtown area has been collapsed in on itself and the devastation is extreme. They know they’ve inflicted a massive strike against the Yeerks, but none of them can feel happy about it. Ax thinks about the human Controllers who stayed behind to help others and realizes that Cassie is right; Aftran wasn’t the only Yeerk who wanted a different life.  They see Visser One’s Blade ship flying in and are resigned to the fact that, yet again, he escaped. But they console themselves that he will have a lot of explaining to do to the Council about this disaster. Ax ends the story with a very familiar couple of paragraphs about how he’s chosen to throw his lot in with the humans.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: So this was a really strange and frustrating book for Ax. There were some really good moments in there, but most of it was a direct re-tread of emotional conflicts that he had already solved before, therefore making many of his decisions and thoughts read as very out of character for the Ax we have now.

The good stuff mostly came with his reflections on Rachel’s warmongering and Cassie’s decision with the blue box. With Rachel, as I’ll note later, there was a good discussion about what it means to lose one’s childhood. Ax reflects on this for himself, that by Andalite standards, he’d still be a soldier in training and a young kid. But now, he’s a battle-weary soldier in the body of a young kid. This conflict is not only hard on Ax (and the others), but a challenge for those around them. Part of Rachel’s mother’s struggle seems to be accepting that her daughter has been operating as an adult for some time and can’t just slip back into being her kid and listening to her parent as a point of authority in a war situation that frankly Rachel knows way more about than her mother. Ax, too, has this same conflict when he interacts with the adult Andalites. They see him as a kid who is in need of direction by the adults in the room and that he should just follow orders as dictated to him (though some of this also seems to be a cultural aspects of the Andalites).

Ax’s thoughts on Cassie are also good. His rage at her decision are almost cathartic for those of us readers who were also incredibly frustrated with her thought process. But Ax and Cassie also have the most useful conversation in really digging into what that decision means, and, after the fact, Cassie’s own reflections on it. It’s pretty excellent stuff.

But other than that, man, it’s hard to like Ax in this book. We never really get at what motivated Ax to contact the Andalites in the first place and end up in this situation. For one thing, it directly contradicts his own vows to follow his Prince, Jake. He’s clearly been doing this in secret for quite a while.

What’s more, he’s somehow fallen completely back into the “I’m an Andalite soldier. I must follow Andalite commanders before anything.” Which, like I said, is a conflict we’ve already seen before and resolved. It’s not only boring but it makes the book read as if it’s completely detached from any character growth Ax has gone through in the series as a whole. Did the author even read Ax’s other books?? It sure as heck doesn’t read like they did. (Yes, yes she did. She even wrote one, ugh.) The Ax we see here is almost identical to the one in the very beginning when he had zero understanding of humans and no knowledge of the wrongs the Andalites routinely commit against other species. Now, after years of fighting with humans, and having seen the Andalites behave pretty poorly in the past, Ax has grown into a different character. For him to suddenly regress reads as really terrible writing and makes Ax into a pretty unlikeable character, if we’re meant to believe that he simply changed his mind again and needed to learn this lesson for like the 4th time. You could literally copy and past his last couple of pages and stick them in the end of at least three other Ax books that came before. Yada yada, humans are broken but they’re also great. I’ll side with them. Blah blah blah.

Our Fearless Leader: We definitely see Jake coming back to himself in this book. In many ways, the blow up with Cassie where he finally reveals what she did with the blue box seems to serve as a turning point. Once she admits to the folly of it and apologizes, he’s the first one to forgive her. And from there on out, he’s pretty much back to his old ways,leadership-wise. Even going so far as to reprimand Ax for calling him Prince once again. He also seems to finally realize just how important he is to the war effort, as he is successfully talked out of going on the last mission as it would be detrimental to lose him.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is one of the better books for examples of Rachel’s war issues coming out in realistic ways. In the very beginning, she’s the one to lead the charge into the subway system with Ax, even though there is obviously nothing to be gained from this action. And then she takes off after the Yeerk that Ax released. As it seems that Ax was speaking to the Yeerk privately, Rachel could see it as the Yeerk escaping rather than Ax letting it go. But either way, chasing down fleeing enemies is another step in Rachel’s hard path. Ax makes a few snide comments about how Andalite warriors who grow to love war too much are “put out to pasture” essentially. Though, as I’ll discuss later, nothing we’ve seen from the Andalite as a whole (disregarding the ones we’ve had in book like Ax and Elfangor) really proves that they have the same sense of morality about warfare as Ax is thinking. It’s a bit rich to rag on Rachel’s ruthlessness when you know your own people are planning to just sacrifice an entire species as just another chess move in their war with the Yeerks.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have a lot in this book other than his confrontation with Ax about Ax’s communications with the Andalite leaders. Tobias has always been one of the more cool-headed members of the group, handling big revelations with a much more reserved manner than the others. So it makes sense that he handles this conversation as he does, not coming down on Ax too hard for doing this all behind their backs. The conversation is pretty short, however, and I do think that it leaves something to be desired. For one thing, it isn’t acknowledging that this is like the millionth time that Ax has seemingly wavered back and forth between Andalites and humans, even though he’s repeatedly in the past come out vocally for the side of the Animorphs. For all of his talk about Cassie’s traitorous ways…

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is a really good book for Cassie and gets at a lot of what was missing from her own book with the nonsensical decision to just end it where it does and then go an entire book more without addressing it further. We finally get the reveal to the entire group about what happened, and Cassie’s apologies and explanations read as much more believable and sympathetic (if still wrong-headed). She apologizes repeatedly and even takes ownership for the way that decision is impacting the huge things they’re doing now. She pretty much admits that she put them in the position to having to go to this level, so she’s on board to help, even if it’s the kind of action that she’s largely against.

In her discussion with Ax we also get her thoughts into the effect that morphing could have on the Yeerks. Even in this conversation, however, she admits that this was an after-thought, so we can’t give her credit for this line of reasoning when she made the initial action; she said then and repeats now that she didn’t have a reason for doing what she did other than it feeling right. But, as we see in this book, the domino effect on the Yeerks is happening and her quick understanding that that may occur is definitely spot on.

The Comic Relief: Marco’s kind of been a different character since the return of his mother. It seems like in many ways this is an intentional shift, with other characters noting that he is much happier now. And it makes sense that his attitude would change somewhat with the driving factor behind his choice to fight being resolved with the saving of this mom. But from a reading perspective, it’s a pretty big loss. Marco’s last book was a huge let-down, feeling as if he had lost much of his spunk. And here, we also see a very different character on the page. Most notably in his reaction to Cassie’s giving away the blue box. Rachel reacts with the anger we’d expect, but in the past, she was always joined by Marco who has almost zero tolerance for poor strategic decision making in the service of “feelings.” His perspective was an important aspect of the careful balance maintained by all members of the team, and losing a large part of what made Marco Marco is pretty unfortunate.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not a lot that I can really think of. The falcon!Yeerk who is desperate to get trapped in a falcon’s body does highlight just how miserable the natural state of being a Yeerk is. Beyond anything else, Yeerks who do this are essentially forfeiting huge chunks of their lives. Visser Three has been around and kicking for quite some time and doesn’t seem to be classified as an elderly Yeerk. But a falcon has a pretty short life span, around 13 years average and maxing out at about 20. Given this level of sacrifice to escape existing as a slug, it’s really a shame that the idea of using morphing to bypass the hosting thing wasn’t thought of sooner.

Couples Watch!: Again, really nothing. Tobias holds Rachel back when she’s getting mad at Cassie about the blue box. And Jake forgives Cassie for the blue box fiasco, but even that is fairly straightforward and devoid of much romance. Ax sees Cassie and Jake’s strained relationship as yet another sign that the group is falling apart. So, too, when they make-up, it’s almost the first steps towards the team coming together again.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One makes a token appearance at the end of this book, showing off a new morph before ultimately (and predictably) choosing to save himself and get the heck out of there rather than fight.

