The Great Animorphs Re-Read #11: “The Forgotten”

363392Animorphs #11: “The Forgotten”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s been an accident. Someone crashed-landed a Yeerk Bug fighter. And the Yeerks have been trying to cover it up – quickly. But not before Tobias spots it. So the Animorphs and Ax decide to steal the ship to show the world that Earth has been invaded. That’s when things go terribly wrong. Before they know it, Jake, the other Animorphs, and Ax find themselves in another place. Another time. And there’s no way home…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Jake is having bizarre flashes of scenes involving him and the others in the rain forest of all places. Thinking he’s going insane, he must plow forward in spite of it all as the faithful leader of the group when Tobias notifies them all of a downed Bug fighter being hidden and worked on in an empty strip mall. The Animorphs decide to go check it out and, in a bizarre and rapid-fire sequence of terrible decision making, sneak aboard and fly off with the hopes of landing it at the White House and outing the Yeerk invasion once and for all. Surprising no one, this plan fails and fails big.

Losing control of the ship, they end up in outer space participating in a space battle with the Yeerks’ Blade ship. They cross laser fire and both ships end up damaged and plummet to earth, landing in the Brazilian rain forest. But not only are they now miles and miles from home with a broken space ship and Visser Three and his minions sweeping the forest looking for them, but they realize that they’ve traveled back in time several hours.

Ax, of course, wasn’t paying attention in school that day, but he theorizes that the space battle/laser intersection created a Saario Rip, a break in the space time continuum resulting in there now being two Jakes, two Cassies, etc etc all existing at once in different locations. And if they don’t re-set the whole thing in time, both groups will be wiped out. This portion of the plot was just as confusing as most time travel plotlines are and at a certain point I just threw up my hands and went with it.

Ultimately, the group spends a ridiculous amount of time acquiring jungle morphs (monkeys and jaguars) and generally getting a thorough lesson on why the rain forest is deadly. Rachel (of course it’s Rachel) almost gets eaten alive by a colony of ants. They’re almost poisoned by a variety of frogs and snakes. And they make friends with the local people who aren’t too thrilled with the Hork Bajir and other aliens now wandering around on their turf.

Jake and co. come to the obvious conclusion that they must return to the ship and hope to sneak on and hop a ride with Visser Three back to the U.S. and their own time period. Unfortunately for them, Visser Three seems to be smarter in this time period than he usually is and anticipates this move. He morphs some strange tree tentacle creature (how is that he has all of these super specific morphs ready at hand that seemingly would only work in these exact scenarios?) and captures and eats them all when they show up. Jake’s death then snaps his consciousness back to before they stole the Bug Fighter and he quickly calls off the whole thing, leaving him as the only member of the group remembering any of it.

I still don’t quite understand how Jake is the only one to remember all of this and why any one of the Animorph’s deaths wouldn’t have done the same. Maybe the others who were eaten weren’t dead yet? So Jake technically dies first and then stops the whole thing? I dunno, it was all quite confusing, but a blast anyways! I loved the changed setting of having the story take place in the rain forest, and it was fun seeing Visser Three not be a complete idiot. After the nonsense in Cassie’s book with his reaction to the skunk spray, he had begun to lose some of his fear factor and validity as a legitimate threat, so it was nice to see him back on form, even if it all gets wiped away anyways.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s books are always interesting due to his unique position as leader of the group. Through the others’ eyes and narratives, we always hear about how much they all respect and appreciate the fact that he takes on this role. But it’s only through his POV books that we truly understand how crushing this load must be in every single book. This whole story essentially revolved around the types of life and death calls that Jake has to make at every moment and how easily any one decision could go terribly wrong. He’s not operating with any more information than the rest of them, but it’s still up to him to choose whether to risk the safety of the group or of individuals.

At multiple points in this story, Jake has to send individuals into dangerous situations on their own (leaving Ax to retrieve a piece of the Bug fighter while they’re in the rain forest to prevent Visser Three and the rest of the Yeerks from leaving without them, and then later leaving Rachel behind as she struggles to navigate the paths through the forest in her bulky bear morph). Not only does he have to make these decisions, but he has to live with the anger and fear of the others for doing it at all. Tobias is angry that Ax is being left to fend for himself, and the whole group struggles with the close call Rachel has with her bear morph being almost eaten alive by ants.

Towards the end of the book, it is clear that Jake has made all of the wrong decisions that lead to their “deaths.” But, as we’ve seen through his eyes, at the time, he made the best decisions he could, which just makes their ultimate “fate” all the harder for Jake. This book is a good look at how easily things could go wrong for the group, even when making the best decisions they can. And man, poor Jake. He has to be the strongest member of the group to deal with this type of pressure every day.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Other than the horrifying ant scene, there were a few moments with Rachel that I found notable. One was the opening scene which was a comedic little bit where Jake and Rachel are square dancing. It’s always fun when we get moments like this between Jake and Rachel when we’re reminded that they’re related and have a unique relationship to and knowledge of the other. Secondly, Jake has a very astute understanding of Rachel. After she’s almost killed by the ants, Jake notes that whenever she’s scared she reacts by getting mad, and that this anger can often express itself in recklessness. It’s a nice reminder of how completely Jake must know and navigate the different personalities that make up the Animorphs so that he can best lead the group.

A Hawk’s Life: As usual, Tobias is the one that starts off this mission as he has nothing but time to fly around and notice strange things like downed Bug fighters. But, for once, he actually gets to come along on this trip. Obviously a hawk doesn’t do well in the rain forest, especially not a rain forest full of Controllers who are on the look out for animals that don’t belong. Jake also notes that an extra challenge with Tobias is that hawks don’t deal with hunger as well as humans, so Tobias’ situation is even more perilous the longer they are there.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie’s animal knowledge is, of course, useful. She is able to identify where they are in the world by recognizing the types of monkeys swinging in the trees. I just don’t get it. Cassie is so much more sane and likable in other character’s books! It’s almost like she’s out-of-character in her own when she reacts so ridiculously to things. For example, in this book the Yeerks end up killing a lot of the local animals and trees in their attempts to flush the Animorphs out. When she’s asked if she’s upset about this she says that of course she is, but the best way for her to save the planet is to not die, get back to their own timeline, and beat the Yeerks. Not get bogged down in trying to save some specific trees. This! This makes sense! But we just got done seeing her have the completely opposite thought process in her own book when she essentially prioritized a small bit of forest, a nest of baby skunks, and a termite colony above the safety of the group! I don’t get it. She’s so much more relatable, rational, and sympathetic in books like this than her own.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t do much in this book. He’s good for his quips, as always, but his usual contributions (smarts and planning) aren’t used much in this book.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: As always now it seems, the group wouldn’t get far without Ax’s knowledge of technology. But I think Applegate made a very good decision with his re-occuring “I wasn’t paying attention in school that day” routine. Obviously he’s way more technologically advanced than the rest, allowing them to even think about trying to fly the Bug fighter. But it’s good that he doesn’t have a complete understanding of things like Saario Rips and so forth, otherwise he’d be a bit too close to a deus ex machina in all of these stories.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The ants! The ants! Why is it always ants?!?! The whole scene where Rachel is being eaten alive in bear morph by an ant colony was probably one of the most horrifying scenes in the series to date, and that’s really saying something. There were unnecessarily vivid descriptions of ants carrying off pieces of flesh and crawling into mouths and eyes and..,.nope, just nope.

Couples Watch!: There’s a cute scene in the beginning when Cassie comes to watch Jake and Rachel square dance and Jake is super embarrassed by it all. But at least he has a healthy outlook on it and is relieved to see that she’s laughing her head off at him, rather than pitying him.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three has a smart plan! He has a smart plan, guys! He also has a couple good snarky lines that were pretty funny, especially when his underlings went crazy and started shooting up the forest and he questioned the thought process that lead them to destroying the trees…cuz obviously the “Andalite bandits” morphed trees…

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There really wasn’t anything too soul crushing in this book. Lots of action, less feels. I mean, I guess I should have gotten upset about then all “dying” and everything…but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen so I couldn’t get too worked up about it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The whole thesis statement of this book was “Jake has terrible plans and it sucks to be the leader.” I really feel that the whole “let’s steal the Bug fighter and fly it to the White House” had some glaring flaws from the start. Beyond the fact that none of them knew how to fly it, Ax’s techy knowledge aside, the whole thing was a massive gamble that was going to get their cover blown with them having no control of the actual outcome beyond the point where they landed. Not only would the Yeerks be trying to shoot them down, but I’m pretty sure the U.S. government would have something to say about an alien aircraft approaching the White House.

