The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #5 “The Predator”

125337Animorphs #5: “The Predator”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Marco never wanted to be an Animorph. He never wanted the ability to change into any animal he touches. He just wants to chill. Whatever happens, happens.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: This book is a perfect example of something that I knew I was going to eventually stoop to discussing, and that is the awful individual names of each of these books. If anyone else noticed, by this point it might have become clear that there is ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION between the supposed name of the book and anything obvious in the plot. I read somewhere that the publishers, not Applegate, chose the names for these books, but I feel like they should have known there was going to be a problem when, in what turns into a 50+ book series, they were already having a hard time matching this “The____” format with the actual plot of the books themselves by only book #5. Who is the “predator” in this?? Anyways, this is going to be an ongoing issue, but I’ll try to restrain myself to commenting on it for only the most egregious examples. On to the plot!

Ax is feeling the effects of being stranded on a strange planet far from home and wants to establish contact. So the action starts off in a very “E.T. phone home” sort of way. Turns out, shockingly, that Earth tech isn’t quite up to the loft standards of the Andalites, so the first third is essentially a caper around the mall looking for adequate substitutes at Radioshack (oh, the 90s). This adventure doesn’t go as well as one would hope due to Ax’s inability to reign in his joy at the discovery of taste buds (Andalites have no mouths, as we must remember). The end results is an inordinate amount of time spent hiding as lobsters before being taken to some poor woman’s kitchen where the nightmare of her life takes place: three lobsters turning into two human boys and a bizarre alien. So she’s definitely scarred for life.

The second third consists of their next brilliant plan: sneaking back into Chapman’s house, this time as ants. What could possibly go wrong! Lots, as it turns out. Ants are by far the worst morph they have ever chosen so far, as I will go into more later.  They do manage to get the super specific, high tech communication chip that Chapman uses to communicate with Visser Three on the Yeerk home ship, however. So on a purely practical (but not ongoing mental health) sense, they are successful.

The third part is where it all really goes wrong. The plan is to call down one of the Yeerk Bug Fighter ships and use their technology to reach across space to the Andalite home world. Turns out the Yeerks aren’t complete chumps and see through this ploy from a mile away. They show up in force and things aren’t looking good for our gang. The group, all disguised in battle morphs, are corralled onto a ship and transported into space. They’re all pretty resigned to their fate, at this point, as not only would they now need to overcome a massive force of Yeerks, but they’d also need to find a ship, learn to fly it, and survive a return journey.

But, as always, they hit a stroke of luck. Visser One, the most powerful Yeerk on the Yeerk high council is visiting to see how things are going on “Project: Take Over Earth.” Visser One is Visser Three’s superior, and they don’t get along. This internal, political feud pays off for the Animorphs in a big way as it turns out that Visser One is more interested in embarrassing Visser Three and highlighting his incompetence by having him lose a bunch of Andalite warriors off his own main ship than in actually capturing said Andalite warriors. Thus the Animorphs are provided with a clear path out and a pre-programmed ship to return them home. But…the most major revelation of it all, Visser One isn’t just any old Yeerk Controller. She is Marco’s mother, not dead at all. This obviously changes Marco’s entire outlook on the fight going forward.

The Comic Relief: Marco has been the most reluctant Animorph from the very beginning, but he also has the best reason for this. Of them all (except for Tobias), Marco’s life already kind of sucked before this whole alien war started. His mother died suddenly in a boating accident a few years ago, and his dad has spiraled completely, losing his job and their home and essentially withdrawing from life and Marco. At this point in the story, Marco is coming up on the two year anniversary of his mom’s death, and looking at the state of his dad, he decides that this is his last mission. His dad can’t survive another loss if Marco doesn’t make it, and after the close call as a dolphin in the last book… In respect for the sacrifice that Ax’s brother, Elfangor, made on their behalf, he’ll help with Ax’s project to reach home, but after that he’s out.

Marco is the most reserved of the narrator’s we’ve seen so far. Not only have we seen Marco putting on a brave/snarky front in the other books to the other characters, but as a narrator himself, he feels more withdrawn and less open with the readers, still playing it close to home with his true feelings. As his book continues, these barriers come slowly down, most dramatically when he discovers the truth about his Mom. But I found this to be an interesting and very true take on the Marco, that something that is so central and has been so well established to Marco’s character (his unwillingness to easily lower emotional walls) would still be present, even in his first person narrative.

As a narrator, Marco is, of course, a good time. He’s witty, while also probably being the most insightful into the true character of each of his friends. And really, it’s a lucky thing he has all of this going for him considering the more weighty aspects of his tale. Other than Tobias, who has definitely locked in on the award for “Most Tragic Animorph,” Marco’s life has been rough for a while and though he discovers his mom’s still alive, the fact that she is controlled by the most powerful (and thus most well protected) Yeerk in the galaxy is a small joy. Though, this does give Marco his reason to finally truly commit to the war against the Yeerks.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake and Marco’s friendship is great. We have some lighter moments that shed some insight onto how these two became friends, with Marco’s wit to balance Jake’s more serious take on life. But Jake also is the one person who truly understands Marco’s reluctance to join this battle. When Marco says he’s out,  Jake doesn’t pressure him or judge him for this decision. Jake is also the only Animorph who had met Marco’s mother before, and thus the only one to realize who Visser One truly is. At the end of the story, Marco makes it clear that this is a secret he is not willing to share right now, and Jake respects this decision as well.

