The Great Animorphs Re-read #20: “The Discovery”

363420Animorphs #20: “The Discovery” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The blue box Elfangor used to create the Animorphs has been found by a kid named David. David has no idea what he has — or what it can do. But Marco does. And when he sees David with it, he knows the Animorphs have to get that box. At any cost.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: Guys. GUYS! It’s the David trilogy! Finally! The three book mini series that is widely agreed by fans to be the best part of the entire series! I’ll try and keep it together, but…

friends1
(source)

I’m sure most people who are following along with my read-through have read the Animorph series themselves. But, for any newbies out there, there will probably be spoilers in this and the next review for this entire three book arc. Knowing where it’s all going just makes reading these all the better!

So, the story starts out with Marco trying to pick up girls in the halls of his school. This goes about as well as you’d expect. But then he notices David, the new kid at school, shoving the one and only blue box, the one that Elfangor used to give them all their morphing abilities, into his locker. Internally panicking, Marco approaches David and tries to cozy up with him and ask about the box. Turns out David found it stashed in a cement brick at the construction site, and no, he won’t sell it to Marco for a piddly dollar and change.

The group meets up later at Burger King to stalk David, knowing that it is imperative that they get the blue box from him. While there, Erek, our friendly Chee spy, shows up and adds to their pile of concerns, saying there will be an international summit of sorts in their city in the next few days. All the big world leaders will be there, and, of course, the Yeerks will be set on infesting some of these powerful people. More worryingly, Erek knows that at least one leader is already a Controller, but doesn’t know which one. Storing this fun thought in the back of their heads, the group draws straws for who will nab the blue box from David’s room. (Tobias has been scouting and saw an open window, but came back per orders. Think about, if he had just grabbed it then, this entire story arc could have never happened! Tobias should always take the initiative, that’s what we’re learning here.)

Marco, Rachel, and Tobias end up going. Isn’t it always Marco, Rachel and Tobias?? Cuz they’re so great together!

“You and me, Xena,” I said. Rachel arched one eyebrow at me. “You know, if I’m Xena, what’s that make you?” “Hercules, obviously.” “I was thinking more Joxer. Isn’t that the annoying weenie who hangs around Xena?”

There’s a mini scene where Marco almost gets caught while morphing a bird in the bathroom, and Jake has to pretend he’s his very little brother who is suffering from an illness called “beakanoma.” But eventually, the three of them end up outside of David’s room. Rachel’s eagle is too big to maneuver, so Tobias and Marco go in. Tobias’s warning about the pole propping open the window comes too late, and Marco gets trapped in the room (Tobias hits the window and is dazed throughout this entire scene). Marco ends up in the room with David’s cat. Marco doesn’t do well, so Rachel decides to crash through the window to “rescue” him. They grab the blue box, but right then, David bursts in. The two take off flapping down the hall trying to haul away the blue box and chased by David and the cat. They ultimately have to drop the box to escape.

The next day at school, David approaches Marco at lunch to tell him all about the “trained birds” who had tried to steal the box. And how now, knowing that people must want it, he’s posted it for sale online and already has an interested party. He’s set up a timed email to go out at the end of school to let the buyer know his address. Marco sees this for what it is: the Yeerks will be showing up to get the blue box if that email goes out. Jake tells him to skip last period and try to take care of it. He picks up Tobias and Ax on his way, and the group once again infiltrates David’s house. Marco accidentally triggers the home alarm, and he and Ax have to rush to David’s room to hide from David’s dad who arrives to see what’s wrong. In the room, they see that the email is timed to go out in three minutes. But not only is David’s dad coming, but David’s pet cobra is loose in the room and under the bed where Marco is hiding (Ax is in the closet). Marci manages to acquire the snake, and then, caught up in the morph, eats spider!Ax. Ax must demorph quickly to avoid the venom from Marco, and David’s dad sees him. Throughout this all, they realize the email has gone out, and the Yeerks are arriving.

The craziness just gets worse when David shows up, having skipped out early from school. Ultimately, David’s bedroom becomes a battle scene between Hork Bajir, the Animorphs, David’s dad with a gun, and Visser Three who morphs a huge purple alien that can shoot sharp cones out of its four arms. The other Animorphs show up to provide support, and through it all, they manage to grab the blue box, and haul away David. They retreat to an alley. They know that David’s Dad and Mom will be Controllers by this time, and that if David returns, that will happen to him. Ax suggests that they have another option: use the blue box to make David one of them. (We can now all  blame this entire episode on Ax’s brilliant suggestion. But then he goes and votes against it later, so, whatcha doing Ax, even bringing it up??)

The group discusses the pros and cons of this, noting that unlike the rest of them when they first became Animorphs, none of them really know David at all. Marco is the most suspicious of him, and given that he’s interacted with him the most, this should maybe have carried more weight than it ultimately does.

Ax votes no, based on the fact that they don’t know him, and that they have a big mission coming up. Marco votes no. But is surprised when Rachel votes yes. Cassie & Tobias vote yes, and Jake decides it.

Back in the barn they explain the harsh reality to David. It’s a lot to take in and Marco insists that they don’t cushion him from the truth. David is very resistant to listening to them.

David looked sullen. “It’s all a trick.” I shot a look at Rachel. She looked like she was already regretting her vote.

But after Ax demorphs, he has to believe. Marco takes him to his house for the night. In the middle of the night, he catches David trying to call home. He leads him to a nearby pay phone and warns him that his parents will sound normal, but just to ask how they can explain what happened in his room. David calls and his parents claim that it was just a trick played on them by guys from work. Marco abruptly ends the call and drags David away, warning that the Yeerks will be on their way. Sure enough, they show up, but Jake arrives in rhino morph (one of the few times we see him use it!), and chases them off. Marco reveals that the others have been watching his house and they followed them to the pay phone for just this reason (they’ve really wizened up at this point).

The next day it begins to really set in that things are going to be hard with David. Sure he’s a new Animorph, but he’s a human kid who the Yeerks will recognize, unlike the rest of them. He can’t go home, he can’t go to school, he can’t go anywhere. They decide to get him his first morphs, and Cassie brings in a merlin bird for David to acquire, but David wants to larger, more powerful golden eagle. They explain that they’ve had problems with the size of Rachel’s bald eagle, and that’s why this one is better (again, more evidence that really highlights how far this group has come with regards to their strategy and competence with this war). David pushes back, harder than they appreciate. Marco snaps at him to stop being a jerk and to respect Jake as a leader. David gives a speech about either being part of the group or not, and Marco has to respect this, even though he still doesn’t like David. Cassie takes David to get a power morph from the Gardens.

Later, they all morph bird to go scout out the resort where the summit is going to be held. David loves his bird morph, but suddenly dives and kills a crow (like the maniac he is!!!). He claims that he got caught in the morph, and the others believe him; Cassie even comforts him. But Marco can sense the lie and knows that David just killed a crow in cold blood for no reason.

But they don’t have time to focus on that, as several cloaked Yeerk ships show up and nab the President’s helicopter. The group frantically try to scoot onto the Blade ship as well; they all make it except for Tobias and Rachel who are stuck outside. Crammed beneath the helicopter, the team has no choice but to morph cockroach (Cassie made David get one of these, too). They tell him to close his eyes and go with it. He keeps them open, however, and starts to scream when he witnesses the albeit truly disgusting scene that is the others morphing bugs. Cassie steps up with her manipulation skills.

<Do it, David,> she said. <l know it’s creepy, but it’s better than being dead. Besides, we’ve all done it. Marco has done it. He’s not screaming like a baby, is he? Aren’t you as tough as Marco?>
I’d never seen this exact side of Cassie. She’s always good at understanding people. It hadn’t occurred to me she’d be good at manipulating people if she had to.

Marco knows that this will just make David hate him more, but as he’s not David’s biggest fan, either, and he knows that this was the only way to get David to finish his morph, he goes with it. Avoiding being stomped and gassed by Raid, the team manages to get up to the top level of the ship and overhear Visser Three saying he will now acquire the President. Unable to do anything about this, they return to the helicopter, figuring the Yeerks will now simply let it continue on its way. But they forget that the latch they are standing on beneath the helicopter will open to release it. They all fall. END SCENE!

I remember this first cliffhanger in an Animorphs book simply ruining me as a kid! It’s a big move, and one that probably would have only worked as well as it did at this point in the series when the books were at the height of their popularity and almost all readers were clearly bought in enough to stick it out another month for the next book.

The Comic Relief: Marco is an excellent narrator for the first book in this arc. By this point in the series, readers know that Marco is one of the more clear-eyed characters when it comes to evaluating the character of otherse. Cassie and Jake can be more optimistic than is warranted. Rachel doesn’t give two craps about analyzing other people’s motives. Tobias is fairly disconnected from humanity at this point. And Ax just does what Jake tells him to do. But Marco, we know Marco will tell it how it is. So, as this book progresses, because we’re seeing everything through Marco’s ever suspicious eyes, we know never to completely buy in to David. Like Marco, we don’t know exactly what is wrong, but we know that something is.

Beyond David just being the little jerk that he is, it also makes the most sense that Marco would be the most suspicious of a new person. Not only was he (and Rachel) the longest hold out on Ax, but he also mentions in this book his own process of “buying in” to the war and how long a journey that was for him. With this in mind, he knows that not everyone will just jump on board with their mission and this war in general. It’s a lot to ask.

Marco is a very level-headed narrator throughout this all. And this book once again confirms why his narration and books have been my favorite this read through. I almost wish that Marco could have just narrated the entire David arc. I think it would have been really interesting see all of these events unfold through his perspective.

Our Fearless Leader: Ultimately, the vote about whether or not to have David join comes down to Jake. He notes how big of a decision and risk this is. I found myself wondering if he was more willing to take this huge risk because this is just following Cassie’s last big risk (trusting Aftran) and knowing that that turned out well. So maybe he’s just more primed for optimism that usual.

But I think that Jake also begins to start worrying a little about David even in this book, especially when David pushes so hard for the golden eagle morph. Jake, and the group, have a clear understanding of how these things go and the factors behind how they make decisions. They’ve learned from Rachel’s eagle morph that big birds aren’t as useful. So they’re all put off by his unwillingness to listen or trust the expertise of others. The group trusts Jake; David doesn’t. The group respects Jake; David just wants the “cooler bird.”

Xena, Warrior Princess: It’s always fun seeing Marco and Rachel together in action. The two simply play well off each other. She saves his butt during the first trip into David’s room, but then takes the surprising “yes” position on whether to include David or not.

In some ways this makes sense, she’s one of the more bold members. But it’s also clear that she’s the most hesitant about her vote, clearly understanding and mostly agreeing with Marco’s qualms. And she’s also quick to be put off and perhaps regret her vote by David’s bad attitude about being told the truth.

Again, knowing where this arc is heading just makes it all the more sad witnessing what goes on in this book. She takes an almost uncharacteristic risk on David, and she pays the biggest price for it, in the end.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias, again not getting as much action as the rest. He slams into the window that Marco accidentally closes in the first mission to David’s and spends the rest of the chapter dazed and thinking he’s playing a game of “Clue.”

He’s also very put off by the golden eagle and the fact that David wants to morph it, knowing that golden eagles will go after other birds. And, what do you know, when David first morphs it and loses himself to the bird’s mind, he does try to go after Tobias (foreshadowing!!), and is only stopped by Cassie grabbing him until he gets it figured out.

And then Tobias and Rachel end up locked out of the Blade ship, so they miss out on all that action.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: When they’re first in the Burger King discussing what to do, there’s a brief moment with Marco refers to Cassie’s quitting in the last book.

I took a good, long look at Cassie. See, there was this little episode with Cassie. She quit the Animorphs because I guess she had problems with some of the stuff we have to do. She came back, of course. But since then I’d felt a little shaky around her.

This speaks pretty true to Marco’s less trusting nature. You break his trust once, and it takes a bit to come back. But as we saw earlier, he’s very impressed by Cassie’s ability to manipulate David when he’s freaking out about morphing cockroach. And he also references the fact that it’s hard to hold a long grudge against someone who has saved your life on more than one occasion.

Cassie is all for making David an Animorph and the general possibilities of making more Animorphs all together. She also completely believes David when he claims that he got caught up in the eagle’s mind when he kills the crow and tries to comfort him.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: So, as I mentioned, Ax is the one to first suggest letting David join the group using the blue box (or the Escafil Device, as he calls it). But then when it comes down to a vote, he’s against it.

“We are not an army. We are a guerrilla group,” he said. “Guerrilla, gorilla? The differences between the two words are very subtle. You humans should not make your words so … But my point is, going from six members to seven will not make us much stronger, and it carries risk. Risssss-kuh…we should start with someone we understand. Not a stranger. We have this mission before us, to save the human leaders of your various countries. A seventh person might help us. But it might also make our team indecisive, uncertain.”

This makes a lot of sense for Ax’s thought process. He’s a soldier at heart and knows that numbers alone don’t necessarily strengthen a small group, especially one that relies so much on trusting each other and being able to predict each other’s choices.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Marco morphs a bird in the bathroom, he gets to experience the new gross horror that is having his hand bones just shoot out, free of any skin. Also, when he morphs the cobra there are some lovely descriptions of what it feels like to have your organs just sag down, unsupported by the usual bones and muscle that hold them in place.

David’s freak out, while obnoxious, does remind the other what it was like the first time they morphed bug. They’re all still grossed out by it, but they’re also fairly accustomed to it at this point. Having David see it all for the first time really hits it home how bad it still is.

Couples Watch!:  Not a lot with our traditional pair ups, but Marco, too, comments on the fact that he and Rachel often end up on the same side of things.

It’s weird, somehow, the way Rachel and I often end up on the same side. She likes Tobias more than me, and Cassie a lot more than me, but it’s often the two of us together on big issues.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three introduces yet another terrifying alien morph with the cone-handed purple monster of death. It’s also worth nothing that his ego mania is once again on display with their plan with the President. They decide not to simply infest him, because heaven forbid that some lowly other Yeerk have a powerful host body. Nope! Instead, Visser Three will simply morph him whenever they want to do things. This is such an awful plan, and you have to think that the other Visser higher ups who are critical of the way Visser Three is managing the Earth invasion must be able to point to stupid choices like this as evidence that he’s really bad for this job. I mean, this is nothing but ego, and they’re passing up an excellent opportunity to infest a world leader purely because of Visser Three’s power issues.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As much as I hate David, you do have to feel bad for the position he finds himself in. The others all still have their families and their anonymity to fall back on. They can go home and go to school and to the mall and have friends. All of this helps support that horrible trauma that is fighting this war. What does David have? If David hadn’t turned into a complete psychopath, you have to wonder what the long term plan would have been? I mean, what kind of life could he have? And, as a human boy, he’s much less able to just “hide in the woods” like Ax and Tobias have been doing. It’s a pretty tough situation, not only practically, but for the emotional well-being of David. Not that that’s any excuse for him going crazy, but if he had been a nice guy to begin with, this situation would have been really tragic.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Other than having the hindsight to know that making David an Animorph is probably the worst choice they make in the entire series, this book really highlights how smart the Animorphs have become throughout it all. They aren’t the confused kids from the first few books. They make smart choices with what they choose to acquire (suggesting the merlin based on their experience with the limitations of larger birds). They keep a watch on Marco’s house, suspecting that David might make a run for it or do something stupid. They quickly adapt when their simple scouting mission turns sideways and they need to infiltrate the Blade ship. And, as we’ll see in the next two books, the only reason they come out of this whole David situation ok is due to the fact that they’ve been around the block a few times. If this had happened earlier in the series, I’m not sure they would have made it.

Favorite Quote:

Marco calls it right away, saying this when they’re debating making David an Animorph:

I spread my hands, pleading. “He names his cat Megadeth. He has a cobra named Spawn. What kind of a kid is that?”

This may seem like silly reasoning, but it all adds up when you think about the fact that not everyone is cut out to do what they do. Up to this whole episode, I don’t think they realized how lucky they are that their group is made up of the people it is.

Scorecard: Yeerks 5, Animorphs 9

A point for the Yeerks! Not only do we know that the David thing is not going to turn out well for our favorite team, but Visser Three successfully acquires the President, so in the only big movement in this war, the Yeekrs come out a head in this one.

Rating: I loved it. Is there any question? I love all three of these books. Like I said, Marco books are probably my favorite in the series in the read through, so combine that with the complete uniqueness and awesomeness that is the David trilogy, and you come away with one of my top books in the whole series!

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 #19: “The Departure”

363394Animorphs #19: “The Departure” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Cassie’s had it. After the last mission, she realizes she’s getting tired of missions. Tired of battles. Tired of being an Animorph. She decides that she just can’t do it anymore. So she quits.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Oh man, the book I’ve been dreading: the one where Cassie quits the Animorphs. But, I will say, there were aspects of this story that I didn’t appreciate as a kid, especially the very in-depth conversations about war and morality, that I was much more on board for during this read. So, while Cassie was still infuriating, I did end up not hating it as much as I remember hating it. With that blazing intro, let’s dive in!

During a “spy on The Sharing” mission that goes bad and results in a battle with Hork Bajir, Cassie finds herself hitting the metaphorical wall of “had it” with the violence that is life as an Animorphs. It all comes to a head when she goes in for the kill on a Hork Bajir she was fighting, even after Jake calls for a retreat. To Cassie, this is evidence that she is losing her ability to care, becoming deadened to the fight, and that’s something she can’t stand. And she quits. Walks away.

That night Cassie learns from her parents that the wildlife rehab center they run in their barn has lost funding and will likely have to close. Plus, there’s a leopard loose in the woods, escaped from a local exotic collector. With all of these happy thoughts, Cassie goes to bed, only to be plagued by nightmares. She wakes up and wanders to her window where she thinks she glimpses a pair of eyes looking back up at her.