Favorite Quote:

More proof for my “Marco follows (loves??) Rachel” theory!

“We didn’t vote,” Rachel said. “But if we had, you’d have voted yes.””How do you know how I’d have voted?” Marco demanded. Rachel smiled. “Because I’d have voted yes.”

And a good Marco quip about their terrible planning:

<Oh, good,> Marco said sarcastically. <Another rushed, unplanned, last-minute mission. Those always turn out so well.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 5

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks, since if it weren’t for convenient timey-whimey tricks, Visser Three pulled off 1.) an actually well-thought out plan, 2.) a useful and appropriate morph, and 3.) killed all of the Animorphs. Further, even after Jake closes the Saario Rip, the Animorphs still fail to take advantage of the massive opportunity that was the downed Bug ship.

Rating: It’s not furthering the overall plot at all, but it was a great stand alone story! The change of scenery to the rain forest added for a lot of unique fun!

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!

Book Club Review: “The Inquisitor’s Tale”

29358517We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” by Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Beloved bestselling author Adam Gidwitz makes his long awaited return with his first new world since his hilarious and critically acclaimed Grimm series. Featuring manuscript illuminations throughout by illustrator Hatem Aly and filled with Adam’s trademark style and humor, The Inquisitor’s Tale is bold storytelling that’s richly researched and adventure-packed.

Beautifully illustrated throughout! Includes a detailed historical note and bibliography.

Kate’s Thoughts

Guess who has never read “The Canterbury Tales”? Me! Guess who isn’t really into Medieval Fiction? Also me! And guess who knows little to nothing about religion and the philosophy of it beyond the most basic tenants of Judaism and United Church of Christ Christianity? This girl! So I feel like all of these factors combine (as well as some spates of bathroom humor, one of the few types of humor that doesn’t especially appeal to me) to make “The Inquisitor’s Tale” a book that isn’t written for me. So yes, while I understand the praise for this book and the appeal of it, and understand why it works so well as a children’s book and does so much more than other children’s books, I never really got into it myself.

That isn’t to say that there wasn’t anything I liked about it. I liked that it asked some pretty deep philosophical questions that you usually don’t see in children’s literature. I feel like Gidwitz doesn’t patronize to his audience, and that he knows that these are hard questions to wrap minds around regardless of what age you are. What makes a Saint? How can some people say that they hold certain values and beliefs, and not realize that they are perpetuating cruelty towards others, especially those that they claim to care about? What are ways that stories can be told and passed on, and how can these stories be changed based on the storyteller? I also liked that Gidwitz had three very different protagonists to show different walks of life and different experiences that would have been common during this time period. You have Jeanne, the peasant girl who can see parts of the future, who has to function in a society where women and peasants hold no value. You have William, a boy raised to be a monk who is both of African and Muslim descent, and stands out among those around him. And there’s Jacob, a Jewish boy in a France where King Louis persecutes the Jews as heretics. Seeing all these kids come together (along with Jeanne’s resurrected dog Gwenforte) and try to understand each other is a great message.

I also had a very hard time reading about the anti-Semitism in this book, be it villages being burnt to the ground, Jews being humiliated and threatened with violence, and Talmuds being burnt. I know that it was the reality of the time period, but for whatever reason I really struggled with it and had to set the book down a number of times and calm down before I could continue reading. I appreciate that Gidwitz was being honest about this time period, of course, and I really liked the extensive historical notes that he put in the back of the book, and yet I wasn’t really on board for the ‘Louis was a complex person who thought he was doing what was right, no matter how wrong it was’ stuff. Because at the end of the day, no matter how noble Louis thought he was being, it WAS wrong. And I have less and less time for those kinds of explanations these days.

My personal issues with this book shouldn’t necessarily reflect this book. It just wasn’t for me, but I definitely see how it would be an appealing read for other people.

Serena’s Thoughts

From the other side of the spectrum, I have read “The Canterbury Tales!” I am into Medieval fiction (at least as far as the fact that much fantasy is set in some type of medieval-like world)! And I was raised Lutheran, so at least the Christian theological philosophy was fairly familiar to me! So I think Kate is right, there are some factors going in that if you have as a reader you’re perhaps more likely to immediately engage with the book. However, massive caveat in this whole theory is that this is a middle school children’s book and let’s be real, how many kids have read “Canterbury Tales” or have a strong understanding of religious philosophy??

giphy3
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (source)

So, while I did enjoy the story more than Kate did, I do have to agree with her on a few of the downsides of the book. Most notably the potty humor and, for me, the suspension of disbelief in a few parts.

But first the pros! Since by an large I did very much enjoy this book. I won’t repeat what Kate said about the great diversity of the cast, except for one extra note. I really appreciated the close up look at exclusion/inclusion that the narrator took with these three children. Yes, they are all in this together. And yes, they are all friends. But at various points throughout the book, even with the friendships that have formed from their shared experiences, they each have to confront the sense of “otherness” that comes from their own unique walk of life. For William,  he’s a black boy with two white children. For Jeanne, she’s a girl with two boys. For Jacob, he’s a Jewish boy with two Christian children. I loved the various triangles that were made up and the constant shift that was in play from situation to situation with each of their “ins” or “outs” becoming a strength or something that made them stand out as different. I felt that this was a really important message for a book like this: privilege comes in all shapes and forms and at any given moment any single person can be on the in or the out, so we must all be aware and kind.

I’ll also throw in a few good words for the illustrations! I loved the metacommentary of the way the book was illustrated, mimicking the images that monks would draw into the margins of their transcribing work. Some would align with the action of the story while others were intentionally obtuse (a fact that is noted in the beginning of the story, that the illustrator would draw what came to him, with some images existing without connection to the story or explanation).

The ties to “The Canterbury Tales” were also fun, with the story being told by various narrators. I loved the way this element of the book came to life towards the last third, drawing these outside forces into the story itself. There were a few very clever twists with this that I don’t want to spoil! That said, as I mentioned above, I doubt any kid reading this will have read “The Canterbury Tales” and I don’t think there is anything missing for it. It’s more just a fun plug for those English nerds out there who have plowed through that thing and all of its incomprehensible Old English.

But I also agree with a few of the down points that Kate mentioned, notably the potty humor. This is purely a personal preference thing, as I know many kids (and adults!) love this type of humor. But there was one side plot that really lost me as it focused almost entirely on these types of jokes. Secondly, there were a few points in the story where my suspension of disbelief was called into question. We’re dealing with magical children, so for the most part I was ready to just go with this. But there were a few scenes, notably a fight scene where William beats up a bunch of bandits with a donkey leg, that pushed me out of the story a bit wondering how much of the “real world” this story was supposed to be set in.

Those issues aside, I really enjoyed this book. It is a tough read in parts like Kate mentioned. Serious issues are tackled and the persecution and tragedy of the time period weren’t glossed over. I appreciated this fact, but it does make for some sad happenings. But ultimately I would recommend this book to middle schoolers and adults. It’s one of those rare children’s books that can equally appeal to adults.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong middle school story set in a unique time period with a lot to say about history, religion, and inclusiveness.

Kate’s Rating 6: I see the value and I understand the praise, but I had a harder time with this book than I would have liked.

Book Club Questions

  1. This book is told from multiple perspectives when a group of people gather in a pub to recall the story of the three kids. Did you have a favorite perspective voice?
  2. The illustrations in this book are similar to that of illuminated texts that are seen throughout history in religious works. Have you ever encountered this kind of illustration before? What did you think of the illustrations?
  3. King Louis IX was an actual person in history, as was his mother Blanche, as were other people mentioned in this book. What did you think of using real people in this fictional story?
  4. Each of the main characters comes from a different walk of life, has their own set of challenges to overcome, and their own magical powers. Did one of these characters stand out more to you? Why?
  5. This story tackles a lot of big questions about religion and diversity. Did any of these points stand out to you as particularly strong? Could any have been improved upon or weren’t fully realized?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Inquisitor’s Tale” is included on the Goodreads lists “Newbery Medal Honor Books”, and “Bravewriter Boomerangs”.