But, again, I think we have to admit that by and large the Andalites are pretty villainous. I mean, at this point both the humans and the Hork Bajir could agree that being “saved” by the Andalites is just as disastrous as being attacked by the enemy Yeerks. Probably worse, really, since the Andalites are so completely focused on conquering the Yeerks that they actually hinder the efforts of other species to defend themselves. They took out the Hork Bajir with disease, and here, we have Andalite commanders telling Ax to actively prevent the humans from fighting back so that the planet can be “quarantined.” At best, they’re no better than humans (who have their own pretty unfortunate history of warfare tactics), but they sure as hell aren’t any better. This kind of behavior makes it pretty hard to sympathize or connect with Ax in this book.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There were some pretty depressing scenes in this book. From the very start, the descriptions of the humans being herded into the subway system had definite concentration camp vibes. Ax describes seeing adults and children wearing pjs, clearing having been rounded up from bed and herded down. And then in the end, the Animorphs give the warning to get out of the Yeerk pool, but this warning also causes a panic and Ax notes that people were getting trampled to death in the crush to get out. It’s pretty tragic sounding.

A smaller, character moment is one between Rachel and her mother. Rachel’s mom helps convince the National Guard commander to go along with Jake’s orders. And in that moment Rachel realizes that her mom can be helpful to the cause (before this, in the last several books, she’s been an active hindrance.) Rachel breaks down crying and hugs her mom. Ax notes that perhaps the emotional crux of the situation is that Rachel, like him, is realizing that she lost her entire childhood, something she can’t get back, like her old child/parent relationship with her mom. It’s a really great moment to humanize Rachel and not have her just feel cartoonish, something that’s been happening more and more in these later books.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Most of the plans in this book are pretty good and are operating at an entirely new level. Jake doesn’t just need to plan the actions of a small, closely knit group; now he has to coordinate several groups all made up of different types of people with different abilities and roles to play. He’s got the Hork Bajir, with their commander Toby. The parents. And the auxiliary Animorpsh, with their commander James. It’s a lot of moving pieces to have in play and a lot of different personalities to wrangle.

Really, the worst plan is the one that Rachel and Ax have at the beginning because there is no plan, essentially. Ax notes from the very beginning that going into the subway has no point, but he goes along with it anyways. Rachel is clearly leading the charge, but Ax and James participate for longer than they should have, perhaps.

Favorite Quote: 

A really great explanation by Cassie. This thinking clearly applies to not only humans and Yeerks, but as we’ve seen, Andalites, too, who have had leaders come up with terrible plans that others follow.

“Humans have had some pretty evil leaders, too. Thousands, sometimes millions of people have followed those leaders, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. Sometimes because they were just too afraid to say no. What if some other species decided to wipe out the human race based on the existence of a few powerful people? What if that species decided all humans were cruel, based on the actions of a handful of sociopaths?”

And this pretty much sums up my attitude on Cassie’s blue box decision:

“You think I’m a traitor, don’t you?” she asked.

I nodded. <Yes.>

“But did I do the wrong thing?”

<I do not know.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 19

A clear win for the Animorphs. They’ve been talking about destroying the Yeerk pool almost from day one, so it’s pretty cool to see it happen. That said, I really like how “uncool” they make the whole thing. It’s clear that this is a disaster all around, a terrible situation that is barely worth celebrating. In the last chapter, many of them note that while this was clearly their biggest victory, it’s also the one they feel worst about.

Rating: This was another strange book where there was a lot of good stuff, but the main character’s story was pretty lacking. I really liked that we got more into the stuff with Cassie and the blue box. A lot of small character moments were devoted to this and we got to hear a lot of varying perspectives on her decision. I also really liked getting to hear more from Cassie herself, and what she had to say, while not making up for the decision itself, is really well handled and thought out. There were also great character reflections for Jake and Rachel. And even Tobias gets a good conversation with Ax. I definitely prefer Animorph books like this that balance out all of the crazy action with these smaller moments.

The action itself was also very good. We see more of how morphing on its own is still a learned thing for the Yeerks, as they struggle to get their falcon morphs under control. The introduction of the idea that some Yeerks may see morphing as an alternative is well handled. And, of course, the big fight in the end that finishes with the destruction of the Yeerk pool is great. The Yeerk pool has served as a tangible symbol of the enemy that is the Yeerks from book one, so it’s neat to see it come full circle with the Animorphs finally destroying it. And, like I said before, it’s nice that a huge disaster like this isn’t simply heralded as “awesome.” It’s a terrible choice to be forced into and very sobering, and all of the characters see it as such and reflect on that in the end.

But, for Ax himself, this was a really frustrating book. It doesn’t make any sense, character-wise and instead wastes his last book on a story that we’ve heard many times before. Ax is a great character and we got almost none of his great humor or his funny reflections on the foibles of humanity. His decision to contact the Andalites in the first place is never made clear, and his struggles with which side to choose come out of nowhere and don’t seem based in any natural character conflict. It’s really disappointing that this is the last book for him.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #51: “The Absolute”

363390Animorphs #51: “The Absolute”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks have taken over units of the National Guard with plans to infest all of its officers and soldiers. The plan seems to be to step things up—use the Guard to prepare for an all-out war on Earth. The Animorphs couldn’t be less prepared. They’re living with the free Hork-Bajir colony, Jake is depressed, and worst of all, the morphing cube is in the hands of the enemy.

Marco and the others know they need to take serious action to stop the Yeerk infiltration of the Guard. They decide to approach the governor—but they don’t know if she’s a controller or not. If she is, they’re walking right into enemy hands. If she’s not, the Animorphs are finally going public with their secret. And no one knows which situation is worse… 

Narrator: Marco

Plot:  This book was pretty much a mess from start to finish for me. I didn’t remember much of this book, and it’s pretty clear why. Sure, on paper, big things happen, but the story itself is pretty lackluster, all the more so for feeling like a waste of one of the few remaining books we have left.

My feelings throughout the book. But mostly about the decision to leave out half of the characters.

Marco and Tobias are on a reconnaissance mission to scout out a train bringing in large numbers of the National Guard. Given there is no holiday coming up, the Animorphs are suspicious that the Yeerks may be planning a mass infestation of the units, now that the war is coming out to the public more and more. It turns out that yes, the train is under surveillance by the Yeerks, now able to morph and watching it in the form of several birds of prey lead by no other than their own red tailed hawk. Tobias and Marco have to put their bird skills to use to try to escape, and even then, they only make it out by stealing a tank that Marco has to drive. Yet again, Marco’s driving abilities leave something to be desired, and Chapman’s house is the latest victim to his inability to steer or brake.

Back in the Hork Bajir valley, they decide they need to take a big step to prevent this: inform someone high up of what’s going on. Jake splits the team into two groups. The first, made up of Marco, Tobias, and Ax (the “finesse” group) is to find the governor and convince them of what’s going on and try to prevent the National Guard from all coming to town. The remaining Animorphs and James and his group will try to create a diversion to also delay the troop movements. During the conversation, Jake makes it clear that he doesn’t want Cassie out of his sight because he no longer trusts her, though the others don’t understand what has happened between the two of them.

Marco, Tobias, and Ax make their way to the Gardens to get some long distance flyers. The manage to acquire ducks, but end up being spotted and chased by Controllers as well. They  make their way to the capitol but realize they don’t know where the governor lives or what his name is. They get the address for the mansion, eventually, and once there, morph cockroach and go on a wild ride clinging to the limo that they see a pair of shoes they assume is the governor enter. They end up at a fundraising event and follow the governor and a woman in heels into the bathroom. Once there, they demorph and begin the rundown on the situation (they then also realize that not only did they not know where the governor lived or what their name was, the governor was in fact the woman in heels, not a man at all). As they’re attempting to convince her, it becomes clear that her husband is a Controller and they have to make a wild escape with a brave bodyguard named Collins helping to hold the Yeerks at bay.