The next day, the group confronts her in the barn about her decision, mostly refusing to believe she was serious. As it becomes clear that, yes, yes she is serious, the group reacts with varying degrees of outrage. Marco, unsurprisingly, simply calls Cassie a coward, choosing to selfishly focus on her own needs rather than the sacrifices it takes to save the world. Rachel sees Cassie quitting as a condemnation of everything Rachel is, that Cassie would rather leave than be like her. Tobias simply flies away, and Jake tells her that she can’t use her morphing abilities at all, if she’s not part of the group.

Not in the best head space, Cassie decides to go for a ride in the woods. As she rides, she comes across a small girl being chased by a bear. Cassie jumps into action and manages to snag the girl, but as the horse panics, they both are knocked into a near by river. Cassie almost drowns, but wakes up later on the shore, with the girl standing near her. The girl’s name is Karen, and Cassie is immediately suspicious of her, noting that she doesn’t speak like a kid. She quickly figures out that Karen was the one spying on her, and Karen confronts Cassie, saying she knows what she is, and that Cassie killed her brother. Karen is a Controller, and the Yeerk’s brother was the one Controlling the Hork Bajir Cassie had killed the other day. After seeing her brother die, Karen tracked Cassie and saw her, as a wolf, disappear into a bush, and then re-emerge as a human girl. More worryingly, Karen says that there are some Yeerks who have suspected for a while now that the “Andalite bandits” might be humans instead.

Cassie goes above and beyond to play this off as not true and that Karen has “quite the imagination for a kid.” Besides, they’re both now lost in the woods with a leopard on the loose, so she tries to distract Karen with this fact. Internally, Cassie panics. The Yeerk in Karen knows the truth about them, but simply taking her out is impossible: Karen herself is just a little girl. Further, Karen’s leg has been injured along the way, so Cassie must choose to actively help her survive or leave her behind. Of course, she helps her.

As they walk, the two discuss the morality of what the Yeerks are doing (all while Cassie continues to act as if she is simply indulging Karen’s crazy theories). Karen, more and more enraged by Cassie’s continued pretending, rants about the Andalites as arrogant busy bodies. She says the Yeerks have a right to expand, and the Andalites are all terrible. Cassie points out that if she’s on the side of these all terrible Andalites, then why is she helping?

Night is falling, and the two come across a cave. While Cassie is exploring it for bears, Karen is attacked by the leopard. Cassie morphs wolf and scares it away, but this confirms everything Karen has been saying and puts an end to Cassie’s act.

The two hunker down in the cave. As they continue to talk, Cassie notes some strangeness in the way the Yeerk is talking. It seems the Yeerk may feel slightly bad about Controlling a child. Through these conversations, Cassie begins to think that there might be another way. The next day they continue these conversations, this time with Cassie specifically trying to lead the Yeerk through morality exercises, asking her how it feels to have the real Karen crying in her mind. Cassie also goes into her own qualms about participating in a war and the violence that entails. Karen confesses that there are similar Yeerks out there who think it is wrong to take unwilling hosts. Cassie’s hopes rise even more.

This is interrupted when the leopard attacks again. An osprey attacks it several times, but the leopard still manages to drag Karen away, crying Cassie’s help. Cassie quickly deduces that the osprey is Marco and rushes to morph a wolf and keep him away from Karen, knowing what he will do. But the leopard isn’t scared by her wolf morph this time, and Karen is only saved when Marco shows up as a gorilla.

Marco quickly figures out what is going on and insists that they do something about Karen. Cassie doesn’t know what to do, but decides they should hear from the little girl herself, without the Yeerk. So she presses her wolf ear to the girl’s and becomes Controlled herself. Marco calls her an idiot and rushes to morph a bird and fly away, quickly understanding that the Yeerk will now have morphing abilities, too (something Cassie somehow forgot to realize!)

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How I felt through much of this book (source)

Now Controlled, Cassie learns the Yeerk’s name is Aftran. Aftran sorts through Cassie’s memories, and we get quick flashes of scenes from prior books with Aftran’s commentary. She notes that the Vissers are more concerned with in-fighting than the war (referring to book #5), watches Cassie panic after killing the termite queen and is confused by her caring so much (book #9), and laughs at the Andalite toilet episode (book #14). Cassie realizes that she has put all of her friends at risk as now Aftran knows them all. Aftran morphs a bird and flies away. From the air Aftran/Cassie see two groups: the Animorphs flying around as birds, and a group of Controllers on the ground. Aftran warns the Controllers about the “Andalite bandits” as birds, and flies on. Cassie notes that she didn’t give away their secret.

Aftran flies back to Karen and re-takes her. Cassie sees her crying, and knows that it is the Yeerk in control, and the Yeerk who is crying. Aftran rants about how unfair it is, to be born as a species so limited by its own body, unable to see the world around them, and to understand what Cassie is asking her to do, to return to the Yeerk pool and stay there forever. She finds a caterpillar and proposes a deal: if Cassie morphs this caterpillar, and then lets herself get stuck in that morph, in a body similar to the Yeerk’s, then Aftran will return to the pool and let Karen go free. Aftran points out that she will keep her word, because if she didn’t mean to, letting Cassie get stuck in morph when she has a much-desired morph capable body, would be a complete waste. Cassie agrees, and once morphed, in despair and loneliness, retreats to the caterpillar’s mind.

The story switches to Jake’s perspective, and after a brief run in with the roaming Controllers, the group catches up with Karen and caterpillar!Cassie. Karen is crying and saying she can’t believe Cassie did it, that she tried to stop her in the end, but caterpillars can’t hear, so she didn’t know. Cassie is stuck as a caterpillar. Karen explains their deal, and Jake lets every Animoph decide on their own what to do about it. Eventually, they all walk away, unwilling to undo Cassie’s sacrifice.

A few days later, the group watch as Cassie emerges from her cocoon as a butterfly. Ax casually asks whether Cassie would prefer to be a butterfly to a human. The group are shocked, and it turns out that since the caterpillar essentially “morphed” to a butterfly, the time clock should be reset.

The book ends back with Cassie as a human. The rehab center gets funding from a bank president whose daughter insisted they do something for it (Aftran had been in Karen for the sole purpose of spying on said bank president). And Cassie runs into Karen in the mall; she’s free and Aftran held up her end of the deal. Cassie notes that as long as she can fight for things like this, for finding another way, that is enough.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: This book is very different from other Animorphs books. For the majority of it, it’s just one Animorphs character and a Yeerk, discussing very complicated moral and philosophical quandaries. It’s clear that this book was important to Applegate, and that she had some clear points on war, violence, and right/wrong that she was trying to convey. And I really enjoyed much of this. Further, the character of Aftran is excellent.

But I still ran into many of the same struggles I’ve had with Cassie in the past (and that I know will recur in future books, especially towards the end of the series with one big decision she makes). So, I’ll try to lay it out as best as I can.

Much of this book illustrates  why I can never fully get behind Cassie as a character. She is clearly a character that is given the privilege of making the “right” choices, because she’s in a work of fiction. Many, many choices she makes in this book are only “right” in hindsight. Morally? They’re probably right most of the time. But on the grand scale of things, Cassie is incredibly, foolishly, unforgivably reckless with the lives of not only her friends but an entire planet (as well as the freed Hork Bajir, and the Chee, to name a few others), by choosing to quit because she doesn’t want to pay the same price the others do, knowing that she’s leaving them to an even more uphill battle, paying that same price over and over again, and then later letting Aftran Control her.

And yes, I agree with Marco. It’s selfish and self-righteous. And the only reason we can close this book and feel good about what she’s done (which I’m not undermining, it’s incredibly important and impressive, managing to talk around a Yeerk, something no other Animorph could do) is because she’s been given a pass. Her character is allowed to make stupid decisions that always turn out for the best. And this just reads as false to me. It undermines the reality of the toughness behind the rest of the Animorphs’ decisions. Jake’s slow fall. Rachel’s reckless courage. Marco’s cold detachment. These characters suffer severe changes and make huge sacrifices of themselves, choices that impact them for the rest of their lives (which we see play out in the end) because they are forced to live a real war story. Cassie comes out the other side ok, but it’s because she’s been allowed to make reckless, selfish decisions, to keep her soul more intact, and not pay a price for it.

Again and again we see her making decisions based on her own ability to live with herself and feel good about herself, and letting other step in to suffer the more extreme consequences. In Jake’s book, #16, she wants to kill the Yeerk, but wants Jake to literally do the dirty work for her. In Megamorphs #2, she chooses to save the alien race, and is only spared from destroying humanity’s future by Tobias shouldering the harder decision. And those are just in the most recent books! Cassie’s character is the only one that is given the privilege of making decisions based purely on her own feelings, to not sacrifice massive pieces of herself in the war to save Earth, without having it blow up in her face.

As I’ve said, I think Cassie is an important character for the series. But I wish there had been some type of more realistic balance that was struck between Cassie’s unique view on the world and the realities that that view would need to confront in a war.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake gets a few chapters of his own in this book, which is the first time we’ve seen a change of narrator in a regular series book. I can’t remember if this happens again or not, but it further illustrates the importance of this book in Applegate’s eyes. Jake’s big moment is notably not making a decision about what to do with Karen/Aftran after they discover her with caterpillar!Cassie. He lets this be one where everyone must come to their own conclusion about what is right.

Xena, Warrior Princess: I’ll go into more of Rachel’s stuff in the “Couples Watch” section, since I think Rachel and Cassie’s friendship is the big relationship of this book. But Rachel’s moments with Cassie when they’re confronting her in the barn are big. Rachel, like Marco, can’t get behind the idea of not sacrificing oneself for the larger cause. But Rachel also clearly loves Cassie and respects her, unwilling to agree that she’s a coward. But as Cassie goes on to explain that she can’t stay in this fight because she’s going numb to the violence, Rachel walks away. Cassie tries to call after her that they can still be friends, but Rachel interrupts to say “No” and:

“See, you’ve just said the whole world can drop dead, so long as you, Cassie, don’t have to end up turning into me.”

It’s a brutal put-down, all the worse because Cassie can’t deny it.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t do much in this book either. He silently leaves when they confront Cassie about quitting, never really saying much. But when they discover Cassie stuck as a caterpillar, he says he can respect her choice to not want to live in a vioent world, saying that he is forced to live with violence every day, and can’t blame someone for not wanting to live that way.

The Comic Relief: Marco is by far the most harsh on Cassie’s decision to quit.

Marco laughed a short, brutal laugh. “Fine. You have your morals and your fine feelings and all that. We’ll go off and risk our lives to save the world. You just sit here and feel righteous.”

But he’s also the one to come to her rescue as an osprey (it’s never made clear what exactly he was doing flying around over there anyways). And then, towards the end, the leopard attacks Karen/Aftran again after Cassie’s been stuck and the group has discovered them, and Marco takes it out as a gorilla, saving the Yeerk. In the end, he, too, wants to respect Cassie’s sacrifice.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax does practically nothing in this book, other than deliver what some may call the deux ex machina at the end, with the whole “naturally occurring morphing” loop hole of convenience. There a brief bit when, during Jake’s narration, we get a brief fight scene with the roaming Controllers, and Ax has to run off with a wounded eagle!Rachel. But…yeah, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with stuff for him.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There isn’t a lot of body horror in this one, other than the typical “morph to a bug” nastiness. However, I will note here how effective the threat of the leopard was through out the middle majority of this story. It kept popping in and out, and Cassie has a good mental dialogue moment going over how dangerous leopards are, especially because you never know they’re there. It adds a good level of tension to a book that is mostly made up of talking.

Couples Watch!: There’s practically nothing for our romantic couples in this one. Instead, I’d say that Rachel and Cassie’s friendship is the major player in this book. Throughout it all, Rachel is the most hurt by Cassie’s decision to quit, but also the most supportive of her the entire time. In the first confrontation in the barn, when Cassie agrees with Marco’s assessment that she’s a coward, Rachel, even while mad, says that that isn’t true.

And then, when Marco returns to tell them the craziness that Cassie is up to, letting herself get infested, we have this:

Marco said something he didn’t really mean about Cassie not being an Animorph anymore, so she wasn’t our problem. Rachel knocked him on his butt. Marco is my best friend, but there are times I admire Rachel’s directness. [Jake’s perspective]

And lastly, when the discover Cassie as a caterpillar, Rachel is the most enraged against Aftran, and the last to walk away. But when she does, she insists on carrying the leaf that caterpillar!Cassie is on, saying that she will look after her and keep her safe.

I love their friendship!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this one! Other than the mini rant Aftran goes on while Controlling Cassie about all the in-fighting within the Visser political arena. I guess at least we know that isn’t only these two that are like petty children in the school yard.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: When Cassie morphs the caterpillar, the book does a very good job of highlighting just how awful this life will be. Cassie’s descriptions of her own despair and loneliness, and then choosing to simply retreat into the caterpillar’s simplistic mind as an escape, it’s pretty terrible. I do think that one aspect of Cassie and Aftran’s whole deal that was notably not discussed was comparable life spans. Given that Visser Three has been around for many decades, we can assume that Yeerks have at least similar life spans to humans. So even if Aftran returns to the Pool, she has an entire life before her. But she’s asking Cassie to morph a caterpillar that, yes, may have similar restrictions as a Yeerk, but is going to die very, very quickly! This isn’t an equal deal at all with this in mind.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Ummm….CASSIE LETTING HERSELF GET INFESTED AND SOMEHOW FORGETTING THAT THE YEERK WILL HAVE HER MORPHING ABILITIES! For all that I appreciated this book more reading it now as an adult, this part of the book is so incredibly infuriating. It’s such a bone-headed move in every way. First, the whole goal is to get the real Karen’s perspective, which, why. Obviously she doesn’t love being Controlled!!! Second, it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen an Animorph be Controlled. Cassie was right there during Jake’s whole ordeal, so the fact that she somehow forgets this has to go down as one of the most idiotic things in the entire series. And third, morphing ability aside, Cassie is also shocked to remember/realize that this decision has now exposed all of her friends if Aftran so chooses. It’s so incredibly irresponsible and reckless, and again, not even for any good reason.

Favorite Quote:

This is from one of the chapters from Jake’s perspective, and I think it makes the most sense as a response to my earlier rant about Cassie.

“I guess sometimes you have to choose between smart, sane, ruthlessness, and totally stupid, insane hope,” I [Jake] said, not even realizing I was speaking out loud. “You can’t just pick one and stick with it, either. Each time it comes up, you have to try and make your best decision. Most of the time, I guess I have to go with being smart and sane. But I don’t want to live in a world where people don’t try the stupid, crazy, hopeful thing sometimes.”

My problem is that her stupid, crazy, hopeful choices ALWAYS work, and the rest are never allowed that saving grace or must bail her out from the stupid, crazy, hopeful choice that if it had went through really would have ruined it all.

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

I’m not going to give this any change. It’s a huge victory for Cassie, personally, to convince a Yeerk (a Yeerk whose brother she killed!) to return to the Pool and not infest anyone else. But in the grand scheme of things, right now, this is a smaller achievement. I know there is a payoff later, but we’ll add that when we get there.

Rating: I liked this book more than I did as a kid. But it also highlights my overall problems with Cassie as a character. I think that after this she’s much less wishy-washy about the war, which I will appreciate. But I know for a fact that her questionable (and conveniently lucky) bad decisions will continue, especially in a big way towards the end. Ugh.

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: Megamorphs #2 “In the Time of Dinosaurs”

363363Megamorphs #2: “In the Time of Dinosaurs”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We could blame everything that happened on Marco. He was the one who heard about the downed submarine. He was the one who thought we should check it out. And everyone knows that if Marco’s up to a challenge, I’m definitely there.

Everything was going fine. Until the explosion. An explosion that blows us millions of years back in time. Back to the age of dinosaurs. Now Tobias, Cassie, Marco, Ax, Jake and I are fighting for our lives with every step we take. But that’s not our biggest problem. Our biggest problem is we have no idea how to get back to our own time ..

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: I’ve been looking forward to this one! I have very clear memories of reading (and re-reading!) it as a kid and always having a blast. I mean, dinosaurs, what’s not to love?

As I started putting together this review, I noticed that the plot description above is written from Rachel’s perspective. Kind of an interesting choice. Often the default main character is Jake, and, as we will soon learn, Tobias would make the most sense as a primary character for this book specifically. But we have Rachel here. Don’t know if that means anything, but worth noting!

As the plot describes, the Animorphs here about a nuclear sub sinking off their local coastline. As dolphins they help the divers locate the sub, but as they are retreating, it suddenly goes off and blows them all into unconsciousness. When they wake up, they begin to notice some strange things. It was stormy originally, and now it’s bright sunshine. The water is more clear, even after a bomb going off? And…there’s a massive volcano on the shoreline. All of this falls to the background when a gigantic sea creature shows up with obvious plans to eat them. And it succeeds, managing to gobble down Rachel and Tobias before the others can react. The rest of the manages to escape and make it to land. At this point in the book, the story lines split between the main group (Jake, Cassie, Marco and Ax) and Tobias and Rachel (who obviously manage to escape by Rachel’s quick thinking to morph a grizzly and literally tear her way out).

Jake, Cassie, Marco, and Ax all grieve the loss of Rachel and Tobias. It hits Cassie the hardest, feeling that she’s lost her best friend. But they have bigger problems when they notice a wide trail cut through the forest with some massive footprints along with it. The whole mystery is solved once and for all when a T-Rex shows up and chases them. Marco almost gets eaten and is only saved by Ax managing to slash up the T-Rex when it was distracted and taking it down. Cassie goes into survival mode at this point, focusing on the practicalities of their situation. She instructs the others to cut shoes for themselves using the T-Rex hide and to make a fire to cook some of the meat for them to eat. They camp out for the night, scared and still grieving Rachel and Tobias. The fact that they have discovered where, and when, they are and realized that the blast must have opened a Sario Rip that threw them to the past is of little comfort.