Find “The Inquisitor’s Tale” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making”.

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #10: “The Android”

7089Animorphs #10: “The Android”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: When Marco runs into his old friend Erek he doesn’t think too much of it. He’s got a couple of more important things to do. Like helping to save the world. But then Marco finds out Erek’s been hanging with some of the kids at The Sharing. And he starts to think that something just a little weird is going on. So Marco, Jake and Ax decide to morph and check old Erek out. Just to see if he’s been infested with a Yeerk. The good news is that Erek’s not a human controller. The bad news is that Erek’s not even human…

Narrator: Marco

Plot: After convincing Jake to join him in an “inappropriate use of morphing” escapade to crash a concert in dog morph, Marco and he discover that a friend of theirs from school, Erek, is not what he seems. He has no scent! He’s also handing out pamphlets for “The Sharing,” the Yeerk front group for recruiting new Controllers. All highly suspicious! Let the sleuthing begin! Some more scouting has Marco and Tobias in bird morph see Erek get hit by a bus and then pop right up as if nothing had happened. Even more amazing was the flicker they see, revealing a bizarre metallic body beneath what seems to be a hologram of some sort. The Animorphs then conclude that they need to use “non traditional” eyes to see beneath this hologram to discover the truth of Erek, so Marco and Ax end up morphing spider and infiltrating a “Sharing” lake-front gathering to sneak up on Erek. I’m unclear why they couldn’t have used their fly morphs which also have compound eyes and would be much safer than spiders due to the simple fact that they can fly. This is even more true since Marco gets eaten by a bird at one point and must demorph THROUGH THE BIRD’S NECK to escape! But, they do discover that Erek is definitely some type of android when he comes upon Marco and Ax morphing and “invites” them back to his house to discuss things.

What follows is the introduction of a completely new set of aliens into our growing catalog of interstellar life. Beneath Erek’s house is a whole host of androids that they learn are called the Chee. The Chee are the creation of an extinct species called the Pemalites, a technologically advanced, but peaceful, species that was wiped out when they were attached by another race. The last of their kind escaped to Earth where the Chee were able to somehow connect the remaining essense of their creators into the most similar species to be found on Earth: wolves. The result was the modern dog, the happy-go-lucky animals that share the same spirit as the lost Pemalites. But due to their peaceful perspective, the Chee were programmed in a way that doesn’t allow them to commit violence in any way. Now that the Yeerks are threatening Earth, the humans, and the dogs that contain all that remains of their creators, Erek and some other Chee wish to join the fight. And this is where the Animorphs come in.

Turns out that the Yeerks have somehow acquired a Pemalites crystal that they are using to develop a super computer that will be able to take control of all the computers in the world. Further, this same crystal could be used by the Chee to re-write their programming and allow them to more actively join the fight. All of this is enough motivation to get our heroes involved.

What follows is an action sequence right out of the movie “Entrapment.” Morphed as cockroaches and spiders, they must navigate a piped tunnels, fall great distances (seriously, there’s so much falling in this series as a whole), evade a rat, almost get burned alive by a furnace activating at an inopportune time, and then morph bats to sneak through a pitch black room full of trigger wires. All of this to discover that once they get there, they have no way of carrying the crystal back. So, because no Animorph book can be completely without them all using their battle morphs, the team decide they must bash their way out. This is…not successful. There was a reason they were told by the Chee that sneaking in was the best option. The Animorphs are sliced and diced and only saved by Marco’s dying push to shove the crystal through a window to Erek who is waiting outside. He is then able to re-write his programming and save the day by massacring the remaining Controllers. But he discovers the price of this violence is too high, especially for an android whose memory is always clear, giving no relief or escape from these acts. The story ends with the Chee offering to help by providing information as they can, but refusing to take the crystal. Marco and Jake have a final moment on the beach with Homer and some other dogs where, majestically, Homer carries off the crystal to be lost in the ocean. The end.

The Comic Relief: Marco is definitely my favorite narrator. His voice is the most distinct, and, especially as I re-read this series as an adult, he is the character I most relate to. He’s highly pragmatic, but also comfortable admitting when things are getting too real and scary. As far as character-growth, there’s not necessarily a lot of that in this book for Marco. Probably some of the least as far the series has gone so far. Usually the POV narrator has some distinct arc to go through. But I’m guessing that there was so much action and world-building that came with the introduction of the Chee and the Pemalites, that some of this had to take a back seat. We get some nice moments between Marco and his Dad (see Adult Crying portion), and some fun friend moments with Jake, but at this point in the series, Marco is pretty committed what with his Mom being Visser One and doesn’t need much more motivation to keep this fight going. He does have a strong reason though to have a very frank approach to getting the Chee involved in the fight. No moral concerns from him, really, about tainting a peaceful species’ (?) soul with violence. Not when their help could make the difference in this war and save his mother and humanity. When Cassie is blathering on and on about the wrongness of tainting the Chee species, Marco has this to say:

“Look, no one likes violence. All right? But we didn’t ask for this war with the Yeerks. When the bad guys come after you, when they start the violence, they leave you no choice: fight or die.”

On the other hand, he doesn’t fight against Erek’s and the Chee’s choice to abstain from the war after he sees the effects Erek feels after the violence to save the Animorphs towards the end of the story. This whole approach to the Chee conundrum just felt very real and true to Marco’s character as a very practical guy, but also a very empathetic one. He’s just a very well-rounded character. And, funny, never forget funny.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s fun to see Jake get wheedled into just being a regular teenager by Marco early in the book with the concert escapade. Their relationship is very similar to Rachel and Cassie’s in that Jake is more serious, but Marco allows him to just be a regular kid who wants to see a band for free. Marco also mentions how much he appreciates the work that Jake does as a leader when they are all trapped in the building needing to decide how to break out. They all know they’re going to need to go the almost-suicidal-route and barge their way through in battle morph, but it takes Jake saying it for it to be real. And Marco notes the strength it must take to always be in that role.

Xena, Warriar Princess: I don’t know if this is “shipping” per se (though, again, re-reading this series, while I love Tobias/Rachel, I more and more can see a Rachel/Marco thing working), but it is interesting to note a pattern with Marco’s views of Rachel. In book 7, we see him change his vote about going with the Ellimist after seeing Rachel break down and admit that she’s struggling with this war. And here, Marco doesn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation with Erek’s pain after killing until he sees Rachel crying. In both of these examples, it is clear that Marco uses Rachel as a gauge upon which to judge his reaction to an event. Rachel clearly has a thing for Tobias, but Marco…even if it’s not romantic, he clearly respects Rachel very much and perhaps even identifies with her the most when it comes to these situations.

A Hawk’s Life: Ugh, poor Tobias! Again he is completely side-lined from the action in this book, especially the last half. He does some good work in the initial scouting of Erek, but can’t, obviously, do anything in their infiltration plan in the end.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie seems to have come to her senses a bit with regards to the fact that Tobias is a hawk that *gasp* eats baby animals sometimes. In one scene she’s scoping out a baby possum nest and notes how cute they are, but admits that Tobias as a hawk has a right to eat them if he needed to…but they’re so cute! Effectively guilting him out of it. Still, a vast improvement over her ridiculous anger in the last book. She is also, of course, completely against the idea of re-writing the Chee’s programming so that they can fight. But it must be noted that when Marco essentially gives her an out on the mission to steal the crystal by saying that he understands if anyone wanted to not involve themselves, Cassie steps up to the plate and accepts the group’s choice (and more importantly, in my opinion, Erek’s and the Chee’s choice!).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Turns out that not only can Ax keep track of time in his head, he also has an innate ability to tell direction, which I’m sure will come in useful in the future. As always, Ax’s deadpan humor and inability to discern sarcasm plays as a great foil to Marco. These two are really the most entertaining pair in the group, and it’s always great when they end up on missions together, like they did here as spiders.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: We learn an important fact about morphing in this book that will come up again in a future book in a big way, if I remember correctly.  But, with his usual perfect timing, as they are morphing spider, Ax informs Margo that when one morphs a smaller animal then themselves, their “extra mass” gets ballooned out into Z space. So….blobs of extra guts, and skin, and hair just bobbing around in space. Disgusting and also incredibly nerve-wracking as Marco notes the freakiness of the fact that these blogs could be hit by a passing space ship at any time. Ax is very reassuring about this concern, of course, noting that a ship would never “hit” a mass of excess morph material; it would be disintegrated by the ship’s shields immediately. Thanks Ax.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot in this book, other than my own developing Marco/Rachel/Tobias love triangle that exists nowhere but my own head. When describing the team members, Marco mentions Jake and Cassie’s quasi relationship saying:

“The only time they’ll act that way is when we’re about twelve seconds away from doing something insanely dangerous. Then they’ll kind of give each other these pathetic sad looks. It’s so lame.”

