Animorphs #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…
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.
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!