Meanwhile, after the injured sea monster beached itself, allowing Rachel and Tobias to escape to land, the two are wandering around looking for the others. Tobias’s wing was broken when he was swallowed and for some reason morphing doesn’t heal it as it usually would. But he does have all the dino knowledge and is able to name the sea creatures and figure out that they are in the late Cretaceous period. (He read about and played with dinosaurs when he stayed with his drunk uncle who would yell at him if he was noticed). Rachel’s feet get very cut up by walking barefoot, but in good old Rachel fashion, she doesn’t complain.  They spot smoke from a fire (the other Animorphs’ fire) and start heading towards it, only to be surrounded by a group of pack-hunting dinosaurs called (according to Tobias) Deinonychus. So, raptors, essentially.

Tobias is able to quickly understand these other predators’ plan of attack and tells Rachel to head for the forest where the raptors will lose their visuals on each other. Then he has her throw him up in a tree, run, and morph grizzly. He manages to drop onto a raptor that passes beneath him and acquire it. Then, getting lost in the morph, he runs to join the pack that has now surrounded grizzly!Rachel. He attacks Rachel and kills the raptor leader before coming to himself. He manages to force another raptor to allow Rachel to acquire it and then they both escape. Rachel is grumpy and not pleased at all by the fact that Tobias attacked her. They wander through the night.

Jake, Marco, Cassie, and Ax sleep through the night in shifts. After it gets dark, they notice a huge comet in the sky. Using his science knowledge, Ax estimates that the comet will get very close, but won’t hit Earth. In the early morning, they see a flash of light on the horizon, but  before they can think much about it, they get caught in a stampede of long-neck herbivores being chased by yet another T-Rex. This time Jake almost gets eaten, ending up partially swallowed and only managing to escape by morphing tiger and slashing up its throat from inside. This injures the T-Rex enough that they are all able to sneak up on it and acquire it one by one. Ax then informs them that the flash of light was artificial, and they wander towards it. They come across a massive ravine and large valley that shocks them with its contents: a small alien civilization! They morph bird and fly down to check it out.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Tobias run into yet another dinosaur predators, a Spinosaurus. It tries to attack them, but as they go to fight back, an alien creature intercedes, stuns the dinosaur, and tells them that they can’t hurt it as it, and everything on this planet, belongs to them. The alien isn’t too nice, so Rachel attacks it in her raptor morph only to have it disintegrate essentially. It turns out that the alien is made up entirely of ants. Its evil ant alien friends show up in a ship and start shooting at Rachel and Tobias. They flee and end up jumping off the same ravine cliff that the others are now circling as birds. Tobias manages to snag the wings of a passing flying dinosaur and use it as a living hang glider, slowing his and Rachel’s decent. They land on a force field that is projected above the alien city. The bird-morphed others happily reunite with Rachel and Tobias.

Their happy little reunion is interrupted by the strange crab-like aliens who live in the city in the valley. They call themselves the Mercora, and through them the Animorphs learn about what exactly is going on. The Mercora had recently settled on this planet after fleeing their own which was destroyed. The ant-aliens that Rachel and Tobias ran into are a scavenger race called the Nesk that dislike all other sentient species and are trying to wipe out the Mercora. At the present, the two species are at a standoff. The Mercora are a very peaceful race, but they do know the Nesk have powerful weaponry, so the Animorphs devise a plan to sneak into the Nesk base as dinosaurs and steal a bomb to set off that would hopefully close the Sario Rip and jump them back to their time.

The team set off the next morning. Tobias and Rachel morph their raptors, and the rest go T-Rex. Cassie struggles getting the morph under control and kills a triceratops. She has a bit of a break down, but gets it together just in time. They manage to get the bomb, but not without alerting the Nesk who chase after them. They only barely escape when the Mercora show up in a ship and whisk them back to the city. The Nesk abruptly leave the planet; they suspect this is because they are intimidated by thew “new powerful friends” of the Mercora. But they aren’t willing to let the Mercora win. Tobias sees a flash of light go off near the comet and knows what has happened. The Nesk have blown the comet closer to Earth and it will now hit in a day or so, exactly on the Mercora city. The Mercora ask the Animorphs for the bomb they stole so they can fly it up and repel the asteroid. The group votes. Rachel and Marco are against it and the others are for it (though Tobias whispers something to Ax, and the two of them don’t argue much about the whole thing, just quietly agree).

After the Mercora have left with the bomb, Tobias confesses that he had Ax rig the bomb not to blow. Jake and Cassie are furious, but Tobias explains that this has to happen for humanity to exist. The time period is right and there is no evidence of the Mercora people, so the asteroid that hit had to have hit the city. Ergo, it is this asteroid and it has to happen. They fly through the night and then switch to dolphin and swim out to see right before it hits. They all expect to either die immediately or have to suffer through the slow death of the planet.

Instead, the blast closes the Sario Rip and the group fast forwards through time, seeing the dinosaurs die off and humans evolve. They witness first hand the vast difference in time spent on Earth: the dinosaurs were around for 140 million years, and humans have been there for less than 1 million. Upon return, none of them have their dinosaur morphs and more.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s big moment comes when he’s yet another member of the team that almost/partially gets eaten by a dinosaur and he manages to take down the T-Rex, thus allowing them all to acquire this morph. Ax also spends some time in one of his chapters admiring Jake’s leadership abilities, specifically his knowledge that making no decision when presented with tough choices is the same as making a decision itself. Towards the end of the book, Jake also acknowledges a sense of gratitude for Tobias making the decision to rig the bomb not to explode. He’s angry at him, but knows that Tobias has saved him from having to be angry at himself. Already in the series we have seen how heavily these tough choices are weighing on him, so this is at least one that he doesn’t need to carry. But I will ding him for not putting 2 and 2 together in the first place and being one of the only two members of the group to vote to give over the bomb sincerely. Yes, it’s a tough choice, but the pieces aren’t that hard to put together and Cassie isn’t known for her clear thinking on things like this.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Again, poor Rachel always seems to take a beating in these Megamorph stories. She gets eaten alive, has to chew her way out, gets her feet torn to shreds repeatedly, and then has her own quasi-boyfriend attack her when he’s in morph. With all the time devoted to Rachel and Tobias’s adventures, we really start to see how these two work together. Rachel, of course, drives forward with action, while Tobias is more prone to thinking things through. What makes the difference, however, is that Tobias admires Rachel’s drive, whereas many of the others see it more as a liability. The two work well together.

Also when they’re fleeing the Nesk base and it’s looking bad, Rachel turns back to help the others. She’s in one of the smaller morphs, but her reasoning is this:

<Exactly,> I agreed grimly. <Maybe if they’re shooting at me, one of the others will get away.>

This is a perfect example of the best side of Rachel’s “go for it attitude.” It’s not all gusto; much of the time it’s a legitimate desire to save others at the expense of her own safety.

A Hawk’s Life: I have to think that Applegate was trying to make things up to poor Tobias who was literally written off the page as sleeping through most of the action in the first Megamorphs book. Here, he really comes into his own. Not only does he know the most about the time period and the dinosaurs in it, but he also proves to be the one best able to adapt to and understand his new circumstances. He quickly evaluates the hunting style of the raptors that come after him and Rachel and is able to think of an effective counter plan. And then, most importantly, he’s the first one to really put together the pieces of where things are likely heading, even before they attack the Nesk and they blow the comet towards Earth. He’s dropping warnings everywhere, even making sure to warn the others not to tell the Mercora that they’re from future Earth when they first meet them. And he steps up in the most major way when he puts into motion the plan to rig the bomb not to explode. He knows the others will be angry, and he knows that he is single-handedly dooming an entire species to die. I’ve said it before, but as the series progresses, and especially as Jake begins to stagger under the weight of leadership, Tobias is a natural second choice. In some ways, I think he would have been the strongest leader from the beginning. Jake’s connection to Cassie does lead him down some questionable paths at times, where as Tobias is almost always thinking clearly and practically, without losing his own empathy.

Peace, Love, and Animals: After Tobias, Cassie also adapts best to the new world. She knows the most about surviving in the wild and is the one that ends up mostly leading the second group of characters. Jake steps back when it’s clear that Cassie knows a lot more about the necessities like making fire and finding food. She is also the character to be most upset by the loss of Rachel and Tobias. Jake and Marco refer to this in their chapters, but at every point, Cassie is feeling the loss most keenly. This just reinforces my view that Cassie is at her best when her character is focused on her friendship with Rachel. This relationship reads true and has a lot of depth. Plus, when they reunite, we get this fun moment:

We were all treated to the utterly bizarre sight of an osprey attempting to hug a dinosaur.

When she breaks down after killing the triceratops, she and Marco get into quite a spat about violence, humanity, and survival. They both take it pretty far. Marco doesn’t hold back, at one point scornfully telling Cassie to “get over it.” And Cassie’s reasoning is also questionable under close evaluation. She says some good things about humanity and our ability to look beyond simple survival. But as a nature lover, I’m always put off by her inability to understand, and more importantly, respect the circle of life and all of that. She too regularly demonizes any/all killing, even that of animals who do it to stay alive. I still haven’t forgiven her for getting mad at Tobias for eating the baby skunks. #NeverForgive #NeverForget

Not surprisingly, she’s also one of the two who votes for giving away the bomb. But she also recognizes what Tobias has done when he confesses his plan. She thanks him even, but then says she’s not sure if she was sincere or sarcastic and that she’s not sure he knew either. Which, why Cassie?? Why to be a jerk to someone who saved you from having to make a tough call on your own.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have many big moments in this book. He makes his requisite number of jokes, and then probably most notably gets into that argument with Cassie. His stark pragmatism just doesn’t mesh with her more empathetic approach to life. He and Rachel are also firmly on the same side about not handing over the bomb to the Mercora. Seriously, these two. Is there ever a major decision that they’re not on the same side of? Even Tobias and Rachel have found themselves on opposite sides (recently the argument re: using the oatmeal against the Yeerks, but even there Rachel and Marco were on the same side). I think Marco and Ax get the fewest chapters in this book. But Marco had a lot of action in the first Megamorphs, so maybe that’s just fair.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some pretty big moments, the first of which is taking down the T-Rex single-handedly. But immediately afterwards, he is very emphatic, even scared, when informing the others that this was just a fluke, that they shouldn’t expect him to be able to do it again. He also becomes increasingly exasperated with their expectation that he should know every alien species in the universe. The Nesk and the Mercora are millions of years ahead of the Andalites even, so how could he know? I have to imagine that it’s his close friendship with Tobias that makes him trust his judgement enough to go against Jake’s decision and rig the bomb. For someone who is so ruled by authority figures, this is a pretty major move that is never really acknowledged in the book.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Just the sheer volume of swallowed alive experiences in this book! Rachel and Tobias are the only ones to go full hog, as it were, and end up in the stomach, so the descriptions of being burned by the stomach acid and crushed by the massive stomach stones of the dinosaur are pretty had with this one. But Jake also ends up halfway down a T-Rex throat and essentially gets vomited back up. And Marco also ends up in a T-Rex mouth at one point, though he has the best (if you can even ever say that about something like this) go of it, never making it further than between the teeth.

Couples Watch!: Obviously, we get a lot of good Tobias/Rachel action with the two of them paired off for much of the book. Rachel doesn’t comment on it much, but Tobias makes a couple of mental remarks about his admiration for Rachel, both her perseverance when she’s getting cut up by the saw glass and has a hawk clawing up her shoulder, and the fact that she manages to look great while doing it.

Cassie and Jake don’t have much. When they first discover the Mercora city, Cassie wants to morph bird and explore it on her own because she doesn’t want to lose…anyone else. Marco rightly calls her on the fact that she’s probably a bit less concerned about him and Ax.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three isn’t even in this book! It’s kind of strange, but also a welcome change up from the usual where he always appears in the last third of every story. Instead, the villains of this are the Nesk (yes, they run away from more T-Rexes than anything, but they’re just doing their due predator diligence). It’s kind of funny that the Nesk end up being ants. It’s like K.A. Applegate was just trying to think of the worst thing and, obviously, ants!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Obviously the poor Mercora have a rough time of it. As a people, they seemed very decent, which just underscores how hard the decision is to let them die. But, bizarrely, it’s the very last scene when we’re flash-forwarding and the team witness the last T-Rex wandering, thin and alone, and then finally falling down that gets me the most. One of the Animorphs even mention that even though they were attacked repeatedly by T-Rexes, they were most sad for these amazing creatures that were so confident in themselves and their place on Earth. I don’t know why, but it was making me tear up. I think I have too clear an image of all of this from that one Fantasia skit about the dinosaurs.

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It’s sad!!! Don’t judge me.  (source)

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, again, Tobias has 2 for 2, with the best plans! (This one, and his well-thought out plan to save the Hork Bajir back in his own book). There aren’t too many out and out “terrible” plans though. I disagree with Cassie and Jake’s vote and their lack of foresight on that one, but it’s not a bad plan in and of itself. Probably the worst plan is why they all didn’t think of trying to get some dinosaur morphs earlier in the book. That, and why they didn’t just spend most of their time in bird morph which would have been an easy way to avoid most of the bad dinosaur interactions.

<Yeah. Right.> I waited for him to laugh at his own joke. Only he didn’t laugh. <Dinosaurs?>
<Yeah. Dinosaurs.>
<Oh, man. Tobias, we are gonna need some better morphs.>

Yes, Rachel! Now why didn’t you all just do this??

Favorite Quote:

Best summation of the craziness of their lives:

<Okay, everyone just keep moving like we’re dinosaurs.>

<Which thanks to the fact that our lives are totally, completely INSANE, we actually are,”> Marco said.

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

No score change! This is the first book where the Yeerks aren’t even around!

Rating: I liked this Megamorphs book better than the first. I mean, you really can’t go wrong by adding dinosaurs. It’s also a refreshing change to not have the Yeerks and Visser Three involved. Plus the morality questions raised in this book, and the fact that time travel like this always opens up its own can of worms. Did they always go back in time and do this and that’s why humanity existed? I also liked the fact that the group was split up in more interesting combinations this time around. Not having Rachel wandering around with amnesia and Tobias literally sleeping the whole time are pretty big improvements on their won. Not the best Megamorphs, from what I can remember, but definitely not the worst!

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 #18: “The Decision”

363406Animorphs #18: “The Decision” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax and the Animorphs are about to have a huge problem. It starts when they decide to morph mosquitoes in order to slip by some unsuspecting Yeerks. It ends with them stuck in Zero-space with no idea how they got there, no way to get back to Earth…and no oxygen.

Luckily, an Andalite scout ship finds them before it’s too late. But now Ax is finally with his own people. And he doesn’t know if he ever wants to go back to Earth…

Narrator: Ax

Plot: And we’re back with another Ax book! And surprising no one, we open with a scene of humor and horror as it appears that Ax has now become confident enough to morph human and wander around the mall all on his own! Seriously, it’s like the Animorphs are his parents and he’s now this toddler who’s been set loose on his own. It’s just irresponsible! Of course, Ax is found in one place and one place only: the food court where he attempts to get a job to fund his Cinnabun habit. But by “clearing tables” he hears “eat everything on the table, regardless of whether or not the person who bought it is done with it.” The whole thing ends with Ax causing a huge scene and needing to be bailed out by Marco who zeroes in on the commotion and has a sinking suspicion about who could be behind it.

Our real story then begins when the Animorphs get wind that the Yeerks might be up to their hospital infestation plans once again. And really, one has to wonder why the Yeerks don’t always use this plan, it just seems like such an easy way to create new Controllers. Erek, our friendly residential Chee, is the one to alert the Animorphs of this particular danger: an upper level man in the Secret Service will be in the hospital and the Yeerks are planning something.

They all decide to scout out the hospital, taking up a rotation of seagull morphs to keep an eye on things. During his shift, Ax sees Human!Visser Three show up at the hospital. It turns out that the Secret Service man has slipped into a coma and is now unusable as a Controller, so Visser Three decides to acquire him instead. But before he can, Visser Three, who is now at LEVEL RED suspicion of all animals he ever sees, spots a few seagulls outside, decides to morph a Kafit bird (the Andalite homeworld bird that we saw in “The Andalite Chronicles”) and attacks them. Ax and Visser Three go on a chase of that ends with them both back in Andalite form on a rooftop ready to go to battle. Visser Three, in his typical cowardly manner, chooses to flee the scene rather than fight Ax. Ax has many emotions about once again failing to avenge his brother.

At this point, the Animorphs decide that their best option is to essentially copy Visser Three’s plan (which was to acquire the DNA of the Secret Service man so that he could pose as him and gain access to every secret ever). So what if one of the Animorphs was to morph him, walk into the Secret Service, and then morph and prove that there is an alien invasion happening! After the usual debate about the ethics of morphing humans, the team decides to go ahead with the plan, except they know that the  Yeerks are now on high alert. Cassie’s animal knowledge comes to the rescue again and she suggests that there may be another way to get the DNA of this man without being human and acquiring it in the usual manner. They will all morph mosquito and get blood that way.

The team all morph mosquito and are in the midst of biting the man when…poof! They are suddenly somewhere else! Specifically, floating around in space and not fully formed? Panicking and without air, Ax frantically thought speaks towards the Andalite ship he can see in the distance. They are caught in its wake and he calls to them to save them. He blacks out, only to wake up in the medical bay of the Andalite ship surrounded by some very confused Andalites and concerned Animorph friends. An Andalite scientist is going crazy with their appearance, suggesting that it is a miracle of science, proof that the theory about extra mass going to Z-space when one morphs a tiny animal must be true! And that the passing Andalite ship had somehow sucked Ax and the Animorphs through as it passed their “mass” in Z-space.

The Captain and T.O. (technical officer) of the ship order the human Animorphs to stick to their room and call Ax to the main deck. They then inform him that their ship is en route to the Leeran home world where a massive battle between the Andalites and the Yeerks is brewing. They don’t have time to return the humans, and Ax is now a member of the ship’s crew and must follow their orders. Ax is both thrilled and afraid to know that he will now be in the midst of a real battle.