Xena, Warriar Princess: We get another example of why as badass as Rachel’s elephant morph is, it’s really not the best battle morph she could have picked. Size issues are always posing a problem for her, and we’ve had one too many overly graphic scenes of her trying to frantically demorph while fleeing from the Yeerks, this time in cramped alien spaceship hallways. I know that she gets an even more awesome morph soon, and I can’t wait until then! Rachel also still clearly remembers her experiences in the Chapman house from book two and is very adamant that however the Animorphs choose to infiltrate the basement this time, there can be no chance that they will be caught and risk Melissa’s life again. It’s a nice little callback to Rachel’s story and to the fact that loyalty is such a strong motivator for her character.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias actually ends up in the action for the last bit of this story which is a nice change. In the last book he was largely absent due to the obvious fact that hawks don’t do water. But here he gets to join in all the kidnapping fun and even take a few swipes at Yeerks during their escape on the home ship.

Peace, Love, and Animals: I feel like Cassie came up with the ant plan. And right there, Cassie has failed in her one and only duty! Knowing the animal facts! Come on, Cassie, you had to know this was a terrible idea!!

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is comedy gold, guys. I have very clear memories of reading and cracking up at this  mall scene (and I’m sure others) where Ax goes nuts for Cinnabons. And it was just as hilarious now. There’s some bit where I’m pretty sure that it is established that Ax is so far gone in his love of taste that not only is he licking other people’s used plates, but even eating cigarette butts. It’s all very humorous. On a more serious note, Ax provides a lens that highlights just how far the Animorphs have already come. They’re kids, yes, but at this point they’ve seen many battles, and when compared to Ax, they’re pros. He’s much quicker to give in to Yeerk goading and has a bad tendency to want to rush to his death for the sake of “honor.” At this point, the Animorphs know that a good retreat is never in conflict with honor when the other option is a pointless death. Ax also serves as good mouthpiece for the group with the Yeerks, as he is the only true Andalite among them and adds credence to their disguise as an entire group of Andalite warriors.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The whole ant scene. All of it. You’ve got the initial existential horror when Marco and Co. completely lose themselves in the ant mind. He describes it as literally forgetting that Marco exists at all. He just wasn’t there. So that’s horrifying. And then, even worse, they get into a fight with another ant colony and start getting eaten/torn apart alive, and they only escape by demorphing out of the ground. Marco mentions finding a severed ant head still attached to his waist when he showers later. Which….just….no.

Couples Watch!: Marco comments that Jake and Cassie are sort of together…or something…He notices them giving each other sappy looks, and such. As the one Animorph (not including Ax, which…obviously) not involved in a romantic pair, it was fun reading his narrative eye-rolls at the whole thing.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I really liked the introduction of all the Yeerk politics. It adds depths to them both as villains and as a unique civilization that has its own problems outside of taking over the universe. Also, the fact that Visser One openly mocks Visser Three to his face on his massive ignorance of the planet he is charged with conquering is everything.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scenes of Marco’s dad, just sitting in a dark living room staring at the TV. And then the whole revelation at the end about his Mom. And not just the obvious, that she’s a Controller. But now Marco has to question all of his memories. When did she become a Controller? A month before she disappeared? A year? When was the last time his true mother was even part of his life?? All the cries.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, kind of the whole thing, right? But I have to say, the idea to hide as lobsters in a lobster tank from the Controllers chasing them (they spotted Ax trying to demorph in a state of panic in the mall, another example of Ax being new to this fight and cracking under pressure) seems particularly flawed. I’m not sure what the better option was, but when you find yourself having to demorph in someone’s boiling pot of water in their kitchen, you know something went very wrong somewhere along the line.

Favorite Quote:

This one cuz I love Rachel and this seems true:

“I swear that, if she could, Rachel would be wearing a suit of armor and swinging a sword. And it would be a fashionable suit of armor, and she would look great in it.” ~ Marco

This one cuz it highlights Ax’s newbie issues:

“The higher the danger, the higher the honor.” ~ Ax

And this one because it quintessential Marco:

“We’re mostly against the idea of getting killed.” ~ Marco,

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

The scorecard goes unchanged in this one. Yeerk political infighting was all that saved this from being a “Game Over” for our favorite morphing teens. But the Yeerks didn’t exactly show off their best face either. Though it does prove that sticking it to Visser Three really IS the best thing ever. Even better than potentially kidnapping the supposed Andalite warriors who are the only thing keeping the Yeerks from fully conquering Earth. So…there’s that.