Many high-jinks ensue involving Tobias driving a limo, them having to jump off a bridge and on to a yacht, and said yacht getting blown apart and sinking beneath them with Marco having to rescue the governor who had been attempting to steer it to ground to save the people on it. They end up retreating back to the governor’s mansion and finish explaining the entire situation. Collins, the brave body guard, meets them there. They ask whether the governor knows anyone high up in the National Guard who has been gone for at least three days and she mentions a high rank member of the service and his unit of several hundred soldiers who have been out of the country for the past two weeks.

Later, back in the valley, they all gather to watch TV and see the fight that Jake and the others were in on TV. It hadn’t been going well until a unit of the National Guard showed up as support (the governor’s troops). The governor then gets on air herself and explains what is going on: aliens have invaded and the world is in a war for its survival.

The Comic Relief: This might be in the running for one of the books where the main character has the least interesting things happening to them. Really, there’s practically no emotional arc or character development in this book. It’s a real shame as now that his mom is back in his life, I feel like there could have been some really good stuff there. We’ve barely seen them together, and it’s always only been briefly in other character’s books. It’s too bad because it seems like there would be a lot there with them having been on opposite sides of this war for so long.

We also see very little of Marco the practical, ruthless strategist. Big things are finally happening in this war and with those events come some big moral situations and Marco’s perspective on these types of choices has always been unique. But again, we don’t get any of that. We get a few good comedic lines and a return of Marco driving poorly, but this late in the series, I would have really appreciated more for him.

Our Fearless Leader: Frankly, I think we saw the wrong two characters highlighted in this third to last book. We’ve seen very little from Jake ever since his sinking into depression, and there’s ton to be mined there. Even more so from the perspective of his best friend, Marco. Early in the book, Marco notes how badly Jake is doing and Marco’s own guilt about being happy about his own family situation in comparison. But then Jake’s gone for the rest of the book. We don’t see him facing his ongoing challenges as a leader. We don’t have any moments between Jake and Marco as best friends whose roles have been swapped. It’s all really unfortunate.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Again, another character who I’m super frustrated to not see more of. As I’ve said in the past, other than Jake, Rachel has one of the most interesting arcs over the entire series. And then, of course, knowing her end…it just seems incredibly wasteful to not get to see more of her here. She has a few good lines, but then is off page for most of the book. The governor is compared favorably to Rachel several times with her ability to stay cool under heavy fire and say “Let’s do it!” to crazy plans. But there’s no replacing the real Rachel, especially this close to us losing her for good.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias puts his flying knowledge to good use early in the book and then gets to actually drive a vehicle in the end, something usually Marco does. Marco did get to drive a tank in this one, though. I will say, however, the descriptions of Tobias’s driving sound much more “Bourne-esque” than Marco’s. Yes there is still a lot of damage, but he’s also in a high speed chase and weaving around to avoid gun/Dracon beam fire. It comes off a bit more badass than, say, taking out garbage cans in a pickup. Tobias and Marco both assume the governor is a man, and take some flack from Ax for not knowing anything about her, even her name. Tobias has an excuse having been out of society for quite a while now, but Marco has a rather poor showing, all things considered.

There’s also a strange bit where Tobias jumps off a bridge in his Hork Bajir morph and somehow manages to morph hawk before hitting the water. The timing mechanics of morphing seem to be yet another casualty to the rushed feel and lack of thought that went into this story.

Peace, Love, and Animals: And our third character who we lose out on. After the major events of the last book, it’s really a shame to not see more of Cassie and how she’s working within the group. Especially her relationship with Jake. We see that it is strained, even from the small moments we get, but we don’t see how else Cassie is dealing with the fallout of her choice. In this mission, it would have been interesting to have Cassie there when they’re dealing with the Controllers in morph. It’s also clear that no one knows how exactly the blue box fell into the Yeerks hands. Probably a good choice by Jake on that one. I can’t see the others taking it very well, maybe especially Marco, who has been known to be practical to the point of ruthlessness in the past.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For being on the main mission of this book, Ax had very little of note. Again, he served as “proof” of the alien invasion story by showing up in his real form to greet the governor. He also had a few funny lines, at one point whipping out a line of sarcasm that Marco notes is a new level of humor for Ax, though it comes at an inopportune time.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not a lot really. When they’re acquiring the ducks, Marco, rightly, questions why they never thought of getting an endurance flyer like this before (really, this is a major strike against Cassie and her animal knowledge that it never came up before. Not only can ducks go long distances, but they can fly together without it being strange), Marco brings up the unfortunate fly!Jake swat incident for years ago. He mentions that if they had thought of duck morphs then, that could have been avoided. That really was one of the more gruesome animal injuries any of them sustained. There are also some passing comments about the extreme levels of bodily injuries a cockroach can sustain. But other than that, not a lot other than the typical morph explanations.

Couples Watch!: Zilch. Though the governor does seem to take it rather easily that her husband has been infested by an alien, mind-controlling parasite…so that’s odd.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One makes a brief, pointless appearance towards the end of the book. In all honestly, I just finished reading it and I can’t remember anything notable about him being there and am pretty sure I forgot that he was one of the human “Controllers” running around during all of the action. The one notable thing about the villains that stood out in this book was the way the morphing has changed things. At one point, Marco notes that this constant paranoia must be how Visser One has been existing for the past several years, suspecting every animals is an enemy in morph. I thought it was clever how the book highlights that while the ability to morph is huge, the Animorphs still have a slight advantage in being more familiar with their morphs’ abilities, as seen in the bird chase in the beginning of the book. I also thought it was notable that the red tail hawk seemed to be leading the charge for the bird!Yeerks. Golden eagles are much bigger, stronger birds, but you have to wonder if the Yeerks assumed that red tailed hawks had some mystical advantage since one of the “Andalite bandits” had been using it as a battle morph this entire time. So the honor of getting that morph went to the head Yeerk in that situation.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much of anything. This book is almost entirely taken up by action pieces and chases. So maybe that’s the most sad thing: we’re getting so close to the end of the series and huge things have been happening for all of the characters. And yet, when all of these great characters moments could be happening, instead we’re reading back-to-back generic chase scenes. It feels like a huge waste and missed opportunity. The saddest bit of it all is that we have an entire book that is missing half of the team. The strongest part of the entire series has been reading about this team of very different characters working together to save the world. Why you would lose one of your few remaining opportunities to play to this strength and instead only focus on  only three of them (and arguably the less important three) is beyond me.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Whenever the plan to “reveal all” to people comes up, it’s always landed in this area. And really, this one isn’t any different. Yes, the stakes are higher now and their secret out there anyways, so if there’s a time to do it, this is probably it. But the whole thing hinges on the governor just happening to be a super chill lady who just accepts this bizarre story out of nowhere. Even more so, high ranking members of the National Guard are willing to just go with it too when the governor calls on them. It’s all a bit unbelievable. The crazy levels people will go to to not have their comfortable world-view challenged has always been the problem with this plan, and it feels like it works out here more because it had to for the sake of the story than for any actual reason. The only way the world “finding out” really works is if it’s all revealed to a large number of people and recorded, or something. These one-on-ones are just hard to buy and the fact that members of a military branch would believe it enough to fight their own, based on zero evidence, is also highly questionable.

On a smaller scale, the beginning little antics that somehow ends with Marco running a tank over Chapman’s house…It’s never quite clear how the tank goes from “middle of nowhere on a train line” to “Chapman’s house.” It seems like that would be quite a distance, and any benefit of speed would be lost once you ended up in an urban neighborhood and off highways. What’s worse, they’re being followed by Controllers the whole time, and it’s not like a tank is very inconspicuous. The story conveniently skates over how Marco and the others managed to escape the whole situation after the destruction of Chapman’s house. We have to assume they go fly or something. But overall, it still reads like one of those throw-away action scenes that is supposed to be fun to read but doesn’t hold up to much thought.