But as the ship begins to descend, he and the T.O. realize that something is wrong. They are landing behind the Yeerk lines where they will be completely at their mercy! It turns out that the Andalite Captain is a traitor! The Captain attacks the T.O., cutting off his tail. Ax panics and frantically tries to warn the other Animorphs. Turns out, they’re already in the room in fly morph, having disregarded Ax’s (and the Captain’s) orders to stay in their room. Cassie begins to de-morph while on the Captain’s shoulder, providing a distraction. Ax tries to fight him, and is saved when the T.O. recovers enough to shoot and kill the Captain with a Dracon beam. Knowing that the ship is doomed, the T.O. orders Ax and the Animorphs to flee, and sets the ship to auto-destruct in a hope to do as much damage as possible.

They all morph fly and flee the scene. As they run, Ax mourns the loss of so many Andalite warriors and grapples with his new reality where Andalites can be traitors and join up with the Yeerks willingly. The rest of the Animorphs struggle to forgive Ax for so quickly abandoning them once he was back among his own people. But their anger takes a back seat when they see the rest of the Andalite forces retreating, seemingly accepting that the battle is lost. This isn’t good for the Leeran home world or for the Animorphs themselves. As was explored a few books ago, psychic Yeerk Controllers would spell doom for the Animorphs’ cause.

As they flee the battlefield once again, they realize that Tobias is missing. It seems as if he disappeared before their very eyes. Frantic and scared, the group tries to orient themselves and decide on their next steps. As they work through it all, Ax stumbles upon a theory for why the Andalites retreated as quickly as they did. Leeran is made up of almost entirely water, with only one large continent. The Leeran people live in their oceans and don’t need this continent, but it is paramount to the land-based Yeerk invasion to use as a base of operations. Ax theorizes that the Leerans and Andalites plan to blow up this continent, striking a critical blow against the Yeerk forces that are all now gathering on the planet in their seeming victory.

They get to the ocean, morph shark, and promptly run into some Leeran!Controllers. Luckily, they realize that they can essentially bite the Yeerk right out from the Leerans’ heads without killing the Leerans themselves. The newly freed Leerans direct them to a Leeran city where they  meet up with some more Andalite leadership. This time, Ax presents the group and insists that Jake is his Prince and the one whom he will be taking orders from going forward. The Leeran/Andalite forces have run into a problem with their plan; the remote detonator on the bomb beneath the continent has been failing to activate for the last several hours. Someone will need to go down and manually arm it. The Animorphs volunteer. At this point, they have also lost a few more of the group, who also seemed to just disappear out of nowhere. Before sending them off, the Andalite scientists theorize that these disappearance may be some sort of “snap back” that is flinging them back either to Z-space (where they are now dead) or hopefully all the way back to Earth and their original mosquito morphs. It is likely that it will happen to them all. With this happy thought in mind, the remaining group sets off.

Some hi-jinks and battles ensue, but ultimately it is down to Ax and Jake racing through an underwater tunnel to get to the bomb in time, both worried that they will “snap” away before completing their mission. Jake disappears, and it is up to Ax. When he reaches the bomb, the Yeerks are there too. He manages to arm it and relays back to the Andalites not to wait, but to set it off now, with him next to it. Luckily, he snaps away right as it goes off.

And suddenly they’re all back in the hospital, biting the Secret Service man while in mosquito morph. No time has passed at all, and they all re-appeared at the same time, regardless of when they snapped away from the Leeran planet. Bizarrely, mosquito!Ax’s bite wakes up the Secret Service man from his coma, and the Controllers in the room flee, not knowing what to do. The story quickly wraps up with Ax making peace with the fact that sometimes your people aren’t the same species as you, and that’s ok. And he needs to go eat more Cinnabons immediately.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax and his emotions/loyalties. Finally back among his own people, he goes through a lot of emotional legwork from the beginning to the end. Not only is he confronted, again, with the fact that the Andalite high ups want him to take the fall for giving the humans their morphing abilities (to save the legend of Elfangor), but he has to figure out his own connection to humanity, and the fact that the Andalites are also a flawed species.

It’s pretty clear at this point that arrogance is the primary downfall of Andalites. Not only can Ax not even comprehend the fact that one would be a traitor, but the Yeerks themselves are seen here to construct their entire strategy for taking over Leeran by counting on the fact that the Andalites don’t play well with others, and thus they and the Leerans, while on the same side, seem to be fighting separate wars with the Yeerks. So it goes a long ways for Ax to see the Captain turn traitor. Not only does he now have a more healthy understanding of the strengths and, importantly, weaknesses of his own people, but he sees the full advantages of working together with his human friends during their war on Earth.

At the same time, he is constantly worried about striking a balance between becoming close and comfortable on Earth, but not losing himself or his Andalite roots. After Jake snaps at him to get it together when they’re all essentially wandering around aimlessly on the planet after the ship self-destructs, Ax manages to find a kind of peace with things. But even that peace is difficult.

I felt strangely at home. As though, despite Prince Jake’s anger and Marco’s sneering and Rachel’s outright suspicion, I belonged with them. For some reason at that moment, even with the images of death aboard the Ascalin fresh in my mind, I saw myself far away, in a very different body, eating delicious cinnamon buns with a mouth. I wanted to be back there. I wanted to be back on Earth. Captain Samilin had sold out to the Yeerks. Was I selling out to the humans?

The really big moment for him is when they meet up with the Andalites again in the underwater city. Ax steps up to the plate this time, claiming Jake as his one and only Prince. It’s a big moment for him, and for the whole team’s relationship with him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake shows his leadership skills a lot in this book. Notably, he finds a way forward amidst much fear, anger, and confusion once they find themselves essentially alone on a strange, alien planet. Rachel and Marco are furious at Ax. Tobias and Cassie don’t know what to think but are each too passive to move forward. Jake has to find the middle ground and re-focus the group on moving forward and not spiraling into finger-pointing and more suspicion of Ax’s motivations and loyalties. We also see, for the first time, Jake not reject the “Prince” title when Ax introduces him to the Andalite leaders in the underwater Leeran city. He knows that is important for Ax to have this moment cementing his loyalties and that the Andalite commanders will not respect a human “Prince” who would immediately undermine his own followers. He’s also the last Animorph to snap away and gets the farthest with Ax in the mission to defuse the bomb.

Xena, Warriar Princess: As we saw in Ax’s last book, Rachel and Marco were the slowest members to warm up to Ax, so it’s not surprising when they both react the mostly strongly at his abandonment once he’s back with his people. They are both very harsh with their language, but I can see their perspective in this situation. Add to this the fact that Rachel doesn’t handle unknowns well. At her core, she’s a weapon that needs to be aimed, and if she doesn’t have a target, she will drive herself mad with inaction. Whatever one thinks of the harshness of her reaction to Ax, the one time she really pushes him and he reacts without thinking by striking at her neck with his tail blade, she’s unflinchingly brave, not batting an eye lash and standing firm behind her opinion. This show of bravery and strength does strike a chord with honor-obsessed Ax, even while he is hurt by her ongoing anger and distrust of him.

A Hawk’s Life: As Ax’s closest friend, it’s no surprise that Tobias comes to Ax’s defense after everything goes wrong on the Andalite ship and Rachel and Marco come after him. Even earlier, while they’re still on the ship, he sends Ax a private thought speak message to consider carefully who is people really are. This doesn’t hit home with Ax until later, but Tobias’s quiet support and nudging of Ax is clearly important. But, again, poor Tobias gets side-lined early in the book, this time being the first to be snapped away. There’s no winning for a hawk who just wants to be a part of the team!

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie’s animal knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that she’s always the one to think of an animal morph that will accomplish a seemingly impossible goal (bats to fly in a safe room, moles to tunnel to the Yeerk pool, and here, mosquitoes to get DNA). It’s a curse that often these same solutions are almost always completely horrifying. Not only is morphing a mosquito, like all bugs, pretty disgusting, but the knowledge of WHY they’re doing it….to literally suck the blood of some random guy is equally gross. She also is the one to put together the dots that they should use a shark morph on the Leeran home world since they knew from Marco’s last book that the Yeerks had planned on using sharks in their invasion.

The Comic Relief: Marco is almost as harsh as Rachel in his attitude towards Ax’s quick abandonment of them on the Andalite ship. Marco, especially, values loyalty and it is clear that he views Ax as having failed a very important test in this instance. I will harp on it once again, but it’s always interesting to see how often Marco and Rachel end up on the same side of things when the bigger questions are being asked. Yes, they bicker and tease each other. But philosophically, they are the most alike in their approach to this war and when it gets serious, we often see them united in their opinions.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The description of their experience in Z-space is pretty bad. Not only is the entire concept disturbing, as was discussed when Ax first clued the team in on what happens to the “extras” when they morph small things, but while they are floating around out there, Ax describes being able to see through everyone essentially. Like some type of gross kaleidoscope, with random organs and body bits all mashed together and see-through. Not to mention the suffocating thing. It’s all pretty bad.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot here except for the fact that Tobias being the first one to get zapped away doesn’t do anything to help Rachel calm down. She was described as alternating between crying and raging after they first noticed he was gone. I think she gets snapped away as well before they even realize what might have been happening. At first, they’re almost sure that Tobias must have been shot and killed.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is only in the first part of the book, but he does bring up a couple of interesting points. One is the fact that now that all of the Animorphs know what his human morph is, you’d think he’d change it. Seems pretty silly to keep walking around with one he knows they can spot. Second, with the kafit bird, Ax is sure this is a sign that Visser Three has been to the Andalite home world and is very upset by it. The fact that the Andalite Captain is later revealed to be a traitor I think is meant to justify this concern. But how does it work with Alloran’s original morphs that he had before he was taken over by Visser Three? All Andalite warriors practice their morphing ability by getting a kafit bird morph, so Alloran would have this one. So wouldn’t Visser Three, too? Without needing to go to the Andalite home world? Also, the fact that Visser Three is a complete coward is no surprise to us, but Ax is very disturbed by the fact that Visser Three ran away from their fight on the roof.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: You have to feel bad for Ax. The poor guy is trying so hard and the hits just keep coming from every angle. You can’t blame him for losing his head when he gets back among his own people, but then these early errors of dismissing his friends so quickly bite him in the butt in the worst way when the Captain turns into a traitor. Then he’s got to deal with his friends who are furious with him, while questioning everything he thought he knew about his people. It’s a lot.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Most of their “main mission” plans are good in this one. Mainly, that the rest of the Animorphs ignore Ax and the Andalites and barge onto the bridge in fly morph. It would have been the end of the series if they’d followed orders like good, little soldiers. But, at this point, they’ve been fighting this war for a while so it makes sense that they wouldn’t sit back and be content to stay out of things just because some Andalite higher ups said so. But the original plan with the mosquitoes and proving there is an alien invasion happening thing has all of the usual flaws of these ideas. I mean, if they ever wanted to really go through with this whole concept, there are easier ways to do it.

Favorite Quote:

Of course, Ax’s naive evaluations of his own ability to pass as human are always great for laughs.

I am very good at passing for human, if I say so myself. I have learned the customs and habits perfectly so that I seem entirely normal.

“Do you want to order something?” the human said to me.

“I require money so that I may exchange it for the delicious cinnamon buns,” I explained.

The human blinked his eyes. “So … you do want to order, or you don’t?”

Obviously this was a less-intelligent human. “I wish to perform labor, lay-ber, lay-burrr, and to have you give me money. Then I wish to use that money to acquire delicious cinnamon buns. Bun-zuh.”

Also, a good example of Jake’s leadership skills when he’s talking Ax out of it when he’s essentially breaking down after the deaths of all of the Andalite warriors in the ship.

 “Now, listen up, Ax. I know you’re feeling bad. For lots of reasons, probably. But you feeling bad doesn’t let you off the hook. Look, we got Andalites shooting at Yeerks. We have no humans in this fight except for us. Maybe you’re not the big expert, but you know more than we know. So snap out of it.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

A point for the Animorphs! This is a big win, not only just saving an entire species/planet, but the fact that Leeran Controllers would have most likely spelled the end for their own fight back on Earth.

Rating: I always loved this book. Ax’s struggles are completely relatable. As are the rest of the Animorphs’ feelings of anger and betrayal. It’s good stuff. On top of that, we get another look into the ongoing war between the Yeerks and Andalites outside of Earth and a fun, new location for our story to take place. Not to mention, Ax’s adventures in human morph and his dry, analytical, and hopelessly naive narrating voice are always a fun time.

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 #17: “The Underground”

343177Animorphs #17: “The Underground by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: What’s tasty, good for you, and only takes sixty seconds to make? Oatmeal. And it’s making the Yeerks more than a little crazy. Now Rachel, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a new weapon against the Yeerks. Sounds good, right?

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Now unlike the last few, I have very clear memories of this book and I think it’s for a pretty basic reason: it absolutely terrified me reading it as a kid. Where battles with aliens were something purely out of fiction and thus not threatening, this book is a perfect example of the more mundane aspects of the Animorphs’ missions and the truly horrifying, easier to comprehend dangers that these missions brought down upon them.

The story starts with mainly Marco and Rachel attempting to convince Jake that the group should be allowed to use their abilities for purely selfish reasons: to attend the opening of  new Planet Hollywood in their town. Notably, Lucy Lawless, or Xena herself, would be in attendance. Jake only signs on, however, when he hears that Shaq will also be there. Oh, Jake, and you’re basketball-obsessed heart. Of course, they all go in bird morph. But while there, Rachel notices a man getting ready to commit suicide by jumping out of a skyscraper. She and the group swoop in and just barely manage to glide him to be dropped into the nearby river. There he proceeds to get stuck in the mud on the bottom of the river necessitating Rachel’s morphing dolphin to save him once again. (It should be noted that this is the second cold open for a Rachel book where she saves the life of someone. Last time it was the boy in the crocodile pit.)

Back home, Rachel hears from her mother, who is a lawyer, that the man’s family is looking to have him committed to a clinic: he’s claiming there is an alien parasite called a Yeerk in his head. Rachel and the team know they have to check it out. After flipping a coin, Rachel, Marco, and Jake are chosen to infiltrate the mental hospital in cockroach morph. After a brief run-in with a tarantula (Tobias’s bird powers come in for the save once again), the group makes it in and locates the man, a Mr. Edelman. To speak with him, Rachel demorphs and then poses as a human-morphed Andalite to figure out what is going on. Edelman reveals that the Yeerks have encountered a human food substance that is highly addictive to their species and, after prolonged ingestion, causes the Yeerks to go mad. But with this madness, the Yeerk is also freed of its need to consume Kandrona rays. So now Controllers like Edelman are stuck with a mad Yeerk in their brain that never needs to come out. Edelman is typically in control of his body again, but, as Rachel sees while they are talking, the Yeerk breaks through in brief moments to spew nonsense, thus leading to his family’s questioning his sanity. What’s most surprising, however, is what this addictive substance is: instant maple and ginger flavored oatmeal.

After joining back with the others, the group debates the morality of using an addictive substance (even though it’s just oatmeal, as Marco and Rachel continue to point out in increasingly loud voices). In the end, they decide they can’t ignore an opportunity like this to do massively damage to the Yeerk invasion. Now all they have to do is break into the Yeerk pool once again.

Tobias, of course, knows of an entrance from his days of spying. Together, they all morph fly and attempt to follow a Controller in (this time through a backroom in a McDonalds). Once through the door, however, it becomes clear that the Yeerks have upped their security game. Some type of bio weapon is triggered by the presence of DNA that has not been submitted into the program and they barely manage to escape a fatal gassing. With their typical point of entrance now lost to them, the group needs to get creative. Cassie suggest digging their way in using a mole morph.

What follows is a perfect example of the least glorious aspects of what life as an Animorph would really be like. One by one the group takes turns morphing mole and digging through the earth. They make very slow progress and it takes them a week to get very far at all. Not to mention, each shift is horrifying in its own way: alone, beneath the earth, digging blindly ahead. By the end of the week however, their tunnel hits a bat cave. From there, the group morph bat and plan on heading home to re-think their approach. But on the way out of the bat cave, they sense another exit, once that leads to the Yeerk pool.

But again, the increased Yeerk security kicks in, and flying security bots quickly injure several members of the group, including Rachel who falls into the Yeerk pool itself. She manages to time her demorph to angle herself below one of the piers sticking out over the pool so that she can remain hidden and keep her head above water. She then has to do something she swore never to do again: morph ant. But from her time with the allergy, she remembers that the ant morph did fairly well in liquid. This time as an ant she is able to essentially “walk” on the surface and escape the pool.

Once out, she sees that Ax has been captured and demorphed. Even worse, Visser Three is coming. She manages to find Marco and Cassie, both hiding in sheds around the perimeter. They frantically try to think of a plan, and happen to hear a Controller mention removing “oatmeal contraband” from another person. They reference a storage shed where they have confiscated over 200 pounds of the stuff.

Visser Three arrives and immediately orders that all exits be sealed and everyone be searched systematically. Rachel, Marco, and Cassie frantically come up with a plan to use the oatmeal as a type of bargaining chip. Elephant!Rachel crashes through walls and into the storage shed, where Gorilla!Marco grabs a barrel of the oatmeal, throws it into the Yeerk pool and threatens to blow it up with a Dracon beam, thus infecting hundreds of Yeerks, unless Visser Three lets them all go. Visser Three decides that a few hundred of his compatriots is a price he is willing to pay. Elephant!Rachel thinks to change this equation by charging him and throwing him into the pool as well. Visser Three quickly changes his mind. But as the group begins backing towards one of the exit tunnels, Visser Three begins to morph. At the same time, a team of Hork Bajir charge down the very tunnel they were trying to climb through. Throwing caution to the wind, Rachel shoots the barrel of oatmeal, then aims the Dracon beam at the ceiling and yells to the others to morph mole. Then, not knowing who survived or how long it will take, she slowly digs her way back up to the bat cave (having to stop to hollow out a human-sized hole to not get caught with the two hour limit). One by one they all return.