Also, at one point, when Marco and Cassie barely escape being killed by the furnace which suddenly turns on as they are crossing it, Jake becomes very concerned about Cassie, forgetting to ask about Marco’s well-being, much to Marco’s annoyance.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three isn’t in this book! This is a first I think! Instead, we get some high-ranking “grandmotherly” human Controller leading the troops in the final battle. But, guess it makes sense. Though we never see him in action, it sounds like Erek was pretty much an unstoppable killing force when he saved the group and we can’t have him taking out Visser Three right here and ending the whole series!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: So, the scene between Marco and his Dad. It turns out that Marco’s Dad’s company is thinking about getting involved in developing some type of military technology. But Marco’s Dad tells him this story about how in the year before her death, his relationship with Marco’s Mom turned some type of corner and they had a blissful relationship. Never fighting, completely in love. And one night during this time he woke up to see Marco’s Mom sitting up in bed, clearly struggling with something. But all she says is “They won’t take you if you don’t become involved with the military.” And he never fully understood it, but it’s been enough for him to avoid military projects ever since.

Marco sees this story for what it really means. This “blissful” period of time is when his mother became infested. The Yeerk has no reason to involve itself in petting marital spats, preferring a simple home life to focus on its own work. And that night in bed between his Mom and Dad was his Mom’s massive fight against the Yeerk to gain enough control to give her husband that one warning to avoid the military to save him from becoming a Controller himself.

The whole thing is so tragic. His Dad’s false memories of this happy portion of their marriage. The real struggle, and likely high price that was paid, by his Mom to deliver the warning.

One last note on this, the book never really addresses this point again, that Marco’s Dad was considering getting involved with a military contract that would make him bait for the Yeerks. I guess we are left to assume that he decides to continue abiding my his wife’s warning, even if he doesn’t understand it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Marco notes how the original plan to infiltrate the Yeerk base to get the crystal was supposed to be a week away, giving them time to practice their bat morph and better prepare. But Erek discovers that the Yeerks are working to make the base even more well-protected, forcing the team to need to jump into action immediately. So, there’s some excuse (and self-awareness!) here about the lack of planning. However, turns out the bat morph is super easy to control, so practicing it wasn’t really necessary anyways. But the fact that they couldn’t carry the crystal out…that problem was always there, right in front of them, being ignored!

Favorite Quote:

Marco/Rachel banter is the best. And a big deal is made over the fact that Marco has cut his hair short in the beginning of this book (let’s be real, the model for Marco for the book covers cut his hair and the book needed to address it, for some reason).

“That’s what that hair of yours reminds me of: a wolverine. I knew it was something.” [Rachel said]

“Oh, yeah?” I shot back. “Well, how about your . . . your …”

“My what?” Rachel asked coolly, with the absolute confidence of a girl who never looked less than perfect.
“Your tallness,” I said lamely. “You’re . . . tall. Way tall.”
Somehow this brilliant comeback did not cause Rachel to break down in tears.

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 5

Even though the Chee don’t end up joining the war, escaping with the Pemalite crystal and preventing the Yeerks from creating some type of super computer that would control all computers is still a pretty big win, so a point to the Animorphs!

Rating: A solid Marco book! He’s my favorite narrator in the series, and even though he doesn’t have much of a personal arc in this story, we’re still introduced to the Chee who will play a role in future books, so this is an important installment in the 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 #9: “The Secret”

363362Animorphs #9: “The Secret”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s something pretty weird going on in the woods behind Cassie’s house. The place where Ax and Tobias call home. It seems the Yeerks have figured out one very important thing: Andalites cannot survive without a feeding ground. Visser Three knows the “Andalite bandits” don’t feed where he does, so there can only be one other place.

Now Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax have to figure out a way to stop a bogus logging camp. Because if Visser Three finds Ax in the woods, nothing will stop him from finding the Animorphs…

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: The book starts with our now customary “mini adventure.” This time is Cassie trying to complete homework to make up her grade since all the Animorph action has real consequences when it comes to success at school. She’s to conduct a research project with a rat and a maze and one thing leads to another and….Rachel and Cassie each morph rats, obviously! Even though it is expressly against Jake’s rules to never use morphing for reasons that aren’t strictly necessary. And then, of course, teen boys show up to pester the rats and they two decide to drive them off by running up the inside of their jeans. Which…maybe it’s just me, but if I were two teen girls, the last place I would want to go is up two boys’ pant legs. I mean, either route has a bad destination….Anyways! The science project is ruined, so Cassie and Rachel went back to Rachel’s house to give Rachel’s sister a home perm. Like you do.

The main action of the story comes when Tobias and Ax report that a logging company has moved into the woods near Cassie’s farm and set up a base. The notable piece being that the base is protected by a force field. Points to Cassie for immediately discerning the Yeerks’ goal: destroy Andalite environment. Flush out the Andalite warriors. After scoping out the place, it becomes clear that the Yeerks are ready for them (Cassie and Marco almost get snagged in a net), so they must come up with a sneaky way of infiltrating the base. After meeting up at the mall, they decide the only way to do it is in insect form. But not ants. Never ants again. Instead, termites! So..better? They fly in owl morph, then after drawing straws, Jake morphs a wolf to provide a distraction as the others morph termite and tunnel their way in.

The termite morph, while not as bad as the ant, still plays with the kids’ minds, sucking them into the group-think colony in a similar manner to other insect morphs. They essentially all get mind controlled by the termite queen, and are only saved by Rachel’s quick thinking to kill the queen and Cassie managing the task herself. But then she panics and demorphs, erupting through the wood only saved by Ax’s ability to demorph his tail and cut them all out. She then proceeds to completely melt down, screaming and pushing the others away, forcing them to hold her down and clamp her mouth shut while Ax is accessing the computer to get information on how the Yeerks managed to get logging access to what turns out to be a federal forest. They discover the Yeerks need one more person to sign off on the project before having full permission to “log” and so the next mission becomes keeping this person from becoming a Controller.

Throughout the book is a side story in which Cassie and her dad rescue a skunk that had been burned by a Yeerk laser beam (they must have thought it was an Animorph). They discover the skunk has kits somewhere out in the woods, which continues to distress Cassie throughout the story. And I can’t blame her! She manages to double up her mission to the logging base, scouting the woods and finding the babies’ nest while in owl morph. But then she takes it too far. After her breakdown in the base, she goes home, morphs the skunk, and ends up falling asleep taking care of the babies. She’s only saved from a life stuck in a skunk morph by the appearance of Jake and co. (summoned by Tobias who helped Cassie find the nest). Jake is understandably angry about not only the close call, but also Cassie’s supremely poor decision making throughout this all. But then, cuz they’re all good kids and Cassie’s clearly lost her mind, a “skunk babysitting” system is put in place in which they will all help take care of the baby skunks until the mommy skunk is well enough to be released.

The main plot is wrapped up with a fairly nonsensical battle in which Cassie essentially ends up captured, morphs a skunk, sprays Visser Three and all of his thugs, and somehow…this freaks them out so much that they hand the guy over in exchange for the trick to get rid of the smell? It was honestly the stupidest conclusion to a book so far in the series. Between Cassie’s supremely annoying moralizing and termite-related insanity, way too much time spent on saving baby skunks, and the ridiculous final battle, this is the first book the series that I think I have outright not liked. Ah well, was bound to happen sooner or later!