Rating: Marco is great fun, though his sads are for real, folks.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read:#4 “The Message”

366784Animorphs #4: “The Message”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It all started with the dreams. But Cassie didn’t pay much attention to them. She and her friends had all been having weird dreams since they’d first learned to morph. Maybe it was just some crazy side effect.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Cassie and Tobias have been having strange dreams of the ocean. And when the Animorphs begin to see signs that the Yeerks, too, are showing interest in a specific part of the ocean, they decide they’d better check it out. They morph dolphins, and with the help of their whale friend, they discover a piece of the Andalite home ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And even more importantly, there’s an Andalite on board, but not the adult warrior who could lead their team that they’d been hoping for, but a kid, Elfangor’s little brother, Ax. Many ocean hi-jinks ensue including another desperate escape from Visser Three. This book is important because it introduces Ax for the first time, a main character who will be part of the Animorphs team going forward. I always forget how much he brings to the tone of the books and how much is missing in the first three with his absence. But he’s finally arrived! Yay!

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is our first book from Cassie’s perspective. And while Cassie isn’t one of my favorite characters in the series (in all honesty, usually her books are my least favorite), she does get one of the best books of the series. I liked this book so much that as a kid I picked it for a bookclub book (we had a family bookclub with another family and everyone got to pick a book, and I picked this one!)

As Cassie’s little section title implies, most of what we get from her in other books has to do with her pacifist take on the war and her role as the one with the animal connection. Diving into her viewpoint, we get a lot on both of these aspects of her personality. She struggles when she finds herself in a decision maker/leadership role in this book as one of only two Animorphs dreaming of Andalites; she’s clearly much more comfortable as the supporter of the group. But she does rise to the occasion which speaks well of her ability to do what needs to be done to save her friends and other creatures, even if it goes against her own nature.

Secondly, because the morph they use in this book is dolphins, we hear a lot about Cassie’s perspectives on animals. Specifically, here she is concerned that the Animorphs are not any better than the Yeerks in that a large portion of morphing has to do with taming the wild mind of the animal they become, so is it the same, especially when the animal is very intelligent, like dolphins? While I’m impressed that this short little book in this ridiculous sci fi series is tackling deeper issues like this, this same dilemma of Cassie’s is what makes her frustrating for me as a character. There seem to be large holes in her reasoning here, in that they are not taking over the minds of animals that exist independently of the Animorphs themselves. The morphed body is her own body and it does not exist on its own.

Further, we’ve been getting into each Animorph’s personal reason for fighting in each of their books. And here she finds her motivation after learning from Ax that the Yeerks not only arrive on a planet to take over the minds of the primary sentient species, but that they also terraform each planet to resemble their barren home world, destroying the natural flora and fauna. Yes, it’s horrifying what the Yeerks have planned for Earth itself, but it makes me question Cassie that her tipping point was its destruction not, say, the human race being killed and enslaved.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a nice little scene with Cassie that reminds us all why he’s such a great leader. She’s in the midst of a mini crisis about having to make decisions for the group, and we get some lovely thoughts from Jake about the way he handles this same pressure constantly. While he is not the decision maker behind this adventure, he is a leader all the same, providing the support needed for a teammate who is struggling. It’s these behind-the-scenes moments of strength and support that really show why Jake is such a natural leader.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s not up to much, though it is interesting hearing about Rachel and Cassie’s friendship from Cassie’s perspective. They’re such oddball best friends, but it is clear how they balance each other out. Rachel has the confidence to challenge Cassie and get her moving when she could get stuck over-thinking every decision. But Cassie also brings reserve and caution to Rachel’s impulsiveness.

A Hawk’s Life: While we learn that the Animorph’s believe that Cassie is having these dreams due to her morphing powers (that she is so much better at it and thus more closely connected to Andalites in general), Tobias’s connection seems to only be that he had a deeper connection with Elfangor before he died (foreshadowing!!) Poor Tobias once again gets left out of much of the action due to the obvious: hawks don’t do water.

The Comic Relief: Poor Marco has a rough time, but we’ll get to that in “Body Horror”…But the fact that he can’t swim is a big problem in a book that involves the ocean. His close calls in this book only further cement his wariness about his future involvement in Animorphs missions. He’s still worried about leaving his father alone. But he does concede that after watching Elfangor heroically die trying to distract Visser Three from them, if there is an Andalite in need, he’ll be there. 

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Yay, Ax is here! We only get a bit of him when he shows up in the final third of the book. But his introduction does bring in a bunch of recurring things that will show up in later books. First, the running gag that he calls Jake “Prince Jake” since that is how Andalites address their war leaders. Second, his wealth of information on the Yeerks and space history. And third, the fact that he creates a new morph by combining the DNA of all of the Animorphs. It’s super wacky. It’s like his morph is their group-child or something.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco gets bit in half by a shark! Marco gets bit in half by a shark! It’s as gross as it sounds. As dolphins, the group sees a whale being attacked by sharks and get into a scrap saving it that results in the horrifying image of Marco floating in the ocean with his dolphin tale only hanging on by a few threads of skin. But it does present an important concept about morphing going forward: any wounds that they get while in morph are healed when they de-morph/re-morph since it is all dependent on DNA which isn’t affected by this type of physical damage. Also, the Animorphs discover that the whales can sort of kind of speak? And the whale saves Marco here and the whole group later on.