Lastly, back at home a few days later, Rachel’s mom returns home from work telling a crazy story about how Mr. Edelman escaped from the mental hospital after a “talking grizzly” showed up and told him to run and hide and enjoy what freedom he could make for himself.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Again, we hear a lot about the pressure that Rachel puts on herself to be strong. Part of it is her conviction that she won’t let fear rule her life, a sentiment that we heard Jake discuss just in the last book. But she also confesses to not being able to admit her fear, and to understanding what part she plays for the group.

Everyone in a group has a role to play. At least that’s how it always works out. My role was to say, “Let’s do it. Let’s go. That’s what we came here for.” But I was tired. And I’d had a really, really bad few days digging down to this stupid cave.
So I said, <Let’s do it. That’s what we came here for.> Sometimes it’s hard to get out of a role once you’ve started playing the part.

Her and Jake probably most clearly see the role that they play for the group. The rest definitely have their contributions, but they don’t seem to feel these roles in such a strong (or burdensome) way as Jake and Rachel do. Marco, probably, is the next closest thing, knowing that they count on him to lighten the mood and joke his way through anything.

There are some good moments with Rachel’s home life, with her sisters and mother. There’s also a reference to the fact that her house is still under construction after she halfway destroyed it by accidentally morphing elephant while allergic back in her book.

There are several examples in this book of the pros and cons of Rachel’s tendency to jump without looking. Part of the reason that so many of her books open with her saving people is that she doesn’t question whether it is possible or wise, she just does it. But on the other hand, while in the Yeerk Pool, her first instinct is to simply morph grizzly and attack. It is Marco and Cassie who come up with the plan to use the oatmeal to create a stalemate, obviously a much better idea. But then when Visser Three calls their bluff, Rachel again acts before anyone else, throwing him in the pool. She also blows up the tunnel they’re in. Too much thought about these actions, too much hesitancy about the possible negative outcomes, would have resulted in disaster for the entire group. I really liked seeing the balance of how this inclination of hers was not only a bad thing (as it is often reduced to), but can also be their saving grace when the others might have hesitated.

Our Fearless Leader:  During the debate about using the oatmeal, Jake makes a connection to the Civil War and the idea that that war, too, could have been ended sooner if the North had simply compromised and let a few people remain slaves. He also says that he makes all of these decisions by asking himself whether he is ok or not with it happening to Tom.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is the first to raise the question about the morality of using the oatmeal. This seems to be in line with his more thoughtful approach to the war. After they thoroughly discuss the matter, he agrees to use it. But as a character, Tobias needs to fully think through any course of action they are about to take, even if, in the end, he will always side with the plan that means bringing more of the fight to the Yeerks.

He’s also the last one to arrive back to the bat cave in the end.

“You scared us to death! Where have you been?” I yelled at him.
<I was worried about you, too, Rachel,> he said, with a smile in his silent voice.

This is why they work; he understands her.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Like in book #9, Cassie is the one to realize that they can use a specific type of animal morph to solve a problem that seems impossible. She came up with the bat morph then, and the mole morph this time.

For a moment no one said anything. Then Cassie said, <Well . . . there is one way.>
<I take it back!> Marco said. <I take it back! I can tell by your tone, Cassie, I really don’t want to know.>

When they’re debating the morality of using the oatmeal against the Yeerks, Cassie confesses to not knowing what is right and wrong anymore. This, more than anything, scares Rachel about how this war is changing them all.

The Comic Relief: Not surprisingly, Marco sides with Rachel immediately about using the oatmeal. If anything, he is even more appalled by the fact that the group is even debating not dealing such a direct hit to the Yeerks. Once again, we see that, of them all, he is the most pragmatic about this fight. Where Rachel is more inclined to go for it simply because she will always choose action, Marco only sees the cost/benefit of a mission. He is also even more exasperated by the fact that the “drug” they are debating is oatmeal.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax saves all of their lives by immediately recognizing the danger of the bio sensor when they first try to infiltrate the Yeerk Pool as flies. He’s also good for some Yeerk biology lessons, but only so much…

<Yes,> Ax said. <Yeerks have mouths. Or what humans would think of as mouths. Actually, if I remember my exo-biology classes, and sadly, I sometimes ->
<Fell asleep,> I said. <Yeah, we know. You didn’t like exo-biology class.>

There’s also a comedic interlude at the mall (of course) where the group watches in horror/awe as Human!Ax consumes not only an entire massive Cinnabon, but the paper plate it was sitting on as well.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When they’re breaking into the mental hospital as cockroaches and run into the tarantula, Rachel gets jumped by it. She only escapes when Tobias swoops down and carries it off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t let go of her leg, so it gets ripped off. Even worse, it is implied that Tobias eats the spider…so…did he eat her leg??!

Couples Watch!: Early in the book, Rachel wakes up in the morning to do homework and opens her window for Tobias. Apparently, he comes by most mornings like this. They discuss their upcoming plan to go to the Yeerk Pool and Rachel admits to being afraid. It’s a quiet little scene that really highlights these two’s relationship and how special it is in that Rachel can be open and vulnerable with Tobias about feelings that she never shows to the rest of the group.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When it is announced that Visser Three is coming to the Yeerk Pool, Rachel runs into a Controller who blatantly makes up an excuse to get the heck out of there. So at this point, even among the Yeerks themselves, it’s pretty clear that Visser Three is batshit (ha!) crazy and it’s best to be elsewhere when he shows up. It’s also no surprise that he pretty quickly decides that sacrificing 500 or so Yeerks to the oatmeal threat is worth it, but then once it’s his own skin on the line, he quickly changes his tune.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: That last scene where they are all tunneling back to the surface. Man, it’s just horrifying if you really think about it. Earlier in the book, it was already made clear how terrifying the tunneling was with claustrophobia and being so alone. So here, to crash a tunnel down on yourself, not knowing whether your friends were hurt or killed, and then tunneling ever upwards, for hours, long enough that you need to stop and dig out a hole to morph back to human, still underground, all alone…It definitely freaked me out as a kid and still does now.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: While the mole morph is a good idea in theory, I’m not sure how they were thinking this was actually going to work. They all stock up on oatmeal at their homes, but what were they really going to do? Pull down mini bags of it through the tunnel and then try to somehow aim it above the Yeerk Pool and hope that it makes it all the way down? Seems like there are a few pretty big holes in this plan and the only reason they succeed is because first they completely fail at their original plan. This seems to be a pattern.

Favorite Quote:

A more serious quote from when they’re debating the morality of using the oatmeal:

Cassie suddenly laughed. It was a cynical laugh. I didn’t know she was capable of a cynical laugh.
“And all the rights and wrongs, and all the lines between good and evil, just go wafting and waving and swirling around, don’t they?”

And a more fun quote:

“You know,” Jake said in a conversational tone as we waited for Tobias to acquire the bat, “from the point where Edelman said ‘maple and ginger oatmeal,’ I should have known this was going to end stupidly.”
“Instant maple and ginger oatmeal,” Cassie said.
“Battles that involve oatmeal are just never going to end up being historic, you know?” Jake went on. “Gettysburg? No major oatmeal involvement. The Battle of Midway? Neither side used oatmeal. Desert Storm? No oatmeal.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 8

I’m giving them both points. Yes, the Animorphs strike a pretty major blow. But it can’t be ignored that the Yeerks have really wised up, what with the bio detectors, the security bots, and Visser Three’s systematic shut down and search of the Yeerk Pool.

Rating: For as wacky as the whole madness-by-oatmeal thing is, this book has some legitimately tense moments. It’s also one of the few books that takes place over almost an entire week (they usually seem to take about a day or two), so it was a nice touch of reality, that many of these missions weren’t glamorous or non-stop action. We continue to see Rachel’s decline as the pressure she puts on herself to be brave becomes increasingly hard to bare. Though I do like that this book highlights the ways that this aspect of her personality saves the group at times as well. I doubt any of the rest would have been brave enough or thought quickly enough to blow the tunnel up on themselves.

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 #16: “The Warning”

363405Animorphs #16: “The Warning” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake has made an amazing discovery: a Web site about the Yeerks. Should the Animorphs investigate? If they do, they might walk right into a trap. And if they don’t, they’ll never know if they’re fighting their enemies alone…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: We’re into a section of the series that I only have vague memories of. Yes, I recognized this cover. No, I didn’t remember the craziness within. And now it’s dated craziness as well, so even better! Right away, I had an inkling of what I was getting into when the story started with Jake methodically explaining his online screen name: Bball25. “Bball,” in case you were confused, means basketball! Glad he clarified. The story quickly falls into place after Jake runs an Internet search for the word “Yeerk” and discovers an entire website devoted to discussing the topic.

I’m going to just make a happy little list right here in the beginning of the many, many dated references made in this book.

  • bizarre online screen names
  • Yahoo (as a relevant thing)
  • chain letters
  • chat rooms
  • limits of 10 words typed in chat rooms
  • Internet speeds

And all of that is referenced quite a bit, because the whole story revolves around this website and the Animorphs’ mission to discover how much of it is legit and whether or not it is an elaborate Yeerk trap.

The group decides that while most of the users in the chatroom on this site are the usual Internet crazies, there are a few that seem to actually know what they are talking about. More worringly, one user is concerned that his father may be a Controller and is contemplating confronting him about it. But with nothing but screen names to go on, the Animorphs are stuck. They decide they will need to break into the headquarters of the billionaire techie who owns much of the Internet, essentially, to discover who these users are and whether or not this is a trap or these are real, potential allies. Unfortunately, this headquarters is located far, far away.

To get there, they come up with the rather ingenious plan to morph flies, hop a plane, and simply fly there, free of charge! Perks of being an Animorph, I guess! But this plan quickly falls apart as some of the flight passengers are rather put off by the presence of a swarm of flies on their plane, and Jake gets swatted. The rest of the group has to….gather up pieces of him off the wall, and he barely makes it off the plane to demorph. Breaking into the headquarters, however, does go much more smoothly. For a distraction to allow Marco and Ax (the two most tech-capable of the group) to hack into a database and pull the user info for the chat room screen names, the others morph into their battle morphs and put on a little show for everyone in the building: a grizzly bear with a mop, a tiger with a bucket in its mouth, a hawk flying around above it all. This seems to work, though I do question why they never worried that there might be Controllers working there who would immediately see through this bizarre little scene.

The trip back home goes as well as can be expected, though Jake is still very rattled by his near-death experience. Once home, the team must decide what to do with the list of names they now have: go after the kid who might confront his Dad about being a Controller any day now (Cassie’s primary objective) or break into the mansion of the owner of the website and figure out whether he is a potential ally. Jake decides for the latter, reasoning that the stakes are much higher than the fate of one boy.

Breaking into the mansion, however, proves to be a disaster. The mansion is completely locked down: multiple levels of gates, guard dogs, the works. While in bird morph, they even over hear the guards discussing their boss’s orders to shoot any animals that look “strange.” This just makes their need to know what’s truly going on all the more urgent, so spotting an open window, they decide to fly in, demorph, and check it out. At least, that’s what they want to happen. Turns out that the owner is even more paranoid than they thought and that there are some type of security wards on the windows as well. They only discover this, however, after Rachel has flown threw and lies knocked out (or dead?) in the room within. Ax, too, who was flying close behind her veers away only to get knocked to the ground and dragged off by a guard dog.

The Animorphs are in a state of panic. They weren’t prepared at all for this mission, and it’s showing. Now, down two people, the only goal is to get them back before they’re hurt, killed, or, in Rachel’s case, forced to make the decision to trap herself in morph rather than reveal her human form once two hours have passed.

Desperate, Jake decides the only way in is through. With that in mind, he veers off to The Gardens, quickly acquires a convenient rhino morph, and makes his way back to the group. What follows is a fun little scene of Jake simply smashing his way through everything in front of him. I don’t remember this morph being used too often after this, but the sheer destruction that the rhino leaves in its wake seems to make a good case for its more regular use. The eyesight is pretty bad, though, so I guess that’s why it doesn’t make its way into their regular rotation.

After bashing through everything in his way, Jake and the others finally come face to face with Mr. Fenestre, the billionaire tech wizard himself. They then learn the full truth, and I swear, it’s straight out of a soap opera. Turns out that yes, Fenestre is a Controller (though he implies a sort of partnership between himself and his host body, claiming that with his own superior technical skills, he was able to raise their lives from one of obscurity to the wealth they now both enjoy). But he’s not just any Controller, he’s the “lesser twin” of Visser Three himself. Guys. It’s an evil twin plot line! Though I guess the case could be made for either of them being the “evil” one. Yeerks, however, don’t look kindly on twins, immediately granting one the more privileged life over the other. Not able to make anything of himself and his life in the shadow of his brother, Fenestre turned to making a life for himself in his host body, hence the tech wealth. Visser Three, however, didn’t like this, or any, success by his brother and has been hunting him ever since. Hence why the place is locked down and the guards are to shoot any animal, in case it’s Visser Three in morph.

The Animorphs rightly wonder how he has survived being hunted by Visser Three if he needs to feed in a Yeerk pool once every three days. Fenestre, however, has yet another secret: he’s discovered a way to gain Kandrona rays through another source. Instead of soaking in a Yeerk pool, he simply eats one of his fellow Yeerks, somehow absorbing the Kandrona rays directly from their flesh. So, yes, we now have evil twins AND cannibalism. To do this, he set up the website to attract Yeerk Controllers that he can then track down, extract (you can guess how well this goes for the hosts), and eat at his leisure, thus never needing to leave the fortress that is his house and make himself vulnerable to Visser Three.

The Animorphs are horrified, Cassie most of all at the fate of the human hosts. Jake and the others, however, also see the benefit of a Yeerk who is single-handedly taking out more Controllers than they ever have. Their main priority, however, is still to rescue Rachel and Ax. Fenestre agrees to hand them over and to remain in his mansion forever. Jake warns that if they ever catch him outside of it, they will kill him.

The story ends with the mansion mysteriously burning down days later, though Fenestre does escape alive. Jake doesn’t admit whether this was him, Cassie, or just a happy coincidence that Fenestre is now out in the world again, free to be hunted by them and Visser Three.

Our Fearless Leader: Poor Jake. In all of the other books, we see him as a strong, competent leader who for the most part always makes the right decisions when he needs to. Then we get to his books. And, importantly, we see that these decisions are painful and difficult for him. And, worse, his stories are always the ones where those plans just don’t work so well.

In this book, we got another good look into Jake’s mindset of what it means to be leader and have to make big decisions. We also saw his thought process for what it means in the smaller moments. On the way back from breaking into the tech center, Cassie tells him that it is alright to be afraid and to change the plan from morphing flies due to his near death experience. He ends up getting fairly mad at her saying that the others don’t want him to be the leader who lets them know that it’s ok to be afraid and make different decisions based on that fear. He needs to be the leader that shows that you can push through fear and move forward. He rightly points out that if he began changing missions based on fears, as a group, they would rack up such a list of things that they all had legitimate reasons to fear doing, that they would essentially paralize themselves.

It’s a good moment showing both the thought that Jake has put into his own view of leadership, and showing the weaknesses of Cassie’s view of life. Her empathy is a major strength for the team, but here, we see that her approach is not always right, and Jake fairly harshly calls her out on it.

The last scene where Jake must make a decision about what to do with Fenestre is probably one of the more ethically heavy decision points we’ve seen in the series (the other big one probably being in “The Andalite Chronicles” when they debated flushing the pool of Yeerks into space). As we see with Jake’s ultimate decision, he is beginning to walk down the harsh, but pragmatic, path that many war-time leaders find themselves on. This is good foreshadowing for the Jake we see in the end of the series.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel and Tobias as a pair are the most skeptical of the Yeerk website, both believing it to be a trap and not likely real allies in their fight. Not sure what this says about them both. Other than that, Rachel spends almost the entire last third of the story knocked out as a bald eagle.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, as well, is skeptical of the website. This seems pretty in-line with his general less trusting outlook on humanity. He’s the most dedicated to the fight, but he’s the least likely to expect help along the way. I think this makes a lot of sense considering the way he grew up with an aunt and uncle who didn’t care for him at all. Tobias is also probably the most upset when Ax and Rachel are trapped. It’s his best friend and his quasi girlfriend, so this reads true.

Peace, Love, and Animals: In this book, we really see the different perspectives that Jake and Cassie bring to the group. Their conversation about what it means to be a leader was very enlightening both for her own perspective, and, more importantly, to hear Jake’s thoughts on the matter. Further, we see the role of support that Cassie provides Jake. Jake clearly trusts Cassie’s read of people and situations.

However. Towards the end where they learn what Fenestre has been up to, and the fact that the human hosts don’t survive the “extraction” process of the Yeerks from their heads, Cassie goes a bit crazy and tries to attack him. And then the real problems start. She doesn’t agree with the idea of letting him continue, and would obviously rather he die, even if this goes against her general philosophy. This exchange between Jake and her follows:

<What do you expect me to do?> I asked her. <You want to get rid of this
man because he’s evil? Do you want to do it yourself, Cassie?>
<You . . . your morph would do It better,> she said.
<You want me to get rid of him for you?> I asked. <That’s what you want?>

And again! Again I lose all respect for Cassie! Whether I agree with her convictions or not (in this case, she definitely not wrong, though there’s also no right answer here), the fact that she uses the excuse of Jake’s tiger morph “doing it better” to kill this guy rather than bloodying her own hands for her convictions just pisses me off. She’s essentially wanting to dictate the tough choice but make someone else do the dirty work for what that would really mean. It just reads as cowardly and selfish to me. I’d like to think that she burned down the mansion in the end, as a way for making up for this truly horrible moment.

In the end of the book, I did like the fact that she’s the only one who still thought of the boy in the chatroom with the Controller father. She goes to his house in wolf morph and tells him that he can’t trust his father anymore. And this is terrible and soul crushing for her to do, basically taking this child’s faith in his parent away from him to protect him. Another good redeeming moment for her.