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, Cassie, she just makes it difficult for me. I mean, I grew up in northern Idaho. I love the woods, and I know how damaging clear cut style logging can have on an environment. But the girl has got to get her priorities straight! After they scope the logging company and almost get caught, realizing that the whole thing is a trap for them, she still starts going on and on about how the logging itself is also, equally!, a big deal. And no, I’m sorry, that’s just not true at this point. They are trying to save the world. The fate of one forest is not the concern here. This is the kind of stuff that makes Cassie’s books the most frustrating for me to read. She just comes off as a bit ridiculous and foolish with her priorities a lot of times.

And her panic attack in the fort….I was a bit confused in the moment, but later in the story Cassie is reflecting on it and her major problem was that she was sick with herself for killing the queen and destroying the termite colony. And look, empathy is great and all. But I draw the line here. This reasoning is on the level of true craziness, to risk your human friends’ lives because you need to panic about destroying a termite colony and how awful of a person that makes you. I’m just going to say it. I don’t like Cassie. I’ve tried, I really have! But, of them all, she consistently behaves in a way that seems ridiculous, unsafe, and unwise. And none of this madness ever really gets resolved in the book. She goes on to get angry at Tobias for eating a baby skunk, and by the end of the book is still trying to work through all the moral quandaries of termites and how maybe we’re no better than Yeerks etc etc. And I just kind of wanted to slap her.

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(source)

So, while I can appreciate the unique aspects that Cassie’s character bring to the series, at this point, she’s not for me. But there’s a lot of books left, so maybe she will improve as we go.

Our Fearless Leader:  Cassie and Jake like each other. As in like. Cassie’s words, not mine. Jake also shows his leadership in smaller ways. When the go to scope out the logging company, he teams up Cassie with Marco instead of Rachel because he knows that the girls tend to egg each other on, as evidenced by the rat escapade which Jake caught on to after hearing about teen boys freaking out due to rat-to-pants invasions.

It is also particularly weird, even for the reader, when Jake selects the straw to be the distraction. It’s mentioned that they all kind of assumed he’d be going in with them, the leader and all, and I found myself surprised as well.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Cassie sums up Rachel and her own relationship (and Rachel and everyone’s relationship, for that matter) fairly effectively saying:

“That’s the great thing about Rachel — she’s always willing to help talk you into doing something you probably shouldn’t do.”

There’s also a nice little reference to a few books ago when Rachel talked Cassie into joining her on her elephant crusade against the cruel trainer at the circus, which Cassie effectively uses to guilt Rachel into joining her in rat morph to complete her homework in the beginning of the book. It’s always fun seeing these small callbacks pop up in these books.

Rachel also helps comfort Cassie through her panic attack in the Yeerk base after demorphing from termites. Their bestie relationship is still very precious, if only because Cassie seems like a better person when Rachel is around.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias and Ax are the ones to discover the logging base. And he gets the termite for them. But, per the usual at this point, Tobias gets sidelined due to his inability to morph. He even misses out on the pre-mission action as the rest approach at night in owl morph and hawks can’t see well at night. Man, Tobias’s book can’t come soon enough. Spoiler alert: the whole recurring Tobias inaction thing gets solved, which will be a relief at this point.

Tobias does help talk Cassie through her craziness about guilt over killing the termite queen. In this conversation, she proceeds to compare herself to the Yeerks for invading the termite colony and destroying it to protect herself. Again…actual thinking is clearly not Cassie’s strong suit. Self-protection is not the same as wantonly destroying other species for your own benefit and power! But then she gets mad at him for eating a baby skunk, and….angry at Cassie yet again.

The Comic Relief:  Marco continues to prove that he’s one of the smartest members of the group, picking up on the Yeerks’ plan just as fast as Cassie and anticipating the challenge of scoping it out since the Yeerks would be on high alert for just that kind of reaction and be immediately suspicious of any group of animals that would approach. When Cassie gets paired with Marco, she says that he can get on her nerves. Of course he can, Cassie! Cuz, girl, you can be a bit of a stick in the mud at times. But she later admits that Marco is a very loyal friend, sticking with her through all the skunk madness.

Marco’s terrible driving is also referenced when Cassie goes out with her Dad to pick up a skunk that got hit by a car and comments that they’re in a truck they just bought cuz the last one was “stolen” and found wrecked in a ditch.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: When the group meets to form a plan in the mall, Cassie’s reaction to Ax coming in his human morph sums up it all “Uh oh.” According to Jake, Ax is making progress since he “didn’t eat the plate this time” when they get nachos at the food court. We also find out that Ax, in addition to cigarette butts, has eaten dryer lint and engine oil.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: “Face bulged like a zit about to pop”…in reference to morphing a rat. As if just morphing a rat in the first place wasn’t horrible enough. There’s also another reference to Cassie’s superb morphing abilities when she becomes a wolf, only controlling her morph so the wolf head comes first and is fully formed on her human body. Wolfwoman. Cool…or creepy? And the termite morph is about as disgusting as you would expect.

Couples Watch!: Other than the references that Cassie makes herself about her and Jake liking each other, there’s a moment in the beginning when Rachel asks Tobias why he didn’t come by the other night and Cassie clarifies that they hang out together in the evenings and watch movies and such. Super cute.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Yeerk logging company is called “Dapsen” which, according to Ax, is  a “not polite” word. So it’s funny to see that the Yeerks must have some kind of sense of humor for this all! Also, the fact that somehow Visser Three is so evil that he projects an aura of evilness even disguised in human morph is once again mentioned. Eve after only seeing Visser Three’s human morph once before, Tobias immediately says that something feels “wrong” about one particular human when they’re scouting the log camp.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Is it weird that the saddest part might have been Cassie’s thoughts about the abandoned skunk kits? Crying out for their mother? Alone in the woods, not knowing why she won’t come? Ugh! Animal sadness!

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I can’t even accurately describe the final “battle” in this book, because that’s how terrible it all was. Cassie is trapped by the Yeerks, and for some reason, she can anticipate that her skunk morph’s spray will be the most effective tool against them. Any logic here would have her morphing something with more fire power. And the complete melt-down the Yeerks have is completely ridiculous…in a series that is already pretty ridiculous, so you know it’s got to be bad.

Favorite Quote:

While their final plan is even stupider, I appreciate the dryly humors and accurate commentary by Rachel on their initial plan to scout out the logging base.

“Here’s the plan,” Jake said. “We morph owls to get close. We demorph at least two hundred yards away from the compound. Then we crawl close, morph termites, dig under the force field, and enter the termite holes in the outside of the building.”

“As long as it’s nice and simple,” Rachel said darkly.

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 4

I am awarding the Yeerks a point on the cleverness of the logging plan and for the fact that that plan is a million times smarter than anything the Animorphs themselves came up with in this book. Essentially, I refuse to give the Animorphs points for a book that depends on skunk spray for its resolution.

Rating: Not great. Really, I didn’t like anything about this book. Cassie cemented herself as my least favorite character by far with her irresponsible craziness, and the story itself felt unnecessary (waaaaay too much time on random skunk kits) and had a conclusion that I couldn’t take seriously. And I tried  hard.

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!

Book Club Review: “Ghost”

28954126We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Kate’s Thoughts

It occurred to me and the rest of book club that we have been dong a fair  amount of Middle Grade books for this session! Which, hey, that’s just fine. I know that for some of us, me included to a certain extent, the fear with middle grade is that the book may rely less on nuance and more on being explicitly clear about what is going on. But the good news is that with “Ghost,” one of the deluge of books by Jason Reynolds recently, the story never seems to underestimate the middle grade audience. Not only are the themes of this book pretty sophisticated, such as parental abuse, systematic oppression, and bullying, but Reynolds doesn’t seem to feel a need to water anything down. Ghost is a very intriguing and complex protagonist, who is dealing with a large amount of trauma due to his father trying to kill him and his mother when he was younger. I thought that Reynolds addressed this trauma in a way that wasn’t told but definitely shown. Ghost has a lot to deal with, and while his first person POV never explicitly describes how he’s dealing, the reader gets a very clear sense of how much this continues to haunt him. Though I’ll be honest, the sports theme wasn’t really my thing, just because I myself am not really a sports oriented person (outside of hockey and baseball). I was definitely skimming the more sports oriented parts, and wanted to get back to Ghost’s personal life and struggles.