Couples Watch!: Man, I really forgot how blatant she makes these couples right off the bat! While Cassie and Jake aren’t my favorite couple, they do have several very sweet moments together, including the scene I described earlier where Jake is boosting up Cassie’s confidence. They also have some nice “shared looks” and all of that.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There’s a scene that’s described here that we never see but I want it now! Apparently, due to his Andalite host body, Visser Three is also having these weird dreams and they’re making him grumpy. So much so that at one point he shoves a Hork-Bajir out of an airlock when he disturbs him. So essentially he’s like Darth Vadar, and you’re going to get Force strangled or shoved out airlocks at any moment if you catch him at the wrong moment.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Poor Ax! The guy’s been stuck at the bottom of the ocean for a month or so now and then when people finally show up to save him he learns that his brother is dead. Stuck on a lonely planet as the only one of his kind, forced into a war he’s not prepared for with a bunch of kids who he doesn’t know and are a different species. Sad times.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It turns out that the Andalite ship is wrecked out in the ocean quite a ways from the shore. So far, in fact, that one 2-hour dolphin morph won’t get them there. So they decide to first morph seagulls (this is a hilarious morph, by the way, in that they all become food obsessed while in it).

giphy2
(source)

Then they scout out a ship heading in the general direction they want to go and hop on board, de-moprhing to human and hiding out. Then when they get nearer, they jump off the side (forgetting somehow that Marco can’t swim, so he has to half morph a dolphin then get tossed over). Then swim the rest of the way as dolphins. Which…already this is a bad plan. But the biggest problem is HOW ARE THEY PLANNING ON GETTING BACK?? There’s no discussion of this and as it turns out, they end up needing to be rescued by the whale who carries them a large portion of the way back. Pure luck.

Favorite Quote:

Rachel: “First we morph into something like a seagull.”
Marco: “I hate plans that begin with the words ‘first we morph.'”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

Another win for the Animorphs! Managing to swipe Ax out from under the Yeerks’ noses counts as a major win for the team. While they didn’t hurt the Yeerks directly, they gained a friend, comrade, and a team member who knows a whole heck of a lot more about the Yeerks and space history than any of them do! Currently the Animorphs are winning the scorecard, let’s see how long this lasts!

Rating: One of my favorite books that introduces our last main character, Ax!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #3 “The Encounter”

125333Animorphs #3: “The Encounter”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: When Tobias, Jake, Rachel, Marco, and Cassie were given the ability to morph, they were also given one very important warning: Never stay in a morph for more than two hours. It seemed a small price to pay, since the kids know that humans everywhere are being forced to let slimy, spineless creatures creep into their brains. And the only way the kids can fight back is not to be human.

But Tobias stayed in his morph too long. And now he’s a hawk — with a boy’s mind — forever. Tobias knows they can’t give up. That they all made a promise. So now it’s four kids and a hawk against a force that’s determined to destroy them. Or die trying…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: In which the Animorphs discover that even Yeerks need basic resources like water and they have decided that the best way to get it is to fly massive tanker ships through the mountains and drain remote lakes using straws. So, a totally normal premises to start out with! What’s even better is that Tobias discovers this while flying along and seeing a flock of geese ram straight into an invisible wall (the ship has a cloaking device ala Klingons) and comments that while geese are terrible creatures (I agree), even they don’t deserve this terrible fate. I mean, Cassie should be on board right there! Save the geese! Save the geese! This plot takes up much of the book with the Animorphs all acquiring two new morphs wolves (fun!) and trout (not fun!) to try and sabotage the Yeerk tanker ship. But much of the story is also focused on the actual hell that is Tobias’s life now as a hawk. It’s pretty much one long existential crisis for our main character. Let’s be honest, the “Adult Ugly Crying” section below is only one of many, many options.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is another of my favorite characters and honestly this probably had much to do with the facts that A.) he pairs up with Rachel, my absolute favorite and B.) I had a middle grade crush on him from this book cover. That hair style was so in back in the 90s guys! Anyways! We had small hints in Rachel’s book about how Tobias is adapting (or not adapting) to his life as a hawk. And here we really see it. The reality of what his life is actually going to be is starting to settle in. It was particularly interesting learning about how he is dealing with the hawk’s personality. In the other books, we’ve seen the Animorphs struggle with the animal minds of their morphs, but it was easy to forget that this would be a constant thing for Tobias. He’s not just a boy in a hawk’s body. The hawk’s instincts are still right there with him every day. But these struggles aside, there were a lot of good moments that highlight how Tobias has always been the most courageous and dedicated to fight against the Yeerks of the whole group. He had a more deep connection with Elfangor in the first book (something that I think comes up again later), and while he does find renewed vigor in his reason to fight, it’s also never been up for debate for him. His struggle is more focused on this new existence that has been forced upon him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake once again highlights how he’s a great guy, but maybe not the most “with it” as far as being perceptive goes. There’s this really sad scene where we see that Jake has set up a drawer with blankets in his attic for Tobias to sleep in and leaves out canned food for him. But he doesn’t ever think about how these things might not work for a bird vs. a boy. There’s also some fun bits when Jake morphs a wolf and as the alpha of the pack gets rather distracted with..ahem..marking his territory. It left open a rather interesting (?) idea about morphing different gendered animals than their human counterparts.