But still.

The Comic Relief: At one point, Marco and Jake have a conversation about whether or not they would be able to transition back into “real life” if the war suddenly ended tomorrow. Jake is adamant that this is possible. But Marco, ever the pragmatist, is doubtful that anyone of them could live a normal life after experiencing all they have. And they’re not even halfway through their whole ordeal! It’s even more sad that Jake insists that he could be a “normal boy” again in a book where we’re really beginning to see the toll that leadership is taking on him. The Jake from book 1 would have never imagined leaving a Yeerk Controller alive who is killing human hosts just because he’s also killing off hundreds of Yeerks as well.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax plays a crucial role early in the book with his alien tech skillz. Right when the book started and Jake was searching the Internet for the word “Yeerk,” modern-day me was like “No!!!! They can track that!!” But in the very next scene they discuss taking precautions to mask their presence when searching around the chat room and website, and Ax is able to quickly do this. There are a lot of jabs doled out between him and Marco about the backwards earthlings and their rudimentary technology. And then in the last part of the book, he, too, is trapped and missing for most of it.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Jake swatted as a fly! We’ve had a few near-death experiences so far, but the description of just how bad Jake’s situation is…it’s bad. The other Animorphs are literally discussing how to best “scoop” up the remains of his body. As they’re flying away, legs that they are carrying are falling off. They’re concerned that they left behind to much of his body for him to demorph. It’s just terrible.

Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot for either couple. Jake has some good conversations with Cassie, though they are more representative of the different perspectives they each represent in the group than having to do with their relationship. Marco sends a fake message to Jake from “Cassie” in the opening scene which Jake responds to with a funny put-down that he can’t date until his friend Marco gets a girlfriend, which they both know will never happen, so “Cassie” will just have to live with disappointment

However! Jake is with me on the interesting relationship between Marco and Rachel!

Marco and Rachel have a strange sort of relationship. I haven’t figured out whether they pretend they can’t stand each other but secretly like and admire each other, or if they really just can’t stand each other.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Of course Visser Three is the evil twin! And of course he’s been a total ass to his lesser Yeerk brother this entire time. And then of course once the guy gets even a little taste of success Visser Three decides that it’s best to just kill the guy off all told. Not that this brother is really a joy either, but it does seem that he is largely a product of his circumstances. He also claims that he is in some type of partnership with his host body, which is something Visser Three would never even contemplate.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There weren’t any overtly tragic moments in this book. But this does feel like the beginning of the end for Jake’s ability to exist outside of his leadership role. He has to make so many very tough decisions in this book. His view of leadership, the fact that he can’t really allow himself to even have human emotions, is so sad. And then to see him slowly start down some highly ethically questionable paths…Marco is more right than he knows: none of them can go back, least of all Jake.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This whole section exists because of the group’s predisposition for not really planning at all. And here we see the results that, statistically, should probably be more common than we see. They did virtually no scouting of the mansion, and then when they tried to infiltrate it through one of the most obvious routes (the window) things go downhill pretty much immediately. They only escape through sheer luck based on Fenestre having very different goals than almost any other Yeerk Controller who could have been holed up there.

Favorite Quote:

“A ‘mix of truth and lies’ is like the definition of the Internet,” Rachel said. “Equal parts reality and delusion.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 7

No score. Not a huge impact either way with this one.

Rating: I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t remember hardly anything about it, but it’s a great combination of funny moments (even more than there were originally with the dated stuff), action scenes (the rhino part is great), and a good introspection into Jake’s philosophy on leadership and where he is headed as a character.

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 #15: “The Escape”

363355Animorphs #15: “The Escape” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Almost nothing could be as bad as finding out your mother is Visser One. The most powerful of all Vissers. The leader of the Yeerk invasion of Earth. But it happened to Marco. And even though he’s been handling it pretty well, he knew there’d come a time when he’d have to face her again. Knowing that the Yeerk in her brain had taken his mother away.

So when Marco, the other Animorphs, and Ax discover that Visser One is overseeing a secret underwater project, they know they have to check it out. But Marco’s not sure if this is a battle he’ll be able to fight….

Narrator: Marco

Plot: In what is now becoming the usual “save the animals” opening scene of many of these stories, we see Marco and crew in the mall on a mission to morph parrots at the Rain Forest Cafe in an attempt to discourage them using live birds going forward. Obviously, this was Cassie’s plan. After making enough of a nuisance of themselves to get the job done (think parrots spewing vulgarities at customers in line), Marco and Jake run into Erek, our friendly Chee insider, on the way out who informs them that the Yeerks are up to no good. It seems that the Yeerks are trying to take over a world populated by psychic water aliens called Leerans. Obviously, this would be disastrous for the Animorphs, since psychic Controllers could see through their morphs instantly. What’s more, the base of operations, located out in the ocean, deep underwater, is being run by none other than Visser One, Marco’s Controlled mom.

They decide to check it out in dolphin morph. Problem being, Tobias with his new morphing ability, doesn’t have a dolphin morph. This leads to a little scene of them all trekking off to The Gardens where Tobias has to dive bomb a dolphin in hawk morph to try and acquire its DNA. He ends up getting his talons stuck in the dolphin’s skin and is only saved from drowning by a well-timed controlled crash by seagull!Marco.

All morphed dolphins, and Ax as a shark, the crew zero in on the underwater compound. They are quickly surrounded by a crew of hammer head sharks. Bizarrely, the sharks seem to be operating as a pack. Marco, having been almost bit in half by a shark back in book 4, is understandably more panicked than the rest and quickly gets out of there, followed by the others.

Knowing they still need to get into the compound somehow, the Animorphs make their way to the new aquatic center in town which has hammer head sharks. They go at night, but through a few mishaps, Ax is spotted by a Controller guard on duty. They attempt to escape, eventually resorting to having Ax tail swipe away the glass holding in the massive aquarium. Marco barely escapes being eaten by a hammer head, subduing it by acquiring its DNA. The others follow suit.

Marco goes a bit nuts about the fact that he was the first to run back when they were dolphins. The appeal of the fearlessness of the shark overtakes him and he foolishly tries to morph shark in the school pool. He’s interrupted by a pair of bullies who start mocking him and taking jabs at his mom. He’s only saved (from attacking them or discovery) by Jake who shows up and calms things down.

Back in the ocean, this time morphed as sharks, the group make their way into the compound, following the other sharks. They find themselves trapped in a queue that is injecting things into the sharks’ heads that they guess is what the Yeerks are using to control the sharks. Unable to escape, they all are injected as well. It’s only later when they demorph and try to morph fly to more easily make their way around the compound that they realize what’s happened: Yeerk trackers/control devices have been implanted into their heads, preventing them from morphing small animals whose skull cavities can’t fit the tracker. Instantly, somehow getting rid of these trackers becomes the new priority.

The group splits up. Rachel, Cassie, and Jake go battle morph to provide a distraction. Ax, Tobias, and Marco make their way further into the compound to try and find a solution. They discover that there is a fail safe built into the compound that would dissolve the trackers if the compound itself was destroyed. Marco gets discovered by Visser One, but is able to trick her into believing that he is a Controller computer technician who was sent to work on the compound. Escaping from her, he re-joins Ax and Tobias. Ax sets the computer to auto-destruct, and the group re-joins the others to fight.

Visser Three conveniently shows up in a massive snake morph. A mad battle takes place between the Animorphs, the Controllers, and Visser Three and Visser One in the background. A Leeran shows up and tries to tell the Vissers that the morphed beings are humans. Visser One dismisses this, thinking the Leeran has confused Marco’s gorilla morph for a human, since the two are closely related.

Visser One manages to suspend the countdown for the self-destruct, prompting Rachel and Ax to go after her. Rachel is about to kill her when Marco yells for her to stop, admitting that Visser One is his mother. Ax knocks Visser One out instead. Still desperate to destroy the compound, Marco throws a chair through the glass wall, cracking it and sending the Yeerks running for cover.  The Animorphs escape, with Marco thinking he sentenced his mother to death, and now knowing that the entire group will know his mother was/is Visser One. As they swim away, Rachel claims to hear a sub whirring away from the area, possibly containing Visser One. Marco accepts the hope this offers, renewing his drive to fight to free his mother in the future.

The Comic Relief: Have I mentioned that I love Marco books? He just has so much depth as a character. Not only is he just as witty as a narrator as he is as a supporting character in the other books, but there are many real issues that he deals with and brings to his stories, the biggest of which is obviously the struggle with his mother.

But here we also had a few other things that he goes through. One has to do with the fact that he ran first from the sharks. It’s a nice call back to the fact that they all never fully recover from the trauma inflicted on them in all of these fights. He was almost bit in half by a shark; that’s bound to stick with you. And the fact that he is then drawn to the fearlessness of the shark as a way to deal with his insecurities about his own bravery is just excellent.

He’s also very self-aware as a character, and the fact that he’s the most analytical of the group is on full display. Both he and Jake have Controllers in their family, but Marco is the only one who has fully thought out what saving this person would really cost (at least as far as we know, Jake hasn’t mentioned most of this). He goes over the fact that if he saved her the Yeerks wouldn’t just let it go:, they’d be tracked, likely discovered, and the all of the other Animorphs would be discovered and the war lost. Knowing this, even though he fights to save her, he doesn’t know how it will ever be possible.

He also is very practical even through all the pain of confronting his mother, constantly fighting the urge to alert her and reassure her that he’s fighting to save her.

And I’m not someone who does emotional, stupid things. Sometimes I wish I were.

Lastly, when it counts, Marco does the right thing, no matter the personal cost. This practical weighing of odds, of personal issues and the good of everyone else, leads him to destroying the compound, not knowing if his mother will make it out alive. I’m not sure any other character could have done this (maybe Rachel, but she would have done it from a very different emotional place).

As I’ve said before and will probably keep repeating, Marco is the character I would aspire to be in this series.

Our Fearless Leader: There are a few notable moments between Jake and Marco. First, when they all go to The Gardens for Tobias to get a dolphin morph, March impetuously decides to snag a ride on a roller coaster while in seagull morph, pulling Jake along with him. It’s a small moment of pure fun between two best friends. And, in a moment of rare vulnerability afterwards, Marco asks Jake whether they’re still the same, even after it all, deep down. (Clearly he’s also thinking about whether his mom is still his mom even after being a Controller for so many years).

The second moment is the reinforcement of the fact that Jake must be known at their high school as the bully repeller. We know that he saved Tobias from bullying, and when Marco is being made fun of by the bullies at the pool, Jake steps in once again. Jake has to be a fairly popular guy at this school, what with all of these good deeds and his ability to control bullies.

Jake also provides most of the support for Marco throughout this book as the only one who knows the truth about Visser One until the end where it becomes more broadly known.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel doesn’t do a lot in this book, other than be gung ho in her usual semi-crazy way. She’s all for it when Marco suggests splitting into groups with one group morphing battle morphs and providing a distraction.

Naturally, Rachel agreeing with me convinced me I was obviously wrong.

Yeah, right Marco! We’ve seen him base too many decisions on what Rachel decides to do to believe this! In the end, it’s also Rachel who “hears” the sub leaving the collapsing compound (obviously Visser One escapes, but it’s never clear whether Rachel really did hear this or is just providing comfort for Marco), providing hope for Marco that his mother escaped. My secret (not secret) alt-universe shipping of these two continues.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias and the dolphin incident! Not only is the dude already scared of water, but here he has to somehow acquire a dolphin while in hawk morph! And then gets stuck and ends up going on the worst dolphin roller coaster ride of his life. It’s no wonder that after it all, he’s a bit grumpy. And when Cassie starts fretting about how the dolphin is doing, we get this little exchange:

<Well, as long as the dolphin is okay,> Tobias said. <Because I really, really hope the dolphin is okay.>
<Are you going to be sarcastic the rest of the day?> I asked him.
<Yes. I am going to be sarcastic the rest of the day. I nearly drowned. Now I’m going to go become the thing that nearly drowned me. I will be sarcastic until further notice.>

Sarcastic Tobias is a great Tobias.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Jake seems much more willing to go along on these little side missions when Cassie is the one coming up with them… When they’re all morphed as parrots saying ridiculous things to scare off customers, Cassie comes up with:

“Squuaaakkk! We should be flying free in our native habitat!”

Because of course she does. She, along with Marco, proves yet again that she’s one of the two more perceptive members of the group, quickly picking up on Tobias’s lack of enthusiasm to morph dolphin and his fear of water.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Marco’s introductions of characters are always the best of all the narrators. With Ax, we first meet him when he’s in human morph during the parrot mission, and Marco describes him and his food obsession thusly:

Ax would trade a Cinnabon for the Mona Lisa, straight across.

Ax also has a lot of knowledge about the Leeran race. He hacks the computer in the underwater compound to set it to auto-destruct, all while, of course, making many arrogant Andalite comments about superiority and such.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The bit when Marco starts morphing fly and experiencing head pain, only to see Rachel shrinking and the device pushing through her head. Ick.

Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot. Towards the end, when the group is split up in the underwater compound, Tobias is pretty stressed about the delay in accessing the computer, snapping at Ax to hurry up so that they can join Rachel and the others who they can hear fighting in their battle morphs. He’s clearly worrying about her.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Visser drama continues! Visser One and Visser Three’s ongoing bitch fight is always a joy. Here, Marco essentially describes the complete and utter bizarreness of the scenario in the underwater compound when these two run into each other. There’s a massive battle going on all around them between “Andalite warriors” and their Controller underlings, but all they care about is sniping at each other in the middle of the room.

Also, when Marco is in is one-on-one with Visser One posing as a Controller computer technician, he claims that Visser Three killed the other three technicians who were supposedly meant to be accompanying him. Visser One is not at all surprised that this could be the case. Clearly, Visser Three has a bit of a reputation in this area.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Marco books always deliver a big dose of the sads. For some reason, his mother being a Controller always strikes me as more tragic than Jake’s brother. Probably because Marco already grieved her death, and then got her back in the worst way, knowing she’s a Controller for Visser One. Here, when Marco is alone with Visser One, he has to fake being a Controller himself. At one point, the Visser comments that Marco needs to get better Control of his host body; her host is currently screaming and crying in her head, but she still has complete Control. This is so tragic because not only does poor Marco’s mom have to deal with being Controlled by Visser One, but she now thinks her son has been taken as well. This just has to sap away whatever small bits of hope remain to her.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:  It’s not so much a terrible plan, as an “obviously flawed, but necessary course of action.” This is the first time we’re really seeing the challenges posed by Tobias’s new morphing ability and the fact that he needs to acquire DNA as a hawk. So, the dolphin was always going to be a problem. What I don’t get is why the hell they decided to go about this in broad daylight with a park full of people?? In the past, they’ve often snuck into The Gardens at night to get their morphs. So why they would choose to do this, the most obtrusive DNA acquisition they have ever attempted, in the middle of the day is beyond me.  Actual quote from the book right as Tobias is dive-bombing the poor dolphin:

<Um … is this stupid?> Cassie asked, way too late.

Favorite Quote:

This is a really long quote, but it’s probably the one and only quote that I’ve always remembered from this series and even referenced a few time over the years. I knew it was in a Marco book somewhere, so I was thrilled to see it pop up here:

See, I’ve always believed that to some extent you get to decide for yourself what your life will be like. You can either look at the world and say, “Oh, isn’t it all so tragic, so grim, so awful.” Or you can look at the world and decide that it’s mostly funny. If you step back far enough from the details, everything gets funny. You say war is tragic. I say, isn’t it crazy the way people will fight over nothing? People fight wars to control crappy little patches of empty desert, for crying out loud. It’s like fighting over an empty soda can. It’s not so much tragic as it is ridiculous. Asinine! Stupid! You say, isn’t it terrible about global warming? And I say, no, it’s funny. We’re going to bring on global warming because we ran too many leaky air conditioners? We used too much spray deodorant, so now we’ll be doomed to sweat forever? That’s not sad. That’s irony. Note to Alanis: That is ironic. Humor kind of breaks down when the tragedy gets up close and personal.

On a more light-hearted and brief note, Marco had this to say to Erek in the beginning when he and Jake agreed to do something about the Yeerks’ goals to capture the Leerans:

I shrugged. “We like to keep busy. It’s either rescue entire races or play Nintendo.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 7

A point for the Animorphs…I guess? I mean, they mostly destroyed the compound to simply undo the head implant situation that they foolishly got themselves into, but it was still a blow against the Yeerks.

Rating: Loved it! There was so much great character building stuff for Marco, and now the secret of his mother is out to the rest of the group, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward.

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 #14: “The Unknown”

363391Animorphs #14: “The Unknown” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s a new rumor in town. Someone has discovered an item that proves life on other planets exists. And they’ve been hiding it on a base called Zone 91. The Most Secret Place On Earth.

Cassie, the other Animorphs, and Ax already know about life on other planets. Too well. They also realize the Yeerks will try to access Zone 91 to find out if what’s there will threaten their mission. So the Animorphs decide to pay Zone 91 and the Yeerks a little visit. But what they discover is not at all what they expect.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: As we know from my last rant, ahem, I mean, review, I have some struggles with Cassie books some times. But, while this book continues the tradition of giving Cassie some of the more stupid missions, we were at least spared the awful drama and holier-than-thou whining that ruined the last Cassie book for me. In fact, this book was a lot of fun…when it wasn’t being entirely stupid.

Through a mall-trip-related deal, Cassie convinces Rachel to travel out with her and her dad to the Dry Land (a nearby semi-desert area) to check out a sick horse. But this isn’t a normal horse. In fact, this horse seems to be trying to make a phone call using a paid phone booth! What’s more, Cassie and Rachel see a Yeerk squirm out of the horse’s ear (the horse is clearly suffering from a snake bite), and then almost get shot by Dracon beams.