I think it’s also important to note that I greatly appreciate the fact that “Ghost” is a book that has People of Color as the default. What I mean by this is that in many books, ‘white’ is kind of the default character, so when the author describes someone, their skin is kind of assumed to be white, while characters of color have their skin described almost right off the bat. In this book, however, it’s the opposite, and the white characters are the ones who are described as if they are outside the norm. Given that the middle grade and YA publishing industry is still struggling with diversity, this was refreshing.

I liked “Ghost” quite a bit and I think that a lot of kids could find a lot of things to like about it as well.

Serena’s Thoughts

Like Kate said, sports books aren’t really my thing either. Unless it’s, like, magical horse racing or something. I read a few as a kid, like the almost required “Maniac Magee,” but never really went beyond that. But “Ghost” has received a lot of attention as a great new addition to middle grade fiction, including both a diverse cast of characters and a story/topic that is likely to appeal to middle grade boys (the age-group-bane of most public librarians’ existence!), so I was excited to try it out. And while sports books will never be my thing, I found myself quite enjoying this one.

Reynolds expertly mixes the two primary parts that make up this book: track and life trauma. The obvious parallels about literally and figuratively running away from one’s struggles are never hit on the head too fully, and I appreciate the author’s dexterity in creating a story that doesn’t simplify the realities its main character has lived through. As an adult reader I very much enjoyed such literary touches as opening the story with the shot of the gun his father is aiming at Ghost and his mother and closing it with the shot of the pop gun to begin the race. This ability to weave real depth into the story while also creating a relatable main character with an excellent voice that would appeal to young readers really makes this book stand out. Ghost himself could make me laugh on one page and want to shake him on the next.

I also enjoyed the fact that the sport in question was track. There are tons of books out there about the more traditional sports like football, basketball, and more and more often, soccer. But track with its strange balance of individual stakes and teamwork was a unique sport to choose. My own track career was very short (due to a happy ankle sprain that got me out of it, essentially), but I still enjoyed reading the sporting portion of the book as well.

Reading books like this is why I particularly enjoy being involved in a great bookclub. I’m consistently challenged to read outside of my own comfort zone and discover excellent books like this that I likely would never have stumbled upon myself.

Kate’s Rating 8: While I don’t really care about the sports themes of this book, I liked Ghost and the other members of the track team, as well as the way that Reynolds tackled some pretty complex themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: “Ghost” was an excellent middle grade book that provided deep commentary on important topics while never losing sight of its own story and audience.

Book Club Questions

  1. What do you think motivates Ghost to run at the beginning of the book? Do you think that has changed by the end of it?
  2. What did you think of how Coach dealt with Ghost stealing the shoes? Why do you think Ghost impulsively stole the shoes in the first place?
  3. The end of the book is fairly ambiguous about how the track team ended up in the race. Did you wish that there was a definitive ‘win’ or ‘lose’ outcome? Do you think the book needed that?
  4. What did you think of the other members of the track team? This is going to be a series that follows each of these kids. Whose story are you most excited for, and why?
  5. This is a middle grade book, though Reynolds is known for writing YA books as well. How do you think this book would have been different had it been written for a YA audience?

Reader’s Advisory

“Ghost” is included on the Goodreads lists “2016 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”, and “2017 Mock Newbery.

Find “Ghost” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog”.

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #8 “The Alien”

animorphs_bk08Animorphs #8: “The Alien”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: What would you do if you were the only alien trapped on a strange planet? Probably freak out, right? Well, that’s what Ax feels like doing. But as an Andalite warrior-cadet, he has to be pretty cool about stuff like that. He’s been hanging out with the Animorphs ever since the Dome ship was destroyed by the Yeerks and his brother, Prince Elfangor, was destroyed by Visser Three.

Life on Earth is pretty different for Ax. But there is one thing he, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, and Tobias have in common. Something that one alien, four kids and a hawk know they have to do: stop the Yeerks…

Narrator: Ax

Plot: The Animorphs’ most pressing mission yet: familiarize Ax with human habits! Movie theaters, trips to their school, meeting their families, this book is jam packed with Ax-as-a-human shenanigans. Intermixed with this all, this is the first full book we have with Ax’s first person narration (he had a few chapters of his own in the first Megamorphs book, but that hardly counts), so through all the comedic hijinks are a lot of rather sad personal reflections from a kid alien who’s been suddenly torn from his people and left on a strange world in the midst of a war he wasn’t trained to fight with no way of contacting home.

Or so he thinks…until he decides to play the “game” on Marco’s dad’s computer and accidentally codes the human race forward several centuries, creating a formula that enabling space communication. Unable to resist the sudden possibly to contact his family (and also get some advice on what the heck he should be doing as the sole Andalite representative on Earth, given the quandaries of the strict “no sharing” policy the Andalites have to other races and the challenges that this causes when trying to fight on a team), Ax recruits Tobias for help breaking into the science center where Marco’s dad works and manages to open a communication channel with the Andalite home world. In an agonizingly brief period of time, Ax’s already tough situation is made all the worse by an Andalite commander who reinforces the idea that Ax is to NEVER share information with the humans, regardless of how close he may come to them, and that he must take the fall for giving the Animorphs their morphing powers (this was a huge no-no, and the commander doesn’t want to damage the heroic reputation of Elfangor who needs to remain a war hero in the people’s minds. Little ole Ax, however…) Even worse, after learning of Elfangor’s death, his father tasks Ax with the tiny, small, very simple job of avenging his brother by killing his murderer who just happens to be Visser Three.

Unsurprisingly, Ax leaves these conversations not feeling too hopeful about his prospects as a member of Team Animorph. An already problematic rift of distrust (a few conversations have already come up where Ax’s shifty answers have angered the Animorphs, most particularly Rachel and Marco who remain suspicious of his true loyalties) can only be made worse by this strict reinforcement of Andalite law, and why even bother when Ax himself must now undertake the almost guaranteed suicide mission of killing Visser Three? After some luck with an angry Yeerk Controller who decides to help Ax to spite Visser Three (who has been letting less important Yeerks die due to the Kandrona shortage taking place due to the events of book #7, one of whom happened to be this Yeerk’s good friend), Ax learns that Visser Three sometimes like to go for a nice jog in an Earth meadow to, you know, leave the stress of being Visser behind him. He orders Tobias not to tell anyone of what he’s planning to do and sets off with the plan to morph a rattlesnake and poison Visser Three. The plan almost works, with Ax getting a good bite in, but loosing Visser Three as he flees his Andalite host body to escape in a river, leaving Ax with the poisoned Andalite and a bunch of Hork-Bajir now closing in. Luckily for him, Tobias has disregarded all of his honor nonsense, and the Animorphs show up to save the day.