Xena, Warriar Princess: In parallel to Jake, we have Rachel who is much more closely tuned in to Tobias’s struggles. She’s also paired up with him in the mini adventure in the beginning of the book which is basically her stomping across a used car lot as an elephant while Tobias rescues the live hawk that’s been caged and used as a mascot. It’s such a ridiculous image all together, and I loved everything about.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot in this. As usual, she’s the Animorphs “in” for some of their new morphs, like the wolf. And she has a fun moment later on when they’re trying to catch a fish to acquire. Jake’s all “This is great! It’ll take like 2 minutes!” And Cassie’s just side-eyeing him: “…have you ever fished before??”

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up saving the day for Tobias in this book. There’s some good comedic build up about Rachel being involved in a gymnastics show at the mall and Marco sneaking in to watch her (she’s adamantly against this plan, obviously). But what seems like a jokey side note, turns into a serious moment. Margo does sneak in, and it’s a good thing, too, since he’s able to break a glass ceiling with a baseball to save Tobias who is blindly careening towards it in the midst of a panic attack.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The fish morph. There’s a very graphic section where Tobias discusses how even Cassie, the expert morpher of the group, can’t make that look good. At one point there’s much detail about eyes sliding around to the sides of the head…

Couples Watch!: There are a couple of different ones in this book! First, we have the moment where Tobias is starting to forget himself and Rachel just happens to have a picture of him in her dresser to whip out at a moment’s notice. Then Tobias immediately seeks her out at the mall in the midst of his emotional/mental breakdown. And finally, when they’re all trapped in the ship as fish, Rachel and Tobias have a lovely little moment in the midst of the tragic reality that Rachel is surely about to die. Romantic angst everywhere!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: He doesn’t do a whole lot in this book. But he definitely seems to be catching on to the whole “any animal could be an Andalite” train of thought. A perspective that does not bring good things to the local fauna of the little mountain lake. A few deer and birds are laser beam sizzled in the writing of this book.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Yeah, so that part I referenced in the Marco section. Tobias has a moment of weakness to the hawk’s instincts and eats a mouse then freaks out about it and flies into a mall because that’s where Rachel is and all he can think of is getting to her. And, like all bird instincts would tell him, once trapped inside he makes a b-line for open air even if it’s through a glass ceiling. It’s never out right stated that Tobias might have been ok with hitting the glass and putting an end to it, but the implication is definitely there and it’s just terrible and so, so sad.  There’s also the bit towards the end when Rachel, trapped on the ship with the others, blatantly asks Tobias to take down the ship with them in it since they’d rather die than be tortured. So..yeah..this is a middle grade series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: So…their plan to disable the ship. Morph fish on land, flop around not being able to breathe while Tobias ferries them to the lake, swim up the straw to the ship, and then some how take the ship out. But…aren’t they in the ship when it gets taken out? And, as we see here, not having done any recon of the ship might present some problems. Like getting stuck in a tank that didn’t need to incorporate a teen-sized access panel when it was designed. 

Favorite Quote:

The obligatory Marco quote:

“Don’t say the word ‘cage’ around Tobias. He’ll do some guerrilla-commando-Ninja-SWAT-team-hawk-from-hell attack on the Center. And he’ll talk Rachel into stomping your house flat.” – Marco

And the more sweet quote from Rachel, the one person who serves as Tobias’s primary connection to humanity throughout this all.

“What counts is what is in your head and in your heart. A person isn’t his body. A person isn’t what’s on the outside.” – Rachel

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 1

The Animorphs get a point! Though their plan had some major flaws and they mostly got out of it due to sheer luck and bravery on Tobias’s part, they did in fact manage to disable the ship. Though, as they discuss later, it is likely that the Yeerks simply got another ship and found a different lake. But ah well, small wins!

Rating: Very good! The angst is strong in this one, but I loved every minute of it.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read:#2 “The Visitor”

324505Animorphs #2: “The Visitor”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Morphing is certainly more fun than Sega — you can soar as an eagle and walk as a cat. But being an ANIMORPH is by no means just fun and games. Rachel knew better than anyone. One of her best friends, Melissa, is acting very strange. And it looks like Melissa’s dad, who is also the school’s Assistant Principal, may be connected to evil aliens. Rachel can’t tell Melissa what the ANIMORPHS have learned, but Melissa doesn’t seem interested in talking to Rachel these days anyway. Could Melissa be one of “them?” With the help of Jake, Cassie, Tobias and Marco, Rachel plans to enter her friend’s house as a cat, intent on unlocking the secrets from within. If only Rachel could keep her mind off mice…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Fun, not-plot-related note, this was the first Animorphs book I read, because I was given it for a Christmas present by a relative who simply saw a cover with a cat and thought “Hey, Serena likes cats…” And thus, an addiction was started! 

The plot! The Animorphs aren’t quite sure what they’re supposed to be doing in this whole “battle the Yeerks” thing after their disastrous attempt at infiltrating the Yeerk pool in the last book. So, like all good decisions, they decide to simply follow around the one Controller (other than Tom) they know about: their vice principal Mr. Chapman. (This is such middle school greatness! Cuz of course a Yeerk big bad would be a school vice principal!) And they’re in is Rachel’s friend Melissa, Chapman’s daughter. This being Rachel’s story, she is the one to morph Melissa’s cat Fluffer McKitty (actual cat’s name!) and infiltrate her friend’s home. What she finds is a boatload of teen sadness and a secret basement set-up where Chapman and Visser Three discuss their evil plans to take over the world. Visser Three, however, is of the paranoid type, and after noticing the suspicious house cat lurking down there once,  is not about to take any chances a second time. Thus opening the final act of the story in which Rachel is carted off in a kitty carrier and barely escapes with her life!