Favorite Quote: 

Before gorilla!Marco jumps off a bridge with the governor, one of several Rachel comparisons.

<You scared of heights, Governor?> I said.

“As opposed to what? Bullets? Laser beams that vaporize solid concrete? A bridge that might collapse under me at any moment?” She shook her head. Took a deep breath. “Let’s do it.”

“Let’s do it?” A vision flashed into my head, the governor when she was a kid. She looked like . . . Rachel?

And a good line about Tobias’s driving:

<Just keep your eyes on the road,> I said. <And I don’t ever want to hear another word of criticism about my driving.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 18

We’ll give this one to the Animorphs. Getting a high-ranking official to believe them and mobilize human troops against the Yeerks is huge. And as it seems like the secrecy game was going to be shot anyways by Visser One’s insistence on speeding up efforts, the fact that the Animorphs have been able to keep up as well as they have is pretty big.

Rating: This was an unfortunate book all around, I think. I mean, on its own, it’s fine. But given how late we are in the series, it felt pretty wasted. We get tons of action scenes, but at this point, those are fairly low on my priority list, especially when they just feel like generic chase scenes and take up about 80% of the book. Maybe these were more fun to read when I was a kid, but as I’ve re-read this series, these types of escapades are always the parts that I found myself skimming. So to come up on one of the last books and have it so devoted to only that…*sigh* And, again, big changes are happening, this time with the reveal of the war to the general public. But there is very little emotional build up and absolutely zero follow-up action as the book immediately ends after the TV announcement from the governor. Like several of the last books, I feel like they’re all ending right before we get to the good stuff of the Animorphs having to actually unpack these huge changes in a war that has largely stayed the same as they’ve fought it for the last several years. You can’t help but feel that either the author(s) just didn’t care about this part of the story, figuring kids will be distracted by tons of action scenes. Or that the ghost writers weren’t challenged with taking on bigger character moments like these. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself more often mourning the things that are left off the page than appreciating what’s actually there. Well, one more book before we’re there! We’ll see how Ax fairs in all of this.

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

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!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #49: “The Diversion”

125339Animorphs #49: “The Diversion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are finally starting to realize that the “Andalite bandits” are probably not aliens at all. They’re finally starting to realize that maybe they’ve been dealing with humans all along. And no one–especially the newly appointed Visser One–is happy with this knowledge. Not happy at all.

When Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax realize that the Yeerks are about to find them, it’s by accident. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less serious. Because in war, one side wins. And one side loses…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: The last Tobias book! Sadness! And, per the usual for his books, there’s a healthy dose of tragedy here as well. Though, in a shocking turn of events, by the end, a good thing has actually happened to him!

Tobias is experience his typical woes: the challenges of the hawk life with regards to getting food. While things aren’t as desperate as they have been in the past, he’s still happy to see Rachel show up with McDonalds. He eats part of it as a hawk, the only way the calories will sustain him, but morphs human to enjoy the rest as a boy who can appreciate taste. After that, they head off to Cassie’s barn for a group meeting.

There, Cassie informs them that her parents came back with odd news from The Gardens, that people had been there requesting blood samples from very specific animals, like wolves, grizzly bears, tigers, gorillas, etc. They were particularly upset when they discovered the zoo didn’t have a red tailed hawk in residence. The Animorphs are quick to put this together: the Yeerks are on to the fact that the “Andalite bandits” might be more than they seem and are collecting blood samples to try and match any humans with morphing abilities. They all try to recollect if they’ve had blood drawn recently, and Rachel is the only one with a concern that back when they all had the Andalite flu, her mom took her to the hospital and they may have drawn blood then.

They agree that the chance is too great, and Marco and Ax are set with the task of locating the blood bank where all of the samples are being stored and tested. By the next day they’ve already discovered the facility and the Animorphs are quick to take off to investigate. Once there, they come up across the typical problem now of Biofilters at all of the entrances. They decide to use their Hork Bajir morphs and tie blue armbands around their arms to pose as the elite Hork Bajir fighters they’ve recently come up across. Using this “authority,” they are able to weasel their way into the facility and get to the computer system. Ax demorphs and investigates and finds that the Yeerks already have a partial match and it’s Tobias’s lost mother who, it turns out, has been living only a few blocks away from the neglectful uncle whom Tobias stayed with when he was a boy.

Controllers break into the room, including a Granny-like Controller who seems to be in charge. She sees the flashing light on the computer and realizes that the system had found a match. A fight breaks out and the Animorphs flee the facility, but Marco is critically injured in the fight, forcing him to demorph and confirm the fact that there are humans with morphing abilities.

They manage to get away but know that now that Marco has been spotted, the game is up for them all, the Controllers will quickly put together who the other members could be. At the barn, the reality really begins to set in with what it will mean to tell their families and hide them away with the free Hork Bajir. Jake tells them all to take the night to think about it and they’ll begin the next day.

In the mean time, Tobias goes to scout out his mother. He discovers that she is blind and scarred, but she’s also kind to her guide dog and doesn’t show any outward signs of being a Controller. Having been fooled by a tactic like this in the past, Tobias is still wary. He’s also hurt and confused by why she would give him up only to live so close by.

They start with Cassie’s family whom Cassie says are scientist and will respect the truth. Tobias flies in and begins thought-speaking to Cassie’s mother while Cassie begins telling her what is going on. When Ax appears, Cassie’s mom tries to hide Cassie behind her in case Ax is dangerous. Cassie’s dad arrives and they explain to him too. The Chee agree to watch over the remaining animals at the barn clinic, and Cassie and her family pack up and head out.

Rachel’s family is next. Rachel morphs grizzly and speaks to her mom, who naturally freaks out. Ax walks in with one of Rachel’s little sisters on his back. Rachel’s mom grabs a spice rack and lunges at grizzly!Rachel. Like with Cassie’s mom, Tobias is struck with the bravery of mothers protecting their children. Rachel wrangles her family out, and the remaining Animorphs take off for Jake’s house.

They arrive to discover that Tom went with Jake’s parents to do chores. As the time ticks by, Marco and Tobias become increasingly concerned and Jake finally begins to admit that it is strange for Tom, a high ranking Yeerk, to go on a random chore run that morning. When they spot Jake’s family returning, but they are followed by two black SUVs. Through the window, Tobias can see Jake’s mom’s face twisted with anger and in her hand, a Dracon beam. They retreat.

Later, Tobias takes off to spy on Loren once again and sees that she is under Yeerk surveillance. While he’s there, Marco and Ax show up saying that the guide dog is Tobias’s way in. They follow Loren into a grocery store and, while posing as “rowdy youth”, they steal Loren’s guide dog and have Tobias acquire it. Tobais then returns in in place of the dog and makes his way back to Loren’s house with her. After she goes to sleep, Tobias searches the house but finds no evidence that Loren is a Controller. He does find a letter from an insurance company that mentions the fact that Loren lost her memories in the accident that scarred and blinded her.

The next morning, in his human form, Tobias confronts his mother. He learns that she knew she had a son, but had no memory of him. Worse, her memory was so badly damanged that she had had to re-learn how to do basic functions like brush her teeth. This all being the case, she had chosen to give him up as a baby to relatives, hoping that he would have a better life that way. As Tobias begins to explain the danger that she is in, it becomes clear that Loren has very vague memories of aliens, specifically Elfangor. Using these glimpses of shared knowledge, Tobias convinces her to stay in her house for three days and then meet him in a nearby park.

After the days have past and Loren hasn’t left the house, proving that she isn’t a Controller, they put the plan in action. When Loren gets to the park, she enters a tunnel and the Animorphs are able to switch out her dog for dog!Tobias once again without alerting the Controllers who are following her. Back in her house, with very little time as the Yeerks close in, Tobias has her keep her hand on his face while he demorphs. He then has her use the blue box to get morphing abilities, acquire his hawk form, and begin to morph herself. She manages to complete the morph right when things get crazy. The other Animorphs arrives as back up, but granny!Controller his back and in a helicopter.