After all of this, Ax decides that the whole “Andalites First” mantra really may not be the best approach to inter-galactic peace and winning the war against the Yeerks in general (he questions specifically the fact that the Andalites tried this approach, helping but not sharing technology or wisdom, with the Hork-Bajir and now a whole species and world has been lost to the Yeerks). He finally tells the Animorphs the big secret: the Andalites essentially created the Yeerks as conquerors. An Andalite came to their world and felt sorry for their limited capabilities (both in worm form and with the dull-witted Gedd species they Controlled) and gave them technology. And the rest is history: a devastating war the Andalites have been fighting, and losing, ever since. Now fully on board with Team Animorph, Ax risks one last call home to essentially give the Andalite commander the finger saying that while he remains on Earth, he is fully committed to his friends and to this fight, Andalite pride be damned.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax! This book really hits home how tough his whole situation has been. Not only is he marooned on a strange planet, cut off from his people completely, but he’s got to deal with all the political nonsense that his people have come up with, thus alienating (ha!) him even further from his fellow fighters and friends. Ax’s narration was great! So far I’ve liked all the unique voices (though I do find Cassie rather boring and tending towards ridiculous), and the distinction between their voices and viewpoints has really been on of the main traits holding this crazy series together. But Ax takes it to another level! We’re not just talking about a personality change, Applegate needed to write a voice for an alien being who is looking at Earth and humanity through a completely different lens. And I feel like she really pulled it off! Ax’s voice is both more formal than the rest of the characters and more blunt. His descriptions of the other characters are hilarious, always including that they each only have 2 eyes, and they all manage to walk upright without falling often, as if noting these facts individually for each human he sees is important. I also appreciated the deep friendship we see building between him and Tobias. Looking at it from this perspective, it seems natural that these two should become close, given that they are both cut off from their own people, though in very different ways. Plus, they’re meadow roommates. Further, Ax’s struggles between the relationship he is building with his human friends and the duty that he feels to his people is never minimized or made to feel silly. Through his eyes, we see how real these conflicting loyalties would be and how challenging it has been for him up to this point trying to balance both at once. Especially as he sees the distance between himself and the others grow throughout this book. All in all, I really enjoyed Ax’s viewpoint and the breath of fresh air it gives to the series as a whole, bringing something completely new to the series.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has to make some rough choices in this book, being confronted by the fact that Ax is keeping secrets from them and doesn’t consider himself to be truly one of them. This is especially hard considering that Ax has been with them for several books up to this point and, while they are all still getting to know him, there’s also a type of bond that has been created by going into battle together already several times. Also, it is noted that back in the book where Jake was controlled and Ax was impersonating him that his parents thought Jake was mentally ill, and that once he returned, they forced him to go to psychiatrist to make sure everything was all right. And, considering what we see here of Ax’s abilities to mimic human behavior, this is actually probably the best case scenario of the whole thing!

Xena, Warriar Princess: There’s a funny bit where Ax describes all the Animorphs and notes that Rachel is considered to be very beautiful, but that he doesn’t see it until he morphs human. Just another interesting tidbit on the effects of a morph on the Animorphs’ perceptions of what is around them. Rachel and Marco are also the two Animorphs who are still most reserved and suspicious towards Ax. They both react with much stronger feelings to the fact that Ax continues to hide things from them. And while I think this makes a lot of sense for these two characters, we have now had books from both of their perspectives since Ax arrived on the scene and there really wasn’t a lot of this included? I mean, it’s pretty obvious here that they’re both not fully on board, but in their own books, there wasn’t any mention of this. Just kind of a continuity issue more than anything.

A Hawk’s Life: Finally, Tobias has a major role to play! It makes sense as both he and Ax are both living outside of society in the woods, disconnected from their people in one way or another. It is clear that Ax and Tobias have become close friends throughout the books leading up to this and that most of Ax’s regrets have to do with not being able to be a true best friend with Tobias. And, of course, Tobias is the one he trusts to help him with his plots to break into the science center and track down Visser Three. Tobias has a tough balance to strike here, keeping Ax’s secrets but also staying true to his friends above anything. Ultimately, he manages it quite well using Ax’s own logic about loyalty to one’s Prince against him and summoning Jake and the rest to bail Ax out of his suicidal mission to take down Visser Three.

Peace, Love, and Animals: We get another example of Cassie’s deeper insight into people and how truly useful this skill is. Only she is able to unpack the true motivation behind Ax’s unwillingness to share the Andalites’ secrets with them, that it is shame not pride that holds him back. Ax also runs into Cassie in her farm’s fields in horse morph. So we see another example of an Animorph using a morph as an escape route. And Cassie even asks Ax not to tell Jake because she knows that he disapproves of morphing being used in this way.

The Comic Relief: Marco has a few very frank conversations with Ax. He and Rachel both remain suspicious of him, but it seems that Marco has a closer relationship with Ax to take him aside and really lay out the facts to him. It’s a good scene all around, since Ax can even understand and respect Rachel and Marco’s opinion of him based on his own behavior. Also, can I just admit, if Tobias and Rachel weren’t my favorite couple ever, I might actually ship Marco/Rachel? I mean….they’re a pretty awesome team and they seem to end up on the same side of most arguments in these books.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The morphs are always bizarre and disgusting, but there is a new level of weirdness listening to Ax describe the morphing process to become human in the same way that the others describe becoming random animals. Also, becoming the rattlesnake wasn’t a lovely picture.

Couples Watch!: Ax notes that Cassie has a picture of Jake in her locker. Awww. Also, when Cassie tries to say that she and Jake are “just friends” like all the rest of them, Ax is quite confused because he says he’s seen them holding hands. And she’s all “…you weren’t supposed to see that…” Oh, young love, where hand holding must be hidden!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three doesn’t have much time here, though he is discussed a lot and the true terror/horror of a Yeerk-infested-Andalite  really hits home in this book, coming from Ax’s perspective. There is also an interesting aspect of Yeerk infestation that is raised here. We know that in morph, the Animorphs must always struggle to balance their own minds as well as that of the animal they’ve become. Here, we see Visser Three following an urge (to run through the grass and graze) that comes purely from his Andalite host, not the  Yeerk. So, what is this balance like? Is it a similar struggle to wall out the instincts of the host body? I don’t remember this being addressed in Jake’s book when he was infested. But that was also a much shorter period of time? So maybe over the years this balance being met becomes more important?

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Man, the whole bit when the Andalite is laying there in the field, finally free from the Yeerk, but knowing he will be recaptured any moment. He begs for death and wishes only to let his family know that if he is taken again, he will always keep fighting. It’s tragic in every way, seeing such a proud being so broken down. I mean, it’s hard to imagine surviving as a Controller in any circumstance, but to be a host for Visser Three who’s just so casually evil all the time? And to know that your body and abilities are what’s enabling him to rise so high and commit such terrible deeds? Awful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The main action plan was Ax’s attempt to kill Visser Three, and the rattlesnake, that was actually some clever thinking. The worst plan, however, was the idea of taking Ax to the movie theater in the first little caper adventure of the book. I mean, sure, introducing Ax to human culture is good. But you know the guy has got a problem with self-control with food, and even regular humans struggle to not inhale that buttery popcorn! Not to mention, you’re taking him to a closed room, surrounded by tons of people, with only a few exits, where everyone is supposed to sit quietly for hours. It’s just a recipe for disaster for a guy whose two main loves in his human morph are eating everything and talking loudly and weirdly. Any shock on the Animorphs’ part for his behavior is completely unjustified. You brought this embarrassment on yourselves, guys.

Favorite Quote:

Ax’s thoughts on the movie-going plan. Just a perfect example of the type of deadpan delivery that made Ax’s narration so fun.

Of course, I would have to attend the movie in a morph. I couldn’t go around in public in my own Andalite form. Humans would have been terrified. And the Controllers – those humans who are infested by the Yeerk parasites – would have tried to kill me.

Which would have ruined the entire movie experience.

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

I’d almost put this down as a win for the Yeerks due to the massive lost opportunity to take out Visser Three. But instead I’ll just leave the scorecard unchanged.

Rating:

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 #1 “The Andalite’s Gift”

1153858 Megamorphs #1: “The Andalite’s Gift”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We never should have done it. But we needed a break. You know, some time off from the superhero stuff. A chance to act like normal kids. Well — as normal as four kids who can morph, a hawk, and an alien can be. Everything should have been cool.
Now Rachel is missing. And there’s this…this thing that’s after us. But it’s not up to me to tell the whole story. Tobias, Cassie, Marco, and Ax were there, too. Even Rachel has some info to add. So go ahead and check this out. And remember not to tell anyone what we’re about to tell you. It could mean the difference between life and death. Or worse…

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: Visser Three has a new pet and it hunts by sensing the energy given off when someone morphs. This, obviously, spells trouble for the Animorphs who must race to find a way to take out this strange creature all while their major advantage, their morphing ability, is also now their greatest weakness. As far as the story goes, that’s about it. Rachel ends up with amnesia, just to throw another wrench in the gears. There is a lot of action in this book, racing away from the Veleek, morphing different animals to see how the Veleek reacts, getting captured on Yeerk ships, and some more ocean action towards the end when they find a way to kill the beast.