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel is probably my favorite character (though Tobias and Marco give her a run for her money). In the other books, she’s portrayed as a rather simple example of the “heroically brave” one. So, it’s always interesting reading her books and getting to see beneath this front that she puts up for her friends. I had completely forgotten about her friendship with Melissa (and I’m pretty sure there’s not much more of it going forward), but it was a lovely glimpse into how seriously and deeply Rachel understands the word “friendship.” There are also plenty of examples that highlight Rachel’s tendency to charge headfirst into things and to believe that she needs to shoulder things alone. After getting spotted by Visser Three the first time she goes in as a cat, she is careful not to mention the incident to her friends, since she knows they will insist she not repeat the tactic going forward. And, given what happens…probably not the best idea, Rachel! But her bravery isn’t simply foolish headstrongness, she’s actually just that willing to make the sacrifices that are needed. Towards the end, when she thinks all is lost, she insists the others flee and that she’ll go down fighting alone. And it’s clear that this isn’t just lip service. She is truly just that willing to die for her friends.

One last note, in this book we get Rachel’s reason to continue this fight. And, no surprise given her characterizations that I discussed above, it’s because the Yeerks have hurt her friends, namely Melissa whose parents are both Controllers and have withdrawn from her completely:

Next time Marco asked why we were fighting the Yeerks, I knew I would have a whole new answer. Because they destroy the love of parents for their daughter. Because they made Melissa Chapman cry in her bed with no one to comfort her but a cat.

*sobs*

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s main event in this book is spending waaaaay too much time as a flea riding around on kitty!Rachel. Turns out that Tobias (couples watch!) doesn’t quite believe Rachel when she claims nothing happened after her first trip in the house, and so the others come up with the brilliant plan of Jake going in with her. As a flea. He’s got a few funny lines towards the end, and it’s kind of relief to realize that Jake has a sense of humor, as all too often if feels like he’s just stoic-leader-“we must be responsible!!”-Jake.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. (Obviously). But his time in this book is spent on some of the less sexy tasks. Like chasing an angry tom cat (original Fluffer’s not too keen on these random teens chasing him around the yard every night), catching shrews for Rachel to morph, then having to rescue kitty!Rachel at the very end. A feat that I’m not sure a red tailed hawk could even pull off, given the size and weight of your average tom cat.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot going on in this book. In the beginning there’s another example of the fact that she’s much better at morphing than the others. While de-morphing from birds, the others all look disgusting, while Cassie manages to save her wings for last and go for the “angel-like” look. She, along with Tobias, also notices that Rachel is acting strange after her first trip into the house.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, doesn’t do a lot in this book. Though his quippy lines are still great! He does get to drive around a few bulldozers in the final confrontation at the end, which I think is our first example of Marco’s terrible driving. I do believe it comes up again later…with some disastrous results!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I’m sure if we had gotten an actual scene of Jake morphing the flea, that would have been the hands down winner. And really, morphing  a cat seems like one of the better options. The shrew…not so much. So, not really disgusting, but shrews in general seem like a morph to avoid given the extreme panicky state of their little rodent minds. Well…there you go…”little rodent minds” is disgusting enough!

Couples Watch!: Given that this is a Rachel book, we get a lot of Rachel/Tobias action. They’re pretty adorable, and by far my favorite couple (sorry Jake/Cassie, there’s just no competing with the “one of us is a hawk!” angst/tragedy!) We get a very pointed moment where Tobias privately thought speaks Rachel to be careful when she’s infiltrating the house. Not to mention his insight into her character to realize something’s up, and the dramatic rescue at the end!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I’m pretty sure that Visser Three wants to have his own cat. He spends a good amount of time admiring Rachel’s cat morph in this book, even going so far as to say that it’s a shame that the cat species is too small to be a good Yeerk host. Combined with the tiger-love from the last book…yeah, the Visser’s a cat person.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Oh man, these books! In this one, we get the heart breaking scene of Melissa crying on her bed alone, cuddling kitty!Rachel because she doesn’t understand why her parents suddenly stopped loving her. And then later, when kitty!Rachel is being carted away in a cat carrier by Mr. Chapman, Melissa starts crying and asking why her cat is being taken away and when she finally gets an answer she’s like “But…didn’t you hear me before? I was crying!” and he’s like “Oh..were you?” It’s so awful. Another insight into how truly horrible the Yeerk invasion in when you think of these types of ramifications. It’s not just the hosts who are being hurt.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: So, to catch Fluffer so that Rachel can acquire him, they decide that the absolute best plan is for Rachel to first morph a shrew and then run around as bait to lure Fluffer down from the tree. Yes. This plan is as dumb as it sounds.

Favorite Quote:

I have a feeling that many of these will be Marco quotes, but who cares! Here we have Marco’s insights on fashion. Background info: the Animorphs all have to morph in skintight clothing so as not to de-morph and be naked.