Returning to the other Animorphs the next day, they convince the very skeptical group that the bizarre horses really are worth checking out. Understandably, the group can’t seem to figure out why Yeerks would want to Control horses of all animals. Maybe it has something to do with the nearby Zone 91, a military base rumored by conspiracy theorists to host proof that aliens exist (I see what you did there, Applegate).

Cassie, Marco, Rachel, and Tobias decide to check it out. In an unfortunate bit of timing between morphs, Cassie, Marco and Rachel are captured by a military patrol and brought into the base. They only escape by morphing cockroach while the man in charge, Captain Torrelli, is away checking out their names and numbers. Somehow he doesn’t get the fact that “Fox Mulder,” “Dana Skully,” and “Cindy Crawfod” (Cassie really sucks in the lying department) might, MIGHT, be fake names. After escaping the building, and in Cassie’s case, proving that roaches can survive anything after being run over by a tank, the group witness a herd of horses with a particularly modest horse that moves to be behind a bush while it does its business. (And here we have the first example of what is an unfortunate trend for this book. Potty humor. Never fear, I will point out the other examples as we go!)

Now convinced that something is up with the horses here, the group decide that they should morph horses themselves to try and figure out why exactly Yeerks would be doing this. What follows is a bizarre escapade at a racing track where somehow Cassie ends up morphing a famous race horse (Minneapolis Max!) and winning a horse race. Ultimately, they all get horse morphs and fly back to the desert to join the herd of the horse!Controllers.

The Yeerks seem to have the brilliant plan that going in as Controlled horses they can discover what information, if anything, the humans have on any alien lifeforms on Earth. To do this, they decide to simply charge into the base as a herd of horses. The Animorphs join in and they discover some strange alien contraption that neither the Yeerks nor the Animorphs recognize. Heading back into the desert, the herd is intercepted by a Yeerk Bug Fighter and none other than Visser Three himself checking on how the mission went. After being displeased with the results, he decides that they should go with Plan B and infest some humans that work on the base. He also is displeased with the presence of other horses with the group, thinking they could be Andalites in morph. Cassie decides to take a dump as a way to convince them that they’re just regular horses. (Potty humor again!) When this doesn’t work, they simply run away, only escaping when some officers from the base show up and the Yeerks retreat rather than expose themselves.

On the way home, Ax reveals that he actually did know what the strange alien artifact was: a primitive Andalite toilet. So yes, the whole crux of this little story is centered around a LITERAL TOILET.

Through shenanigans, Cassie realizes that the Yeerks will likely try to infest Zone 91 officers while they’re at a company day trip to The Gardens. The Animorphs show up, get chased around through a log ride by Captain Torrelli who recognizes Cassie and Marco as “those punk kids.” Finally, they find the Yeerks camped out in the Horror House. They’re just standing around pretending to be part of the ride, including Visser Three himself. The Yeerks nab the Captain, and the Animorphs morph their battle morphs and give chase through the Horror House, and then, conveniently, into a parade. For some not super clear reason, the Yeerks pretty much let Captain Torrelli get away and fly off. Somehow all of this is hand waved away by the general public as “just part of the amusement park.”

So…there you have it. There were several really fun scenes tied up in all of this nonsense. We get a whole chapter of the kids at school, which is always fun. There were some good character moments with Cassie and her parents. And, tone wise, this book was very, very funny.

But beyond all of that, it’s just dumb. The whole horse!Controllers idea doesn’t make any sense given how we’ve seen the Yeerks operate in the past. The campy nonsense at The Gardens is completely wacky. And the fact that the whole thing ends with the Animorphs pretty much hand-waving the threat to Captain Torrelli away as “well, now he’ll be on his guard” is ridiculous. The Yeerks could take control of him at any time! Beyond all of this, the central conflict is around an Andalite toilet. The stakes…they are not high or interesting in this book.

Actual quote from the book:

We had done some very important things as Animorphs. We had fought
some terrible and vital battles. This wasn’t one of them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, herself, is much more tolerable in this book. Part of it has to do with the fact that she hangs out with Rachel quite a bit in this story, and their friendship and banter is always enjoyable. Her relationship with her parents remains as one of the more fully developed families in the series. She has a few moments where she again reverts to her “this is all my fault!” whininess, but for the most part it was much more toned back from her last book.

Bizarrely, for a character that is often really smart in other books, she has some seriously dumb moments here. I mean, it was just a book or two ago when she morphed Rachel and was able to lie straight to a Controller’s face in a much more high stakes moment. But here, she has tons of issues coming up with a lie at the base with Rachel and Marco (Cindy Crawford??) and then messes up understanding military time when they try to disrupt the Yeerks’ plan at The Gardens. Seems out of character for her.

Another huge misstep she makes is while she’s at the race track and somehow ends up in the race itself, she goes and thought speaks to the jokey! Why??! What if he was a Controller! The Animorphs never do this for a reason, and it’s such an inconsequential moment, that’s it’s completely inexplicable why she would choose to break this rule now.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t do much in this book. He plays his usual leader role, gets exasperated at the banter when they go off topic, and repeatedly tells Ax to stop calling him “Prince.”

Xena, Warriar Princess: As I said, there’s a lot of fun Cassie/Rachel friendship moments. In exchange for going out to the desert with Cassie and her dad, Rachel gets to take Cassie shopping for outfits. Then they go to school and Rachel is massively disappointed by the fact that no one notices. In fact, poor Cassie only gets talked to after boys come up to Rachel first, and then they forget Cassie’s name calling her “Kendra” and “Carla.” In desperation, Rachel pays Marco two dollars to make a scene over Cassie in the next class. Something he plays up quite a bit. These are the type of very fun “real world” scenes that we don’t get often, but are great fun when we do.

A Hawk’s Life: It’s super fun having Tobias around for more of this book! He gets to plan with the group while in his “human morph” at the mall. And then gets to morph horse along with everyone else, too. It’s explained that since hawk is Tobias’s “true form” now, that he has to acquire all of his morphs as a hawk. We miss out on the scene of how this worked out with the horses.

The Comic Relief: Marco gets in a lot of fun quips about “modest horses” and “phone call making horses” etc etc. He also proves to still be the most canny member of the group when he, Cassie and Rachel are captured at the base. While there, he insists on asking about aliens and generally making out like a conspiracy theorist. When they escape and Rachel and Cassie challenge him on this, he says that that’s the only way they would be dismissed. Three regular, sane kids out there without shoes are a real question. Three crazy kids…well, they’re crazy.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: While the group are morphed horses, Ax is able to understand the Yeerks because they are talking Galard, some universal alien language. Another stupid thing about this book: it never really says how the Yeerks are “talking” at all while in the body of a horse. If I’m not mistaken, horses don’t have the most advanced vocal cords…

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: At once point while morphing, Cassie gets to see her hand as just bones. Fun!

Couples Watch!: Not much of anything here. When Cassie comes home late from their mission, her parents make a point of embarrassing her, asking if she was out on a date with Jake. It’s another nice human moment in the book.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I seriously don’t buy the fact that Visser Three would show up at The Gardens and pretend to be a part of the Horror House ride. It just seems like something that he would consider so beneath him. And really, wouldn’t it me? I mean, come on, the guy is the third most powerful Yeerk in the Empire! Does he really need to come along on the infestation mission of one little human Captain??

He does have this moment, though, when he meets up with the horse!Controllers and is upset with their findings (the fact that they didn’t know what the alien artifact was) and kills one of them in a fit of rage:

<Fools! Idiots! Incompetents!> the Visser screamed in enraged thought-
speak. <Weeks have been wasted setting up this effort. First we lose that
clumsy fool, Korin Five-Four-Seven, when he was bitten by a snake. And
now we’ve lost poor JillayNine-Two-Six!>
The Visser indicated the no-longer-in-one-piece horse-Controller, like it
had been someone else’s fault he’d been lost.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Can I cry at the sheer stupidity and at the fact that the book is pretty much potty humor wrapped up in an Animorphs story??

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This time it’s the Yeerks with the terrible plan! I mean, come on! Why, oh why, would they Control horses to check this place out? At no point in this series have we ever seen the Yeerks hesitate to just infest whomever is convenient. And they’ve already gotten thousands of people, so it’s not like it’s even that hard for them to do. This just makes absolutely no sense. And the plan to capture the guy while at The Gardens is almost as stupid, too! Yes, let’s make a huge scene with Visser Three and Hork Bajir running around to capture this one guy while in the middle of a crowded theme park! Yes, that is the way to keep aliens on earth a secret (the apparent reason they’re so interested in getting a hold of the artifact in Zone 91 in the first place!) So stupid. Visser Three himself admits that Plan B was better:

“We still have the backup plan. It was always the better plan. We’ll simply
take control of a few of the humans working at this base.”

No one knows why this was ever the “backup plan.”

Favorite Quote:

The level of exasperation behind Marco’s comment in this quote pretty much sums up my feelings about the plot of this entire book.

<You’re telling me the Most Secret Place On Earth, the fabled Zone
Ninety-one, the Holy Grail of conspiracy nuts, is hiding the secret of an
Andalite toilet?> said Marco.
<Only a very primitive model,> Ax said condescendingly. <Since those
days there have been huge technological improvements.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

NO POINTS FOR ANYONE! BAD YEERKS! BAD ANIMORPHS!

Rating: So, the plot for this one was pretty stupid. But there was a lot of really fun “real world” moments that we don’t often get, and there were a lot of really funny lines and running jokes, so much so that I actually still very much enjoyed reading it. The rating would then be somewhere in the middle. Not great, but its saved by a few things from being a complete disaster.

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 #13: “The Change”

bk13Animorphs #13: “The Change” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Tobias has pretty much gotten used to his life. He’s a red-tailed hawk with the mind of a kid. It was weird when he first got trapped in morph. But now it’s almost okay. After all, how many kids actually get the chance to fly?

Now Tobias is about to make a very special choice. A choice that the other Animorphs and Ax know nothing about. And it could mean the difference between being a hawk…and being human…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: Yay! Another Tobias book! It’s been forrreeevvveerrr since we’ve had one from him; all the way back to book 3! Though with “The Andalite Chronicles,” we now have a lot more information on him. I can’t remember how Tobias learns of this history, but alas, it isn’t in this book.

I always love the Tobias books. He’s such a unique narrator, with very different challenges and points of view on the Yeerk war from his fellow Animorphs. He also has the “angst” side of the series nailed down pretty good. Starting off this book, we learn that Tobias has been using all of his extra time (just regular ole bird time and, we learn, guilt-driven extra work he has given himself due to his inability to participate in many of the missions) to follow known Controllers around and scout out as many of the entrances to the Yeerk pool as possible. Cuz doing something about that nightmare place is still, as ever, on the long list of Animorphs “to-dos.”

Along with Rachel (of course) in eagle morph, he tries to show her his most recent find, an entrance that is located in a car wash, only to repeatedly find himself on the edge of the forest, no where near his intended destination. Strange that Tobias could get lost! But before they can worry about it too much, they notice something even more bizarre: two Hork Bajir fleeing through the forest being chased by human Controllers on motorbikes. Very quickly they realize that these must be Yeerk-free Hork Bajir and decide to help them escape, leading them (well actually, only the one, as one trips and falls and must be left behind) as birds using thought-speak to a nearby cave.

They meet up with the others in Cassie’s barn to decide what to do . They have no idea, so they end up going back to the cave to see if the Hork Bajir himself has some thoughts on the matter. Let me just insert this note here: the Hork Bajir were hilarious in this book. It is clear that, as a species, they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed, but this played for great comedic bits while also being balanced by a level of sincerity and honesty that just makes them completely adorable, killer blades and all (which we find out are actually for harvesting bark off trees, which is what they eat, never for battle).

While learning more from the Hork Bajir, named Jara Hamee, they realize that the Yeerks are once again closing in on them. Rachel morphs Jara Hamee to serve as a distraction as the others lead him away. Tobias, cuz he’s still (always) all angsty about his lack of participation, rides along on her shoulder. Suddenly, however, he somehow finds himself up in the sky again, miles away from Rachel and the others. There he spots the other Hork Bajir who has been trapped by the Controllers and Visser Three himself. Tobias is able to dive bomb Visser Three and lead the second Hork Bajir (we learn her name is Ket Halpack) back to safety with the others. Things continue to get strange when while they discuss what to do with Ket and Jara, Tobias suddenly has an image pop into his mind of a hidden valley in the mountains where they could be safe. Problem is, he’s never been there or heard of this place before.

The rest of the Animorphs head home, and poor Tobias ends up having to continue to trek through the dark with Jara and Ket, trying to keep out of the grasp of the Controllers who are still searching for them. At a certain point, he discovers that Jara and Ket only escaped because they “heard a voice in their head.” At this point, Tobias throws his hands in the air, figuratively of course, and calls a halt until someone explains what the heck is going on. Of course, it’s the Ellimist, our all-powerful friend who “never meddles” (read: always meddles) once again trying to save a species from extinction. In exchange for his continuing help, the Ellimist agrees to grant Tobias “what he most wants.”

The others join him the next day and their flight from the Controllers becomes even more desperate. Throughout all of this, Tobias still has to deal with realities of being a bird who needs to hunt and eat. Not only does he barely avoid being eaten by a bobcat, but when he spots helicopters chasing after his friends (who are all out in the open in their human form, trekking up a mountainside), he gets buffeted out of the air, breaking a wing on his way down. Things only get worse when a racoon spots him and decides to drag him off as a lunchtime snack. The Ellimist then decides to pop up and grant his wish, but instead of turning him back to a human boy, as he expected, the Ellimist simply gives him back his morphing ability. He’s able to morph the racoon, escape, morph back to a bird and warn his friends.

In the last action sequence of the book, Tobias hatches a desperate plot to trick the Controllers into thinking the Hork Bajir are dead. He and Rachel more the Hork Bajir, lead the Controllers on a merry chase to a ravine, and then, one at a time, jump off, only to be caught by gorilla!Marco in a cave on their way down. Below, the real Jara and Ket pose as dead and being eaten by wolf!Cassie and wolf!Jake.

In the final chapters, Tobias is bumming about not being a boy again. But when sleeping in his meadow, the Ellimist brings him back to the night before he walked through the construction site with his friends. Bird!Tobias tells past!Tobias to make sure to go with the others on his way home, and to let him perch on his arm for a bit, thus acquiring his own DNA. In the end, he is still a bird, but now able to morph himself, which he does to attend an awards ceremony for Rachel, which results in a very adorable “meet cute.”

A Hawk’s Life: Much of Tobias’s internal monologuing has to do with the fact that he’s been unable to participate in almost all of the missions lately. In his first book, he had to deal with the fact that hawk, but here, we see the real cost is his lack of morphing ability. As is evidenced by my last several reviews where this section got maybe one sentence of something like “Tobias was asleep” or “Tobias had to fly off” or “Tobias scouted from above,” it was becoming pretty obvious that something was going to need to be done about this situation. In this book we hear about how much this has been tearing Tobias up inside, especially when he comes up with plans that require putting his friends in danger, like the plan that involves Rachel morphing the Hork Bajir and leading the Controllers away. Giving him back his morphing ability, but still keeping him trapped as a bird is just excellent writing. I mean, now he will have even more drama, because technically he could be human again if he wanted, but he’d have to stay in his human “morph” and become “trapped” that way, thus losing his morphing ability once again.

Our Fearless Leader: There was some fun stuff towards the final act of the book where Tobias and Jake switch roles, essentially. Tobias comes up with the entire plan to fake the deaths of the Hork Bajir, and then, new morphing ability in hand, takes on a lead role in the plan itself. Jake ends up scouting from above as a bird and pulling off Tobias’s signature “swoop and save” to get Tobias and Rachel out of a tight spot at one point. It is worth noting that this sequence with the planning and direction-giving from Tobias highlights something new: of them all, if Jake wasn’t around, I think Tobias might have been the next natural choice as leader. Rachel’s too reckless. Marco’s too prone to sarcasm to be taken seriously when it counts. Ax is an alien. And Cassie’s….Cassie. Tobias shows his strengths as a strategist, and it’s telling that everyone easily follows his directions and agrees with his plans from the start.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Immediately, it’s nice to see Tobias’s evaluation of Rachel. In the first few pages when he’s introducing all of the characters, he mentions that Rachel is brave to the point of being reckless. And that’s part of the reason he likes her. For the others, Rachel’s reckless bravery is often seen as something to be mildly concerned about (perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly), but it’s nice to see that Tobias, at least, likes her just as she is, recklessness and all. Rachel gets a lot of action in this book. When they first discover the fleeing Hork Bajir, she’s the one to decide that they need to help, reasoning that “an enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and thus setting the whole thing into motion. She also is the first to morph Hork Bajir, and Marco notes that this morph reflects Rachel as she is inside, a powerful killing machine. And, obviously, in the end of the book she’s part of the bait-and-switch with Tobias.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this book. She participates in the plans, but doesn’t have many stand out moments. Though when they first meet up as a group early in the book, she’s the one Animorph other than Tobias who really catches on to the strangeness of him and Rachel getting “lost” while flying.

When Tobias is first introducing the team to the reader, he describes Cassie thusly:

More like she’s part of something bigger than herself. Like she’s some
living extension of the earth… Like some gentle soldier in the service of nature itself. Corny, isn’t it?