Tobias and hawk!Loren take the sky and give the helicopter quite a chase. Tobias lures the helicopter away with his mad flying skills, but is almost hit by a Dracon beam shot, only saved by Loren flinging herself in front of him and taking a hard hit herself. The helicopter goes down and Loren demorphs to heal her injuries. Her blindness also heals in the process.

Back in the valley, all of the families are beginning to settle in. The Hork Bajir love Cassie’s parents and Rachel’s lawyer mother is helping them draft their own Constitution. Tobias is getting to know his mother, and while he’s sad that she still has no memory of him, he is comforted by the thought that when it came down to it, like Rachel and Cassie’s mothers, his own mother had tried to save her son as well.

A Hawk’s Life:  Most of Tobias’s books have to do with his struggle for identity between his life as a boy and his life as a hawk. But there is only brief point in the beginning where he again confronts the challenges of eating as a hawk, amusingly noting that Marco would have no problem living in his girlfriend’s room being hand fed, Tobias can’t let himself do that, even though Rachel has offered. Other than that, his main theme of reflection is on parenthood, specifically the relationship between mother and child.

Up to this book, there has been very little mention of Loren and really, until it shows up as a plot point, I realize I didn’t really notice how strange it was that it got so little attention, especially after Tobias learns about his real father. You’d think once that information had gotten out, Tobias would at the very least have been more curious about his mother’s whereabouts, even if he is still hurt and angry about being abandoned as a child. Regardless of that, his reflections throughout this book are very good, highlighting both his sense of abandonment, his distrust about new-found family, and his sense of hope even in the face of so much disappointment.

Loren, for her part, is great to see again, even if she doesn’t remember any of her adventures from “The Andalite Chronicles.” Her accident (did the Ellimist cause this??) and the resulting amnesia is a decent enough excuse for her abandonment of her child, if a bit soap-opera-like, a fact that Tobias himself points out in a good bit of self-awareness on the author’s part. But even without her memories, we can still see the essence of her original characterization. She is brave, throwing herself into danger to protect others. She is quick to accept the bizarre and adapt to insane circumstances with amazing agility. And she’s just generally a decent person.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a rough go of it in this book. He questions his choices with regards to timing with both the first and second mission, feeling that he went in too quickly with the blood bank and waited too long to retrieve their families. The loss of his parents, on top of still not being able to rescue Tom (his primary goal for being in this fight from book one) has to be a crushing blow. And as I discuss later, Jake’s perhaps more in need of family support and getting this win than the others. At the end of the book, Tobias reflects on the fact that he and Jake have essentially switched positions since the beginning of this entire affair: Jake has now lost his family and Tobias has gained one of his own.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Rachel serves as a diversion at several points in this story, using her elephant morph to good effect (I always like when she breaks out this OG morph). Her choice to break the news to her mother by walking into the kitchen as a grizzly bear…not so sure about this. I get her concern that her mom being a lawyer means that a different approach is needed than with Cassie’s parents. But I have a hard time thinking of any personality type that is more receptive to news like this while staring down a grizzly in their house. And then her mom pretty much gets wrestled into the car and drove off before she gets a chance to really process things. Does make me wish we could have seen the scene when they all arrive at the Hork Bajir valley.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie really doesn’t have a lot in this book, but her interactions with her parents really does highlight the great relationship she has with them. I think we really spend the most time with Cassie’s parents throughout the series, with Jake’s family coming in second. Whenever the books dealt with Jake’s family, Tom rightly came to the forefront. But Cassie’s parents have shown up not only in her books but in others, due to the meeting location so often being the barn. It’s also no surprise that they would settle in well at the Hork Bajir valley and quickly become favorites of the local residents.

The Comic Relief: Marco helps Ax with tracking down the blood bank and assists in the various family rescue missions. As his family has already been taken care of, he doesn’t have too much in this book. While it’s both him and Ax that show up when Tobias returns to spy on his mother some more, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Marco was the one to figure out what was going on. Not only is he clever like that, but he has a good amount of experience under his belt with absent mothers and what the sudden return of one can do to a person’s mindset.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Other than helping Marco with the blood bank search, Ax mostly serves as the final nail in the coffin of the other family members’ innocence about the state of the world. While both groups are exposed to morphing and thought speak, it’s Ax’s arrival that seems to really cement things in their minds.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Hands down this goes to Tobias’s introduction of the morphing technology to his mother which he does by giving her no warning or explanation of what’s going to happen, only instructing her to put her hand on his face as he morphs. We know how disgusting this process can be, and one can only imagine how horrifying it would be to only feel with your hands, having no idea what to even expect. To be fair, Tobias didn’t have the time to really spell out what was going to happen at this point in things. Lucky for him that Loren has the brave, accepting of the strange, temperament that I mentioned earlier.

Couples Watch!: My lasting regret will always be the fact that for some strange reason, other than a few exceptions, we only really get good insights into Rachel and Tobias’s relationship in his books, and he has fewer books overall than she does in the first place. His books and the scenes therein are excellent, don’t get me wrong. But I also feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities in Rachel books to deal with how she feels about dating a bird and, more importantly, a boy who is choosing to remain a bird. But no, instead we had to hear about “King Rachel” and how she was “like, the most powerful ever!” This book has a nice scene in the beginning with Rachel showing up with food for them both, and it’s just the sort of casual, every day scene that works really well as a glimpse into what the Animorphs’ lives are like when they’re not out on missions. This being the last Rachel or Tobias book though before the end though…oof. Hurry, distract oneself!

“You know, Tobias,” she said, “we have very weird dates.”

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One isn’t in this book. Instead, we have the rather comical granny!Controller to contend with. It’s definitely the kind of choice that is made for the bizarre mental images of a granny tearing around on a helicopter shooting laser beams. But funny

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Tobias’s musings on motherhood and what a unique relationship it is is quite touching throughout this book. He reflects on how incredible it is that Cassie’s mom throws herself in front of a “mutated deer”/Ax to save Cassie and that Rachel’s mom lunges at a fully grown grizzly with a spice rack in an attempt to protect her daughters. Tobias’s loss of family has always been tragic, even more so since we discovered his origin story in ‘The Andalite Chronicles.” But this one really hits home on this fact with the sad state that is his relationship with his mother. She has no memory of him, has been living only blocks away, and even now, safe in the Hork Bajir valley, there’s no regaining that time. But it also ends on an incredibly hopeful note with Loren’s own instinctual moment of putting herself in harms way to protect Tobias and how meaningful this is for Tobias who has never had a family member who cared about him, let alone was willing to risk their own life for his.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Jake beats himself up quite a bit about the plans in this book. Most notably the speed at which they went in on the blood bank, perhaps not scouting it out well enough, and then the slow response to getting their families out, giving it a night for them all to think about it before moving into action. But really, I don’t think either of those decisions were bad in the moment. They both seem pretty standard for the way Jake has approached decision making in the past, and it’s only hindsight that makes him feel otherwise.

I will say that perhaps Jake’s family should have come first in the order of rescue. Tom being a known Controller makes his family that much more of a quick target and a higher risk all around. At the very least, they should have come second after Cassie’s family (who went first only because they were at the barn already when they all made the final decision.)

Favorite Quote: Two rather longish ones, but there were some pretty funny sequences in this book, stuck in-between the soul-crushing sadness of the entire situation, of course.

“But unless you count the Victoria’s Secret Web page, there are no babes in my life anymore,” Marco said.

<There were no babes in your old life,> I said.

“Oh. Very nice, Tobias. Go for the jugular. You’ve got Rachel tending to your every need. Me, I’ve got Ax-man.” He jerked his thumb toward Ax, who was gazing lovingly at a magazine ad for the new original M&M’s. “I’ll trade you right now, straight across.”