“Not Fantastic Four. I’m thinking more an X-Men kind of thing. It’s not about being identical, it’s just about having some style. Right now, if anyone saw us, they wouldn’t think ‘Oh, cool, superheroes,’ they’d think ‘Man, those people do not know how to dress.’”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 0

The scorecard goes unchanged in this one. Not much really happens as far as a win/lose scenario.

Rating: A slower book than the first, but a deeper look into the truly awful, and often more unseen, side effects of the Yeerk invasion.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #1 “The Invasion”

776877Animorphs #1: “The Invasion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Sometimes weird things happen to people. Ask Jake. He may tell you about the night he and his friends saw the strange light in the sky. He may even tell you about what happened when they realized the “light” was only a plane — from another planet. Here’s where Jake’s story gets a little weird. It’s where they’re told that the human race is under attack — and given the chance to fight back.

Now Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco have the power to morph into any animal they choose. And they must use that power to outsmart an evil that is greater than anything the world has ever seen…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: This book has so much going on, guys! It’s like some strange feat of magic that Applegate somehow fits this all in one, tiny book. We have the introductions to the gang, the introductions to the intergalactic war, the Andalites, the Yeerks, the “discover your powers” moment, two wacky mini adventures, and then finally, the climatic final arc.

Basically, 5 teens meet and then decide (very poor decision #1) to wander through a deserted construction site at night. Like you do.They then proceed to stumble across a UFO and a dying alien who identifies himself as Elfangor, an Andalite, whose species is in an intergalactic war with the Yeerks, evil alien slugs, essentially, that take over the life forms of other aliens and who are intent on seizing Earth as their next conquest. Elfangor explains how the Yeerks could be anyone, how they control the body and mind of their hosts by crawling in the ear and attaching to the brain, and how the Andalites are losing the war. The only hope is if he gives these kids a weapon to fight back while they wait for the Andalites to return with reinforcements some years in the future. And this weapon is the ability to turn into any animal whose DNA they acquire through touch. The catch being that if they stay in this morph for over 2 hours, they will be trapped forever as this animal (no terrible foreshadowing here or anything!).

They then meet the enemy: Visser Three, the only Yeerk with an Andalite body as a host (and thus the ability to also morph) who is just like a Bond villain with his villainy spelled with a capital “V.”  There are also other Yeerk-controlled minions made up of Taxxons, disgusting worm creatures with too many teeth, and the Hork-Bajir, the muscle of the group, huge aliens covered with razors. 

Seriously, there is so much plot I’m already overwhelmed trying to re-cap it! The Animorphs get their powers, learn to use them, discover that Jake’s brother Tom is a Controller (all the sads), figure out that this creepy, cult-like youth group called The Sharing is a Yeerk front to recruit new Controllers, and infiltrate the Yeerk pool (where the Yeerks must go every 3 days to feed), barely escaping Visser Three once again and really pretty much failing completely at their first mission. Also, Tobias gets stuck as a hawk. The end!

(I promise this section will be shorter in the future, when there’s less set up to get through, too!)

Our Fearless Leader: This is Jake’s story so we get a lot from him. We learn that he is best friends with Marco, cousin to Rachel, has a crush on Cassie, and saved Tobias from a close-call with a toilet and some bullies. All of this goes to say that Jake is a pretty good guy who naturally falls into the leadership role of this group, much to his own dismay. His relationship with Tom, his older brother, is central to this story and saving Tom from the Controllers becomes his main motivation for continuing this battle. In this book he morphs his own dog, a gecko, and acquires his battle morph: a tiger.

Xena, Warriar Princess: This is Rachel, Jake’s cousin. Our intro to her is rather minimal, but we find out that she is model-level beautiful (but, ew, gross, she’s Jake’s cousin!), but is also the most natural fighter of the group. I had forgotten about her wacky relationship with Marco, but their quipping back and forth was one of my favorite parts of this book. Her battle morph is an elephant, though I’m pretty sure this changes later on as even here this proves problematic. She can’t fit up the tunnel to escape the Yeerk pool and has to demorph as she runs. How she survives, no one knows. Or…you know, author’s prerogative!

A Hawk’s Life: What a bummer this section title even is! Tobias’s life is rough. Terrible home like (no parents, shunted from one relative to another), bully-filled school life, and now, stuck as a hawk cuz he essentially felt more comfortable as a bird than a boy. Some people read his arc in this story as one pointing towards him wanting to become a hawk full-time, but to me, this was a boy who was trying to escape his life, but didn’t mean to fall in this trap. Obviously his battle morph is now himself as a hawk. *sniff*

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot going on in this book. It’s notable that she, along with Tobias, note that Rachel is acting strangely after her first mission into the house.

The Comic Relief: Oh, Marco! How I love thee! Marco is Jake’s best friend, and at first comes off as the stereotypical funny guy of the group. But Marco is also the smartest, I’m pretty sure, being the first to pick up on the “Tom’s a Controller!” and “The Sharing sounds like a front!” vibes. Marco, too, has tragic home life with the recent loss of his mother. This being the case, he’s also one of the more unwilling members in the fight, not wanting to burden his grieving father with another loss. His battle morph is a gorilla.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: These books contain way more body horror than I remembered as a kid! So each review will feature this lovely section where you all get to enjoy the revulsion with me! In this book, we have not only Jake eating a spider while in morph (with all the talk about feeling it move in his stomach later included) but also losing his tail after being stepped on and seeing it wriggle around on the ground behind him.