Yes, Tobias, it is corny. And accurate, which is part of what makes Cassie so insufferable much of the time. Though, to be fair, she was fine in this book, and even had a cute scene where she was lecturing Marco about “having fun in nature” as they hiked through the mountains with Jara and Ket, leading them to the valley.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, doesn’t have too much in this book. Even his quipping felt a little less than what I’ve come to expect (though not surprisingly, his best moments came in banter bits with Rachel). However, he does play a crucial role in the final plan by catching Rachel and Tobias as a gorilla when they jump on the cliff. Talk about performing under pressure. His friends’ lives were literally in his hands.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax helps Tobias guard the Hork Bajir overnight in the woods while the others go home. There are some bits of history we gather from conversations between the two of them about the Andalites and the Hork Bajir. Mostly it’s more Andalite arrogance about their superiority to the dumb Hork Bajir. But, as always, said in the most endearing Ax-ish way.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: It’s not so much body horror, but the bit where Tobias is getting dragged away by the racoon who has hold of his broken wing, and then is getting washed in the creek in preparation for being eaten alive…pretty horrific. The whole little scene really highlights how terrible Tobias’s life as a hawk is. His broken wing would be the death of him without the Ellimist. We’ve gotten used to the fact that the others can morph away injuries, but here, Tobias is not only crippled, but he’s completely defenseless, out of reach of his friends, and would have been racoon chow if not for all powerful beings showing up.

Off topic, but there’s some fun stuff when he does get his morphing ability back and we remember what it was like for the others to just learn how morphing works for the first time. Tobias had only morphed a cat and the hawk before he became trapped and that was all the way back in book one. Here, he even runs along as a racoon for quite a while before realizing that he can morph back to the bird and his wing would be healed. I really liked this kind of attention to character detail.

Couples Watch!: This is more like it! Unlike Rachel’s last book, we got all the cute middle grade crush feels. Tobias out-and-out tells Rachel that it’s really important how she thinks of him. And there’s this entire side plot where Rachel has been awarded a prize as an outstanding student at school, which Tobias only discovers after seeing her carrying around a piece of paper announcing a ceremony that is coming up. Of course, he can’t go as a bird, and there’s lots of feels about it, cuz clearly Rachel would value his being there over everyone except maybe Cassie. And then, of course, there’s the adorable moment in the end when he surprises her by showing up in his brand new human morph. It’s all quite cute.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only shows up for a bit, and shockingly, doesn’t pull some strange alien morph out of his hat. When Tobias first describes Visser Three, he says this:

[He looks like a regular Andalite] but there is some dark, evil glow that shines from within him.

That’s our Visser, emanating evilness like a glow lamp.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This one isn’t quite as tragic as Tobias’s first outing as a narrator. But nothing can really beat attempted teen suicide by mall skylight, right? But we do get quite a bit about how hard it’s been on him watching his friends go into danger and the self-loathing this has brought about. Also, in the end, when he thinks that he’s only been given his morphing ability back sans human boy, it’s quite sad. He ends up avoiding both Rachel and Ax, his two closest friends, because he’s too busy feeling sorry for himself. And you can’t even blame him for it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They actually had really great plans this entire time! That last plan to fake the deaths was brilliant. So much attention to detail with even having the morphed wolves pretend to eat the “bodies” to prevent the Controllers from feeling that they needed to dispose of the bodies. Maybe Tobias should plan all of their missions. Or him and Marco combined; I’m pretty sure the two of them paired up are the dream planning team.

Favorite Quote:

First, the obligatory cuteness quote, after the Rachel book’s disappointing lack of couple-times:

<Good. Because, you know, how you think about me is sort of important.>
I winced. I’d sounded way too sincere. I mean, what was I thinking? Rachel’s a human. A real human. I’m a hawk. You think Romeo and Juliet were doomed, just from being from families that didn’t like each other? Well, you can’t get any more doomed than caring for someone who isn’t even the same species.

And, obviously, Rachel/Marco banter, after Cassie throws a snake at Marco and scares him after he had been wondering how to tell a Hork Bajir female from a male and theorizing that the girls were afraid of snakes:

Even Marco had to laugh. “Oh, that was so not fair. Funny, yes. Fair,
no. Can we please act more mature here?”
“Sure, Marco,” Rachel said. “Why don’t you leave and we’ll automatically
be a more mature group?”

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

A point for the Animorphs! Saving the Hork Bajir is a definite win, and if I remember correctly, these two and their hidden valley show up several times throughout the rest of the series, so it’s a win that continues to count.

Rating: I always love the Tobias books, and I was waiting expectantly for this one, not only because I love the adventure of this story, but because I knew it was the game changer for getting Tobias back into the action of the rest of the books going forward.

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: “The Andalite Chronicles”

Andalite_chronicles_front_cover_hi_resAnimorphs 12.5: “The Andalite Chronicles” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: His name is Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul.

An Andalite war-prince. The one who gave five young humans the ability to morph into any animal they touch. They are still out there, fighting an evil so powerful there isn’t a moment that goes by when they can actually feel safe. Their story continues.

But this is how it all began…

Narrator: Elfangor

Plot: This book is twice as long as a usual Animorph book, so strap in for a long post folks!

Similarly to how we first met his little brother Ax, we find Elfangor aboard an Andalite Dome ship, an aristh eager to prove himself. When the Dome ship comes across a Skrit Na raider ship, Elfangor and his fellow aristh, Arbron are tasked to board it, as they are small enough to navigate the cramped quarters. Aboard, they discover two human kids, a girl named Lauren and a boy who goes by his last name…Chapman. After rescuing the humans, Elfangor and Arbron are re-assigned to travel with disgraced War Prince Alloran, who long ago fought in the Hork Bajir wars, and return the two humans to Earth. On the way, Elfangor bounds with Loren, noting many of the quirky facts about humans such as their “artificial hooves” (sneakers), their amazing arm strength (the ability to lift their whole body off the ground), and the fact that they don’t eat through their feet, but with their mouths!

I spoke like I would to a child. Obviously, this species was primitive. They didn’t even have tails.

He is less a fan of Chapman who is just a jerk in every way and takes the time to drop this little nugget early in their relationships:

At least that’s my motto: Grab what you can.”

Charming. On the way, Arbron uses science to somehow discover that another Skrit Na radar ship had escaped and was carrying a mythical and powerful machine, the Time Matrix. Desperate to recover it before it can be sold to the Yeerks, they change course for the Taxxon home world, a favorite buyer for the Skrit Na.

Upon arrival, Elfangor, Arbron, and Alloron morph Taxxon to scout out the planet and locate the Time Matrix, leaving Loren and Chapman aboard the cloaked ship. Their plans fall apart, however, when they are separated by the chaos of a Taxxon feeding frenzy (the Taxxon morphs has very strong instincts of constant, almost debilitating, hunger). It is after escaping this mess that Taxxon!Elfangor is captured by a Sub-Visser Seven Hork Bajir Controller who immediately lays forth his plan to force Elfangor to demorph so he can be the first Yeerk with an Andalite body. When he refuses, he is pushed out of the ship and only escapes by morphing an Andalite home world bird. Flying around, he sees their original ship land and Chapman emerge saying he wants to “strike a deal” with the Yeerks. He happens to know of a world with a bunch of sentient beings who could be great Controllers.

Re-morphing Taxxon, he stumbles upon Arbron, still in Taxxon morph as well. Together they locate the Skrit Na ship that holds the Time Matrix and bluff their way on claiming they are there for repairs and are able to steal it. While flying away, Elfangor discovers that Arbron is stuck in Taxxon morph. Arbron attempts to force Elfangor to kill him with a Dracon beam, but when Elfangor resists, the Dracon cuts a hole into the ship resulting in a crash landing. Elfangor awakes alone. He steals a Mustang (the car was also scavenged from Earth by the Skrit Na), and races back to the space port. On the way, he is captured by a hive of Taxxons where he finds Arbron. Turns out there are some Taxxons still resisting the Yeerks. They plan an attack, lead by Arbron who has an Andalite’s knowledge of the Yeerks.

The attack itself quickly falls into madness due to the Taxxons’ hunger issues. It is all Elfangor can do to hold off Arbron from attacking the two humans when they find them. They are almost overwhelmed by Hork Bajir Controllers when Hork Bajir!Alloran shows up to save the day be taking Sub Visser Seven captive as leverage to get back on their own ship and leave. Arbron, however, refuses to come, saying that he has no life with Andalites anymore, and returns to the Taxxons.

In space, Alloran forces the Sub Visser Seven to jump to his death from the ship and then orders Elfangor to destroy a cargo ship full of Yeerks in their transport pool. Elfangor refuses, saying it is dishonorable to kill helpless Yeerks. During their disagreement, Chapman attacks a distracted Alloran and knocks him out. Elfangor lands back at the wrecked Skrit Na ship to retrieve the Time Matrix. It is only after he off the ship that he questions Chapman’s behavior and realizes that both he and Loren have been made into Controllers. He races back, but it’s too late and the unconscious Alloran has been taken over. Sub Visser Seven reveals that the Hork Bajir Controller had only been posing as him. Elfangor is able to stun Sub Visser Seven, leaving him behind, and flying away from the Taxxon world.

Loren’s Yeerk chooses to depart Loren rather than starve to death on the promise that Elfangor will freeze it and expel it into space, which he does. Elfangor and Co. fly aimlessly around Zero Space for a few days, as he knows that the Yeerks likely placed a tracker on their ship and that once they come out of Zero Space they’ll quickly be found. He navigates them to the location of the original Dome ship, hoping that the added forces will be enough to combat the Yeerks.

When they come out of Zero Space, they discover that the Dome ship is under attack by strange asteroid creatures that essentially eat space ships and can’t really help when Sub Visser Seven (now Visser Thirty Two, having gotten a promotion for Controlling an Andalite) arrives in a Blade ship. Elfangor is able to trick them into getting close enough for him to shoot the belly of the ship with his shredders, but they still get boarded. However, weakened, it tears free, leaving Elfangor, Loren, Chapman, and now Visser Thirty Two trapped in an airless ship. Between the three of them (Chapman loses consciousness cuz he’s a weakling), they are able to activate the Time Matrix and escape.

However, because there were three of them trying to control their destination, they end up on a strange plane of existence that is a patchwork of their three home worlds. Elfangor and Loren are able to find each other and figure out how to find the Time Matrix. They meet up with Visser Thirty Two a few times and closely escape. After finding the Time Matrix (to get close to it, they discover that time speeds up and they each age several years very quickly, Loren ends up around 18), Elfangor tells Loren to take control and bring them to Earth. He’s had enough of this fight, having lost Arbron, allowed Alloran to be taken by a Yeerk, and, in his mind, failed in every way.

The two travel to Earth where Loren has made sure (using timey-whimey magic) that everyone accepts the fact that she is now 18. They bury the Time Matrix, deciding it is too dangerous a weapon for any one species to control. Three years pass. Elfangor creates a human morph for himself by combining DNA and traps himself in that morph, taking on the name Al Fangor. He marries Loren and goes into computer science in college. All is as well as it can be until our friend the Ellimist shows up one day.

He says that Elfangor is not where he should be and through various forms of manipulation convinces Elfangor that he must return to the way things are supposed to be, leaving Earth and Loren (whose memories will be wiped) behind. It is only after he agrees that he learns that Loren was pregnant with their son. The Ellimist shows him that his son will be very important in the future, one day meeting up with Elfangor’s own younger brother and four others.

Elfangor returns to the Andalite war and after saving a Dome ship from the now Visser Three instead of Thirty Two, he is hailed a hero and thus starts what will be a long and honored career as an Andalite Prince. The story ends with him landing on Earth, injured and hoping to find the Time Matrix again (the beautiful forest where it was buried has now become an abandoned construction site). He briefly meets his son, and gives him and the other kids the morphing power. He then dies at the hands of Visser Three, leaving a recording of his tale (this book) that is sent out into space.

Elfangor: Elfangor is such a great character. There are clear similarities to Ax with his earnestness and desire to become a great hero of his people. However, he also is more quick to trust the humans he encounters and bond with them. It’s notable that, unlike Ax who in his book was confused by why people thought Rachel was beautiful, Elfangor is immediately taken by Loren and her golden hair. He also more quickly catches on to human humor and adopts it himself.

The stakes get incredibly high for Elfangor through this story. He loses his close friend to Taxxon morph and then is indirectly responsible for the fact that Alloran gets taken over by to-be Visser Three. By the end of the story, it is very understandable why he chooses to retreat to Earth.

The entire book gives us so much great background information for a character who was only ever introduced so briefly back in book one. Even then, I felt like he made a huge impact as a character, beyond the obvious reasons he was necessary for the plot. But this just adds so much more to him. We see the history behind his choices. Why he came to Earth when he was injured in the first place. Why that construction site. Why he chose to break the Andalite law and give human kids the ability to morph (throughout this story he marvels at Loren’s strength and bravery as “just a human kid.”) Why he lingers longest with Tobias. And why his fight with Visser Three felt personal.

Loren: Loren is so great. She’s essentially the character you would get if you mixed Rachel and Marco. She’s brave, but also clever. There were many scenes where she saves the day, either by tricking those around her, or physically taking on beings much larger and stronger than she was. When the Dome ship is being attacked by the living asteroids, she is the one to figure out that they are attracted to energy patterns. She’s Elfangor’s equal in every way, and their relationship at the end is completely believable.

Arbron: Arbron’s story is clearly the saddest. While in Taxxon morph, Elfangor very bluntly discusses the horribleness of the all-consuming hunger that plagues the Taxxons. He even begins to understand why they might choose to become willing Controllers if it would result in more feeding of that hunger. In the end of the book, the Ellimist informs Elfangor that Arbron still lives back on the Taxxon home world in the free Taxxon hive. This is either good news, or incredibly tragic as well.

Alloran: Elfangor’s conflict with Alloran on the ship when it comes to killing the helpless Yeerks comes to an even greater head when he learns that the reason that Alloran is a disgraced War Prince is that he was the one who released a quantum virus back during the Hork Bajiir wars. Basically, he was using chemical weapons. This further dis-illusions Elfangor to the Andalite race, contributing to his decision to flee the war and hide the Time Matrix even from his own people.

This also, obviously, adds even more depth to Visser Three. We met Alloran himself very briefly back in Ax’s book when he was free for a few minutes and asked Ax to kill him. At the time we didn’t know more than what he told us: that he was still fighting against Visser Three and wanted Ax to tell that to his family.

Chapman: Chapman is the worst. I mean, I could pretty much leave it at that. At every single point in this book, he says and does terrible things. And not just in little, average bullying ways. He literally attempts to bargain away the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE to the Yeerks on the Taxxon home world. And even after he’s been made a Controller then left when Visser Three takes over Alloran, he STILL is on the side of the Yeerks.

Loren and Elfangor run into Chapman back on Earth during the three years, and they find out that his memory has somehow been wiped of the entire experience. We later learn from the Ellimist that Chapman is also important to the future.

Visser Three: From the very first moment we meet him, we all recognize our favorite villain. He’s obsessed with getting an Andalite body, a big fan of announcing his plans, and, turns out, very into collecting alien species even before he had the ability to morph.

By this point in the series, we’re all pretty familiar with his penchant for morphing some strange alien creature and telling the Animorphs all about its super cool abilities. On the strange patchwork world that he helps create using the Time Matrix, he has two alien “pets” whom he introduces in a similar manner before siccing them on Loren and Elfangor. So, the power to morph couldn’t have gone to a better Yeerk! He was already in the business of collecting animals!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is Elfangor’s son! Am super excited to see how this is revealed to him.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: There’s a fun call back to Ax’s obsession with the power of taste and cigarette butts. When Elfangor’s taking the Mustang for a cruise, he finds a picture of humans enjoying the scenery while putting “slim white cylinders” in their mouths. He thus equates those with human happiness and has to be informed by a laughing Loren that no, cigarettes are bad for you and that picture had only been an ad for them.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The Taxxons, man, they’re terrible. The cannibalism of their own and the fact that they have pretty much zero self control over that is made very clear in the most gruesome ways.

Couples Watch!: As a whole, this is the most romantic story of them all! We actually get an entire romantic arc with Loren and Elfangor meeting, falling in love, and getting married. I remember this as one of my favorite Animorphs books as a kid, and I think part of that has to do with this aspect of it. As much fun as it is to watch the Tobias/Rachel and Cassie/Jake ongoing drama, at a certain point I just wanted them to get together! And here I had that!

“I Get That Reference!”: There were a few references in this book that went completely over my head the first time around! It made re-reading this book super fun this time, discovering them finally. First of all, the Skrit Na creatures are essentially two species. The Skrit are these cockroach-like mindless drones, but the Na are described as short creatures that walk on two legs, but have huge heads and huge eyes. It’s mentioned that the Skirt Na are obsessive about collecting other species and performing strange medical experiments on them. So, there you go! The little alien creature that we generally use, and all the stories of being abducted and experimented on, it’s implied that that came form “real” experiences with the Na! Somehow I didn’t pay enough attention to that description as a kid, and missed that whole tie-in.

Secondly, when Elfangor is on Earth as a human, he references having two computer science friends named “Bill” and “Steve” and how he had to use simple words like “window” and basic icons, like fruit, to describe complex topics to them. As a kid, I completely missed this, so it was super fun seeing it now as an adult!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: So many things! Arbron’s whole situation. I mean, he’s a kid, and now he’s stuck as a Taxxon, by all accounts the worst thing to be in the universe, forever. In one swoop, he loses everything. Tobias’s situation seems ideal next to this. Alloran, who goes on to be trapped as Visser Three for years and years. And, of course, Elfangor’s choice to leave Loren and his unborn son behind, especially when he meets Tobias later and very briefly hears about his sad life, and how Loren was essentially broken mentally and left Tobias in the care of his neglectful aunt and uncle. Ugh, so sad.

Favorite Quote:

One of the many bad ass moments from Loren, pretty much summing up how we all feel about Chapman:

“You know, Chapman, you are really making the human race look bad,” she said. “You are seriously embarrassing me.” “Who’s side are you on?” Chapman grated. “Not yours,” Loren said.d. She fired the shredder and Chapman jerked and went limp.

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

No change!

Rating: All the high ratings! As I said, this was one of my favorites as a kid, and I love it all the more re-reading it as an adult. There’s so much packed into this story, and the characters are all so fully developed for the still-limited page count. And as my massive plot section shows, there was tons going on in this book. It’s an excellent backstory for a character who was only briefly around, but it adds so much to the story going forward.

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!

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