And the entire scene as performed by Ax when trying to get the dog from Loren was pretty good.

“Ah.” Ax nodded. “She does not understand how menacing we are.”

He tapped her on the shoulder. “You do not know me,” he said, “but I am a juvenile delinquent. I do not trust authority figures, I probably will not graduate from high school, and statistics say my present rowdiness and vandalism will likely lead to more serious crimes. I am a dangerous fellow, and I am causing mayhem in this store.”

He reached behind her and pulled three jars of baby food from the top shelf. Shoved them behind a box of macaroni. Shuffled the Cheez Whiz in front of the Marshmallow Fluff. Tossed a bag of lady’s shavers onto a bag of hamburger buns. “There. I have now shamelessly destroyed the symmetry of this shelf, undoing hours of labor by underpaid store employees. If you could see me, you would be frightened.”

“If she could see you, she’d have you committed,” Marco muttered

Scorecard: Yeerks 14, Animorphs 16

While the Animorphs did manage to save most of their families, the loss of Jake’s parents is a pretty big blow. All of them are important members of the team, but you have to think that having the leader who is facing some huge decisions is going to suffer more in going into the endgame with a messed up mindset over the failure to not only save Tom but lose his parents as well. Outside of that, the loss of their human identities is a big hit. Not only do now none of them have the normalcy of their regular lives to help balance out and provide a distraction from the war effort, but a lot of their safety came from the fact that the Yeerks weren’t on the lookout for humans.

Rating: I really liked this book. It’s awesome to see Loren again, but man, that entire family has to win the tragedy card. You have Elfangor, tricked away from his pregnant wife and then dying after meeting his son for five minutes. Tobias who grows up neglected, is bullied, and pretty much chooses to trap himself as a bird, since that’s the better option and then ends up in this terrible war. And now Loren, already having her mind tampered with by the Ellimist, gets in a crash, loses her sight and her memories of her infant son, forcing her to give him up for adoption, and even when they’re re-united, her memories can never be regained.

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but in hindsight, I think the Tobias books are the best overall when you look at one single character’s contributions and quality. His always delved into important topics, not only for him as a character, but in the grander scheme of things (suicide, torture, PTSD, loss of family and found families, etc.) He’s also an excellent narrator and I’ve always appreciated the appropriate balance of action, humor, and even romance that is often found in his books.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #48: “The Return”

363356Animorphs #48: “The Return”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the “sixth Animorph,” is back. When the Animorphs and Ax decided to give another human being the power to morph, it was one of their biggest mistakes. David tried to destroy all of them–and almost succeeded. Rachel and the others thought they’d seen the last of him.

They were wrong.

Rachel knows what a threat David is. He’s cunning and dangerous. Worst of all, he knows their secrets. Now he’s captured Rachel as part of his plan to take over everything. David wants power. Money. But more than anything, he wants revenge.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, for 90% of this book I was banging my head against a wall at the sheer waste of the very last Rachel book we’re going to get. There’s a strong argument to be made that, other than Jake, Rachel has the most interesting over-arching story line throughout the series. And then, in the last book before we lose her for good, we get this. Dream sequences within dream sequences. A return to the crazy Rachel who wants to fight Jake for leadership. A bizarre Crayak appearance that comes with the worst “morph” (and cover art) ever. And then, at the very end, some truly good stuff about Rachel’s role on the team and how the others view (and use) her. But we’ll save that for just a few throwaway pages at the very end, just to really rub it in your face that there was in fact good stuff to be had here. But we had to get those dream sequences in, you know?! Priorities.

It was trash. Then it was even worse trash. Then it…made some super strong points?? Then it ended on a cliffhanger…

Rachel and the other Animorphs are on a school field trip to the White House when the Yeerks attack, leading with a shot that takes out Tobias. Enraged and assuming that the Yeerks are now going on the open offensive, so they might as well too, Rachel and the others go into their battle morphs. Grizzly!Rachel begins taking out Hork Bajir, but takes a lot of hits while she’s at it. Gorilla!Marco pulls her back and tiger!Jake orders her to stand down; that she’s taken too much damage and is out of control. This enrages Rachel and she decides that she’s done taking orders from Jake and it’s time for them to fight it out for leadership of the group. They fight, but Rachel continues to take too much damage, slowly bleeding out in front of the White House, only to wake up, drenched in sweat in her bed.

Later, Rachel is visiting Ax and Marco in Ax’s scoop in the woods after failing to find Cassie in her barn. Rachel is concerned about the repeated nightmares she’s been having of fighting Jake, one-on-one. On the Internet, the discover a first hand account of the attack on the battle carrier. Rachel expresses her excitement that the war will finally be out in the open. Marco and Ax are both concerned about this level of enthusiasm from Rachel, and she begins to feel ashamed herself. Marco goes on to explain that if the war does come out into the open, the Animorphs are finished.

Eagle!Rachel flies back towards home with Tobias. On the way, they get into another discussion about Rachel’s enthusiasm about the war, with Tobias pointing out that she was beginning to disturb everyone with her attitude. Rachel once again starts down the “Jake is threatened by me” mentality that we are all so familiar with and loved back in the “Rachel is the leader” book.  As she ponders this, she almost hits an electrical wire before, again, waking from her dream.

Awake, Rachel is disturbed by her dreams and reflects on the David incident, one of the most extreme examples of her past ruthlessness, but also an example of when the hard thing had to be done and the fact that while the plan ad been Cassie’s, Rachel was the one who had to actually follow through with it.

At school, she sees Jake in the halls and feels that his nod of greeting is more cold than usual. She worries that she is still in another dream, feeling disturbed and as if something is wrong with the world. In class, she begins to see red flashes and thinks she hears rats in the wall, crying out for help. She skips the rest of school and sends a note to Cassie to meet her at Cassie’s barn. When she arrives, she sees Cassie run out, pursued by a mass of rats that being attacking her as she tries to morph. The rats come after Rachel too and she tries to escape them by jumping in a pond. But once there, she is grabbed by something beneath and almost drowns.

She wakes up in some type of dungeon/sewer location, trapped within a hard, plastic cube. Two thugs show up and one pulls out rat!David. David tells her of the horrors of living on the rock island, but explains that, because he’s so smart, he was able to recruit a few of the “smarter” rats as lieutenants and then sneak off the island on a boat brought in by a group of naturalists. Once on the mainland, he was able to recruit another 200 or so rats to his “cause” and, being able to get into small places, like banks, gather the funds to pay off thugs like the two in the sewer with them.

The two get into a conversation where David tries to manipulate Rachel into taking all of the blame for what happened to him and gas-lighting her into thinking he was an innocent victim. For his revenge, he wants to force Rachel to morph rat and become stuck, like him. The red light returns and reveals another corner of the room where Cassie is being held prisoner in  similar cube. David says he’ll let her suffocate in the cube if Rachel doesn’t morph. To buy time, Rachel does as he asks, hoping to still find an out. As she tries to think of a way out of the situation, David continues to prod at her about her role on the team. He also reveals that he has a solution to the Yeerk problem: wipe out the humans on Earth with a plague, then the Yeerks have no reason to be here anymore. As David talks, his voice starts to sound strange. He continues to manipulate her, almost hypnotizing her into agreeing that without Jake, Rachel could be in charge and wouldn’t that just be better?

The red glow returns and reveals itself to be an eye. Rachel snaps out of it and realizes that David can’t have an army of rats, they aren’t smart enough for that. And thus nothing that has happened can be real, like her and Cassie being attacked by rats. In the cube, “Cassie” turns into the Drode, and Rachel realizes that the red haze/eye is Crayak. She also realizes that Crayak’s hatred of Jake has been behind her strange dreams, setting Rachel up to hurt him. David, it turns out, is also only working for Crayak.