This is the first “Megamorphs” book in the series. I think there ends up being around 4 or so of them? The book is longer than the typical books in the series and features chapters from the perspectives of all the Animorphs. While I enjoyed this book, I do remember liking the later “Megamorphs” books better as I feel like Applegate does a better job of coming up with things for them all to be doing in those. As you’ll see in the character portions, the action isn’t very evenly divided and certain characters (mostly Jake and Tobias) don’t end up with much to do and other Animorphs (Rachel) end up with storylines that, in the end, don’t have any tie-in/impact on the primary story arc. The stakes just never seem very high, and so far, this has been my least favorite book in the series. However, fun was still to be had in parts, so onwards!

Our Fearless Leader: Strangely enough, other than Tobias, Jake has the least to do in this book. Rachel has amnesia. Cassie saves the day. Marco and Ax are abducted. And Jake…becomes a tiger? Towards the end there is some commentary that Jake is the type of person who will become president some day due to his ability to make the necessary tough decisions, even when those decisions involve sending people he cares about (Cassie) into danger.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Even with amnesia, somehow Rachel ends up caught in the most gruesome fight scenes in this book, as detailed in the “body horror” section below. But it must speak to a deep truth about her character, some type of nature vs. nurture aspect, where she will go full throttle whenever challenged even if she isn’t quite sure why she can change into animals, what aliens are doing roaming the earth, and what not. She just knows that she can become a grizzly. And if you mess with her, that’s what she will do! The whole amnesia thing was a bit strange, though, really. There was no actual impact on the story due to this, so it mostly just felt like an added story line that went nowhere. But…oh well, I still love Rachel and enjoyed watching her confront the horror of their whole situation for the first time again.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. Not only does he get way fewer chapters than the rest of them (I believe he even had less than Ax!), but he literally sleeps through the major action scene in the middle of the book. I have to think that it was around this point that Applegate started playing around with options for getting Tobias back in the game. Turns out that as emotionally traumatic as it was turning one of her characters into a hawk, there isn’t a lot of plot action that can come from it and figuring out what to do with Tobias in the mean time during all of these books had to start getting frustrating.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s an adorable scene towards the end where Cassie meets up with Rachel who is still struggling with her memory. So to kill two birds with one stone, Cassie goes on a ride on Elephant!Rachel and gives her a quick run through of their history. The mental image of Cassie riding along on Elephant!Rachel is just precious. Besties forever! Their friendship is one of my favorite parts of the book, and probably my favorite part of Cassie’s character since she is the one I struggle with most in the series.

But, after a moment of weakness in the middle of the book that leaves Cassie questioning herself, she is the crux to the whole story. Her unique talent at morphing allows her to speed through the many morphs necessary to pull off their “drop through the air while morphing from a cockroach on Tobias’s back to human to a whale in order to crush the Veleek into the ocean where it’s particle body will break to pieces” crazy pants plan.

The Comic Relief: Marco’s truly terrible driving makes a second and even more extended appearance (last time was in book #2, I believe). Without even knowing its him, Rachel hears the car coming and thinks to herself “that’s a very bad driver.”

BAM! BAM! BAM!
“Do you hate trash cans?” Jake asked. “Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH
CANS?!!”
“I can’t drive with you screaming in my ear,” I [Marco] said.
“You can’t drive at all!” Jake said.

Turns out that when Marco volunteers for this little jaunt, his driving experience came from video games. Later the scene devolves into Marco continuing to drive, only this time he has Tiger!Jake in the back of the truck. Honestly, the Marco/Jake snark through all of this was probably the most fun part of the entire book.

Other than the silly mouse plot at the beginning (see the “bad plans” section), Marco’s major action comes from being captured by the Veleek and ending up on a Yeerk space ship alongside Ax. They escape by jumping out an open hatch, essentially. Come to think of it, a disproportionate amount of time in this book is spent with various Animorphs plummeting through the air desperately trying to morph.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax now has a 60/30 chance, it seems, of somehow ending up captured and on board a Yeerk space ship. Not counting “The Capture” where Jake is Controlled and which doesn’t involve really any major Yeerk battles, Ax has ended up on a space ship in 2 of the last 3 books. And, more importantly, gotten off alive, which is quite the feat! Sure, this time the space shift was still in the atmosphere which is the only reason his and Marco’s plan to just “jump out” worked, but still! I also have to suspect that Ax is going to continue to play a pretty strong role in continuing the charade that the Animorphs are all Andalite warriors. In this book, Visser Three mentions that some of the Yeerks had begun to become suspicious that humans may be involved, but here Ax is! But, Visser Three has also already met Ax and noted that he is a youth, something you don’t typically see in Andalite fighting forces. You’d think he’d start to be curious that the only Andalite he’s meeting is the same young kid. Hm…we’ll see I guess!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Two come to mind immediately, both for poor Rachel. The first comes right after she’s woken up from hitting the tree as an eagle (thus the amnesia) and discovers that she is halfway through morph. Now the descriptions are as nasty as ever about what midpoints in morphs are like (random patches of skin here, feathers there, talons sticking out of legs), but what makes it worse is that Rachel, at this point, has no memory! So the horror of waking up to find your body in that condition with no context for it?? The second moment comes after she’s been attacked by the Veleek in her bear morph and has had both of her paws…ahem…removed (what is it with her bear morph losing paws?!). And there’s a particularly gross part later on where she describes human fingers emerging from the gory stumps of her arms as she returns to human form. Yeah…

Couples Watch!: There are a few little references here and there to our favorite two couples. Rachel mentions that she takes care of things for Tobias that he can’t manage himself (like bringing him books to read!), and doing just that is what leads her into the amnesia trouble. She also remembers Cassie and Tobias first when she begins having flashes of memory. Cassie also mentions that Jake can read her facial expressions better than anyone else later in the book. And also resents the fact that she is suspicious that he sent her to look for Rachel around town (when they all realize she’s missing) not only because she’s Rachel’s best friend, but because he wanted to keep her out of danger.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: At one point in this story, Chapman meets up with a few other Controllers and one of them literally compares Visser Three’s melodramatics to the antics found in bad spy novels. I’ve been saying it all along!

Also, Visser Three’s ongoing love affair with Tiger!Jake shows up again in this book. I mean, the guy has, outloud!, waxed poetic about the tiger morph, and cats in general (Rachel’s house cat being the other instance), four times that I can remember at this point! And we’re only 8 books in! I think it’s safe to say that he has an obsession.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This one actually avoided most of the tragedy. There’s a point towards the end where Cassie tells Tobias that they will need to tell her parents what happened to her if her plummeting towards the ocean as a whale plan doesn’t work out, but only when it’s safe. So that kind of struck home about the reality of what would happen if one of their missions ended badly. They couldn’t even tell the parents why their child died because it would put the family at risk. Sads.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, Marco’s idiotic mouse plan in the beginning has to be mentioned. Essentially, he’s not invited to a girl’s pool party and instead of handling this gracefully, Marco decides to crash the party in mouse form to “see if anyone’s talking about him” since “she obviously has a crush on him.” It’s completely in character, and yet you just have to feel bad for poor Ax who gets dragged along with really no clue about any of this. Pool parties. Crushes. Teenage gossip. Immature practical jokes. At one point, Ax puts the whole thing down to Marco suffering from an affliction called “sense of humor.” And that he’s seen this strange affliction cause Marco to do bizarre things in the past, as well, so this must just be yet another instance.

Favorite Quote:

I think this exchange proves why I always hone in on how similar Rachel and Marco really are to how they approach the war. Essentially the same way, but Marco can resist quipping.

“Rachel isn’t here to cast her vote. So, on her behalf, I’ll say what she would say: What we need to do is find a way to kick this Veleek’s butt.”
Cassie smiled. “And what would the real Marco say to that?”
“He’d probably make some stupid but very funny remark,” I admitted. “Then he would start thinking about how to do just that: Kick this big windbag’s dusty butt.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

While the Animorphs do manage to kill Visser Three’s killer alien creature, their real success is simply: came out alive. So no points for anyone!

Rating: This was a fun first attempt at a book told from the perspectives of all the characters. But it’s also clear that Applegate was struggling a bit with the format and trying to find action for them all. If I remember correctly, the next two “Megamorph” books do a better job of it.

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