Couples Watch!: Ahh, teen love! Our couples are already laid out for us in this book, which was another surprise as I thought these hints came later. But Jake discusses how he maybe, kind of, ok really, thinks Cassie is pretty awesome. And Tobias tends to land on Rachel’s shoulder, for some unknown reason that poor, delusional cousin Jake wonders about. So cute!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three makes two appearances in the book, and in both he is established as a big bad with a penchant for show-boating. He boasts and talks himself up at every possible moment! He also has a fondness for tigers, it seems, admiring Jake’s morph while trying to fire blast him as the Animorphs escape.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: A tie between Jake’s older brother Tom fighting so hard to get out of the Yeerk pool only for Jake to see him at breakfast the next morning knowing that the Yeerks captured him and he is once again under their control and Tobias. Just everything about him.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are a lot of truly awful plans in these books, from what I remember. For this book, it’s pretty much the whole plan to infiltrate the Yeerk pool all together. No recognizance. Half of the people don’t have appropriate morphs (Cassie can only morph a horse! A HORSE!). And several things go wrong right off the bat (Tobias already in morph, cutting his time short. Cassie’s missing.) that should have served as enough warnings to maybe spend a bit more time on this whole idea.

Favorite Quote:  This quote illustrates perfectly why Marco is a favorite character of mine and why I, too, tend to get exasperated with Cassie.

“Don’t be so sure,’ Cassie said. ‘We’re fighting for Mother Earth. She has some tricks up her sleeves.’
‘Good grief,’ Marco said. ‘Let’s all buy Birkenstocks and go hug some trees.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 0

This one goes to the Yeerks, since the Animorphs’ biggest accomplishment was escaping with their lives, and even then it was a loss considering the whole Tobias situation.

Rating: Awesome start that is still fun today, full of adventure, danger, and more sadness than is acceptable!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

 

 

 

 

 

Brief History and Introduction of the Great Animorphs Re-Read

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2016 was the year I entered my 30th year of life. And with this milestone comes the right to now wax nostalgic about my own childhood. (Don’t ask who made up the rules! *coughmecough*). For me, book nostalgia cannot be discussed with out talking about K. A. Applegate’s series “The Animorphs.” It is also fitting that 2016 was the 20th anniversary of the first book’s publication in 1996. So with these justifications backing me up, I introduce the Great Animorphs Re-Read where, every other Friday, I will review each book in this long, long series. Be ready, people.

A little background about this series: “The Animorphs” was a middle grade science fiction series that was released monthly between the years 1996 and 2001. You do the math on that one! Needless to say, there are a lot of these books, including several branch-off books that serve as back stories and accompaniments to the regular run of books. To keep with this schedule, Applegate co-wrote the series with her husband Michael Grant (a young adult author in his own right), and, later in the series’ run, many of the books were ghost written (to their detriment, as I remember).

Each book is told from first person perspective from one of the Animorphs, 6 teens whose age we never really discover, though I’m guessing they start off at around 13. The series is cleverly set up in  a way that allows kid readers to imagine the story taking place in their own hometown, USA, with no direct references to town names or even the full names of the kids themselves. The five kids, and later their teen alien buddy, are given the power to change into any animal for 2 hours. With this ability, they are tasked with saving the world from a group of evil, alien parasites called Yeerks who take over the body of other lifeforms in their ongoing campaign to, essentially, conquer the universe. And Earth is next! Dun dun dun.

The series was released in what I would call the “pre Harry Potter” era of children’s publishing when it was thought that young readers would not be willing to read longer novels. Like its contemporaries, (“Goosebumps,” “Baby Sitters Club,” “Fear Street,” etc.), each book was only given around 150 pages with which to work. Unlike many of these series, however, “The Animorphs” did contain many serialized elements that encouraged, if not required, readers to read the books in order.

“The Animorphs” reached a peak in popularity in 1998 when it was picked up by Nickelodeon for a short-lived television series. It was pretty awful, if my memory serves. We will see how engrossed I become in this re-read to determine whether I want to subject myself to experiencing those episodes again!

As each book is so short, I won’t be doing a traditional review for each book. Instead, I’ll include a brief plot synopsis and then break up my review into sections based on some of the re-occurring themes of the books or just whatever amuses me! (Think section titles like “Couples Watch” where I will focus on all the tween romance found in these books! Or “Body Horror” where I come to realize how truly disgusting some of these descriptions are that I didn’t remember at all!)

These books were my all-time favorite series up until the release of Harry Potter, and I loyally saved up my allowance every month to purchase the $5 copy at my local bookstore. So, yes, I do still own all of them, though they now live in a box in storage rather than taking up so, so many shelves on my book shelf at home. But now it seems it is time to pull them out, dust them off, and see how these books hold up in the harsh light of 2017 and supposed adulthood! Look for my first post where I review #1 “The Invasion” next Friday, and then the remaining books on alternating Fridays going forward!