Crayak tells Rachel that she needs to free herself from herself and magically pops her out of her cage and into a giant, warrior version of herself with claws for fingernails. She is able to transform to and from this form at will, and begins to revel in the power it offers. She tries to attack the Drode, but everything is an illusion. Crayak transforms her back into a rat, now trapped in her cube with David. She gets in a fight with David, but he has more experience as a rat. Just when she is beginning to lose, Crayak pops her back out and into human form. She transforms back into Super-Rachel. He tempts her with thoughts of the power she could have in this form, able to take out the Yeerk force all on her own. Then pops her back into the cage with David, a rat again. The contrast starts to drive Rachel crazy.

Back in Super-Rachel form, Crayak lays out what he wants: she can retain this form and power if she kills Jake. Rachel refuses, telling herself that she is one of the good guys. To push Rachel further, Crayak somehow snaps Visser One/Three into the room. Crayak tells Visser One that he is now involved in a fight to the death with Rachel. If Visser One wins, he gets Earth; if he loses, he and the Yeerks must retreat.

They fight. Rachel is able to instantly morph to any of her forms, including Super-Rachel. When Visser One morphs some type of sentient goo that Rachel can’t fight, she discovers that she can create morphs, essentially, turning into a killer plant of her own imagination. Even after Visser One beheads her, Rachel is able to quickly reform herself. Rachel prepares to kill Visser One. But as Crayak urges her onward, she begins to reflect on Super-Rachel and how the world and the other Animorphs would see her: not as a someone to be honored and respected, but someone to be feared and hated. She releases Visser One, repeating that she is one of the good guys.

Back in the cube, back as a rat, Rachel begins to despair, not sure what is real and what is not. Crayak and the Drode disappear, leaving rat!Rachel with minutes before she is trapped as a rat and with Cassie, back trapped in her airless cube. She remembers the two thugs, and quickly calls out to them, highlighting the crappy situation of working for a talking rat like David. She promises that if they let her out, she will find the money David had promised them and they’ll be free of him. They let her out and she morphs grizzly and scares them off while David scampers away. As they run off, Rachel realizes that eventually they’ll talk and a Controller will realize that there’s a rat out there who knows all about the “Andalite bandits.”  She releases Cassie and tells her to go on ahead, that she still has something to do, to return David to the island. Cassie tries to stop her, and Rachel gets angry, saying that Cassie knows what needs to be done, and can she do it herself? When Cassie hesitates and says she doesn’t know, the matter is settled.

She catches up with David, who is sitting staring at the sun; he doesn’t run when she approaches. He tells her he’d rather die than go back to the island. When she tells him that she can’t kill him, that she’s one of the good guys, he replies that she should do the “good thing” and put him out of his misery. Horrified, Rachel tries to tell him to just run away and promise never to tell anyone about them. David laughs a manic laugh and calls her a fool. Despite herself, she feels sorry for him and sorry for herself that they are in this situation. Rachel sets him down and cries, half hoping that he’ll just run away and spare her the decision. But he doesn’t. He repeats that if she is one of the good guys, she’ll do the right thing and kill him. But Rachel doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, so she sits there, a teenage girl in an alley staring at a white rat.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  As far as Rachel’s character goes, I feel like we only really get into it towards the last third of this book. There’s a horrible return to the power-hungry Rachel who has some type of grudge against Jake for the first half to two-thirds and I don’t really want to even bother going into my feelings on that yet again (instead I’ll do it in the Jake section next!)

Instead, I wish the story had focused on the David stuff the entire time as there is plenty of character stuff to mine there. Not only do Rachel’s actions in the David trilogy play a big role in her relationship with Jake, but we also see how Rachel’s view of Cassie has been affected by that group of books as well.

I really liked effect had by the repeated mantra of “I’m one of the good guys” and then the heart-braking pay off for that phrase in the end when David asks her to kill him, saying that that would be the “good” thing to do. Crayak mentions that good and evil are only simple to the small-minded (deep burn to Cassie!) and it’s another great payoff that we see that thought in action with Rachel’s decisions at the end of this book. What is the good ting to do?

I also really liked her reflections on her role in the team, once she settles upon the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

I  looked  at  Cassie’s  face.  It  was  a  sweet  face.  It  was  wise,  too.  But  still…I  don’t know…oddly innocent somehow.

I’d been protecting her. Them. Jake.  Cassie.  Tobias.  Even  Marco  and  Ax.  Helping  to  protect  their  innocence. Letting them see themselves as the good guys. It was a symbiotic relationship. Or co-dependent, whatever. They needed me to be the bad guy.

And I needed them to be the good guys. See, if they were good guys, and I was on their team, then that automatically made me a good guy, too. Even if I was different.

For all of the book’s flaws, I’m really glad that this part came out of this story. It’s essentially the conclusion and thesis to Rachel as a character throughout the entire series. It’s just excellent all around. If only it had come in a book that didn’t have a god awful cover of Rachel morphing some mutated version of herself. *sigh*

Our Fearless Leader: It’s unfortunate to see a return to the “Rachel is jealous of Jake’s leadership role” take again in  a Rachel book. While the later explanation by Crayak that his goal in recruiting Rachel is to take out Jake, it still seems to play off the idea that Rachel, on her own, still covets the leadership role and harbors some type of violent inclinations towards Jake. It was hard to swallow this the first time and having it reappear doesn’t really improve things. Since that book, again, we’ve seen no evidence that Rachel covets the leadership role, that the other Animorphs would ever accept her as the next in line for leadership, or that any of this type of tension lies at the heart of Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Given where the book ends up in the last third, with Rachel’s realization/acceptance of the role she plays in the team, especially when connected to David, there were a lot more interesting routes that could have been taken with her relationship with Jake given his and Rachel’s interactions back during the David trilogy. And when you know where the series is headed with Jake’s use of Rachel…I just feel like there were a lot better options to explore there than some weird jealously/leadership angle that has never made sense.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias isn’t even in this book in reality, only in a dream sequence.

Peace, Love, and Animals:  You have to wonder whether Rachel and Cassie talk more about this after the fact. And, as I’ll get to in the “crazy plans” section, like David, I’m not sure why real Cassie had to be involved in any of this either. But it’s good that she was, because, again, the end of the book had some good stuff between her and Rachel as Rachel is understand truly where she stands. Rachel thinks repeatedly about the fact that Cassie was the one who came up with the plan to trap David (ironic, since earlier in this book, David mentions that he would have picked Cassie as a companion because she was nice to him, but he didn’t want to torture her with being a rat, so he chose Rachel. If only he had know who the ultimate mastermind of his fate had been!) but how Rachel was the one who had to suffer actually executing it. There’s also this great interaction at the very end when Rachel is having to go after David once again to return him to the island:

“I don’t think you can do it a second time,” Cassie said quietly.

I felt all the old anger bubbling up. Why was she arguing? She knew what had to be done. Why was she pretending not to understand what had to be done? So  she  could  sleep  at  night?  So  she  could  say  “I  tried  to  stop  her,  so  it’s  not  my fault?” so she could say “I didn’t know.”

I looked her in the eye. <I’m not sure I can, either. So will you do it?>

Cassie’s face creased. Her mouth opened and closed. Her eyes flickered.“I don’t know,” she whispered finally.

<I didn’t think so.>

It really highlights how even Rachel’s best friend is willing to let Rachel suffer the brunt of these kinds of things. And Rachel’s right, it’s worse because Cassie and the others often do things like this, use Rachel to do the dirty work and then judge her for it. The symbiotic relationship Rachel references feels a bit uneven at that point. It’s one thing for Rachel to do the dirty work to be one of the good guys, and the others to let her, so that she’s the bad guy. But then taking the extra time/breath to judge her for it, that’s tipping the balance towards the others being in the wrong ultimately. Rachel’s essentially paying a double price at that point.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, isn’t in this, other than the dream sequence. Though his contributions in the dream conversation hold pretty true to the Marco we know. He’s also the example Rachel uses in her discussion with Tobias about why one bad behavior in the group (Marco’s whining) is tolerated but her gung-ho-ness is not. I’m not sure about this comparison, but, again, it’s a dream sequence so probably not worth over-analyzing it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is only in this in the dream sequence, and even there he doesn’t contribute much.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the most horrifying part of this book is the cover. Full stop. Super!Rachel is such a stupid idea. She ends up having unlimited morphing abilities as it is in the fight with Visser One, able to morph instantly and create imaginary morphs. There’s no reason to have some steroid version of herself included too. It’s just stupid and a truly unfortunate choice to include as the cover. If readers weren’t already jumping ship off this series at this point, I’m pretty sure showing up at the bookstore and seeing this cover might have been the death knell for a good number of people.

Couples Watch!: Man, I can’t emphasize enough just how disappointing this book is on this front, considering it’s the last Rachel book we have in the series. The past few Rachel books have been disappointing in this arena for the most part too, and it’s really unfortunate as it felt like at one point about halfway through the series this relationship was going somewhere interesting with the whole “Rachel is frustrated with Tobias’s choice to remain a hawk” thing. But then that whole plot point was just dropped all together pretty much. And the only interactions we get in this book are during a dream sequence that Crayak creates and in which Tobias is again mostly a jerk towards Rachel. What made them an interesting pair was their ability to understand the choices the other made, choices that were often hard for the main group to understand. Rachel can appreciate Tobias’s commitment to the war, and Tobias has his own ruthless streak to match Rachel’s (again, remember that he is ultimately the decider behind the destruction of an entire alien race back in Megamorphs #2). So yeah, it’s a bummer that we’re left out in the cold here. There’s some good David stuff in this book, but I can’t help but be disappointed that in Rachel’s last book we get more on her relationship with psycho David than with Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There are essentially three villains in this book: Visser One, Crayak, and David. Visser One only shows up for the brief battle royale and you have to imagine how confusing this whole thing is to him. He tries to get arrogant/snippy with Crayak initially but quickly seems to realize he’s outmatched. And then he lucks out that Rachel has a crisis of conscience at the very end or he would have been a goner.

As for Crayak, he’s again kind of just a nebulous, Sauron-like bad guy with a fixation on Jake. Frankly, other than the “Ellimist” book, the Drode has been the more interesting villain from this group and I think the story might have read better with him and his snark taking point, rather than the pretty cheesy “master villain” vibe that Crayak had going for him.

David is by far the most interesting villain in this story. I’ll get into why it’s weird that he’s here at all a bit later, but regardless of whether it makes sense, I’m glad they included him since the best parts of the book were at the end when Rachel was having to deal with him. He’s pretty interesting throughout this story. We see the full scope of crazy!David, from his extreme egomania, to his the cowardice at the heart of him, to his deranged sense of being wronged and the extremes that he will go to to fight back, to the part that is still a human boy who is living through hell. I’m not convinced that David ever had to come back, but since he did, I would have rather had the entire book deal with him and the fallout from the events back in the David trilogy. Crayak and Visser One just seem kind of ridiculous in comparison to some of the pretty heavy stuff that comes to play with the David sections of the story.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The end of the book definitely got to me. Not only does Rachel begin to feel bad for David, but the reader does too. There are just some really powerful lines and images dropped in there. Like when Rachel first comes across David again after chasing him down and she describes him as standing up on this back legs, facing the sun and delicately waving his paws around to appreciate his freedom and the world. And his pleas that Rachel kill him, that ultimately that is what a “good” person would do, all things considered. And the line, of a girl crying in an alley, staring at a white rat. It really hits home how terrible this situation is and that, regardless of all of this, Rachel is still a teenage girl faced with terrible choices. And choices that her friends have left her to make on her own.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Crayak’s plan to try and turn Rachel on Jake seems overly complex. I’m not sure why David had to be involved at all really? The threat to trap her as a rat with references to her past ruthlessness with David would probably have been just as effective without him. Or, as we see throughout this book, Crayak is perfectly able to create illusions, so the real David was never necessary to the actual plan. And then why David had to have a plan of his own with two actual human thugs to carry it out? What benefit did this have for Crayak other than introducing points of failure to his plan which then…did fail because of them! If those thugs hadn’t been there, and David hadn’t been there, Rachel and Cassie would be done for. I guess maybe this would have been against the “rules” in Crayak and the Ellimist’s game. But the rules are pretty hard to really understand as it is, so I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason for the overly complex nature of this all.

Favorite Quote:

This is a long quote, but it sums up a lot of good stuff from this book and Rachel’s realizations about where she fits in the team. The biggest frustration for me, the reader, a Rachel fan, is the fact that Rachel has realized things like this a few times, but the other members of the group never seem to realize the same thing: that they need Rachel to do these things and that they are foisting a burden on her and the least they could do is keep quiet instead of shaming her further.

I looked into Cassie’s eyes. Did she want to know? Did she really want to know? No. she didn’t. That’s why I’d been so angry. Not just at Jake. At all of them. Because they had kept their hands clean. They had pretended they didn’t know I’d done something extreme like threaten to kill David. And his parents.And when David had confronted them with the truth, they’d made their disapproval known.  Separated  themselves  from  me.  Made  it  clear  I  was  deranged  and  out  of control and so, so unlike them.

And  then,  Cassie had  come  up  with the  plan to  trap  David  in  morph. But  only  I’d had the nerve to endure the two gut-wrenching hours of David’s misery.Why  hadn’t  I  fought  back?  Defended  myself  against  accusations,  insinuations  of craziness? Okay, I’d confronted Jake. But had anything really changed between us since then? Did  he  generally  approve  of  my  actions?  No.  Only  of  their  results.  He  needed  my results.

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

No change! Nothing really happens in this book and there aren’t any long-standing changes to the overall war effort on either side.

Rating: So, as evidenced by the gif at the beginning and my thoughts throughout, I had a very mixed response to this book. I think the inclusion of Crayak was questionable (and his plan was idiotic), and that the dream sequences were a waste of precious page space in Rachel’s last book. But I also think that the last third of the book dealing with David and Rachel’s realizations about her role on the team and how the others have treated her is crucial character development for her before the final chapter in the series. Other than the obvious end of the series, I think this book highlights why Rachel is one of the more tragic characters in the series. Tobias obviously has the roughest go of it, but I think Rachel might even beat out Jake. Jake at least gets some of the respect that comes with being a leader and the hard choices that come with that. We see in every other Animorphs book how much the others respect and recognize the burden Jake takes on in this role. Rachel, on the other hand, plays an equally important role, and the others use her for it knowingly, but she also gets only derision and shame for doing these hard things.

I also have mixed feelings on the end. I’m not sure if I like or dislike the fact that it doesn’t resolve Rachel’s choice about David. In some ways, it feels like the same type of cop-out that the Animorphs themselves take: leave it up to Rachel. But here, the author just side-steps the whole terrible choice by leaving it unanswered. So yes, on one hand you have the interesting situation where each reader can decide for themselves what Rachel did (or they would do in her place). But it also seems to avoid answering the main question of the entire book and Rachel’s arc throughout the series: what is the “good” thing to do vs. the necessary? And the fact that there really isn’t an answer to that question doesn’t mean that people/characters don’t still have to ultimately decide. Rachel can’t sit in the alley forever.

I do think the last lines of the book is one of the more beautiful endings of any book in the series, however. So I’m torn on whether I’d want to lose that in exchange for some more resolution.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken shard of mirror.  And saw what anyone looking down the alleyway from the sidewalk would have seen.

A young girl sitting knees-up in the sun, staring at a white rat.

It would be hard to believe the entire fat of the planet depended on that girl.

A girl who wanted to do the right thing.

But who had no idea at all what that was…

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