The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “The Hork-BajirChronicles”

Animorphs 22.5: “The Hork-Bajir Chronicles” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Dak Hamee, born into the Hork-Bajir tribe, is something special from the start. “Strange,” says his mother. “A seer,” says the Old One, Tila Fashat. “A seer is one who is born to show a new way. Many, many seasons pass, then our father, the Deep, and our mother, the Sky, say, ‘Send a seer to the people. The people have need.’ And so one is born who is different.” When strange and different Dak meets Aldrea, the clever Andalite daughter of Prince Seerow, they learn together of the dangerous plot of the Yeerks, and of Esplin 9466, who will stop at nothing to build his empire. Learn more about Prince Seerow’s Kindness, find out how Andalites kiss, and plumb the mysteries of the Deep in this suspense-filled story of good, evil, and interspecies love.

Narrators: Dak Hamee, Aldrea, Esplin 9466

Plot: This story marks a departure from regular Animorphs books in several ways. For one, it is a story being told to Tobias by the freed Hork Bajir. It also features three narrators: Dak Hamee, a seer Hork  Bajir, Aldrea, an young female Andalite and the daughter of the infamous Seerow, and Esplin 9466, an ambitious Yeerk. The story also jumps around through time, starting around 1966 (Earth time) when Seerow first releases the Yeerks onto the galaxy, and ending a few years later.

The story begins with Aldrea describing the moments after the Yeerks first show their true colors and attack the Andalites who have set up a base on their home world. Alloran (yes THAT Alloran) shows up and begins berating Seerow for the mistakes he has made with the Yeerks by giving them technology and a portable Kandrona.

<Stupidity,> Alloran said harshly. <The stupidity of kindness. Charity to potential enemies. You’re a fool, Seerow. A soft, sentimental, well-meaning fool. And now my men are dead and the Yeerks are loose in the galaxy. How many will die before we can bring this contagion under control? How many will die for Seerow’s kindness?>

Two years later!

Aldrea and her family (her father, mother, and brother) are traveling to far away planet that is known to have life to observe and make sure there is no Yeerk presence. It is not an esteemed mission and Aldrea likens it to be ongoing exile due to her father’s actions. The planet they land on is made up of deep valleys full of huge trees and are soon greeted by the Hork Bajir. They send Dak Hamee, a young Hork Bajir who has known he was difference since he was a child. He is what the Hork Bajir call a “seer,” a rare Hork Bajir that is born rarely and who is much more intelligent than the common Hork Bajir. He has been told that he will bring a “new way” to his people. After meeting the Andalites and forming a friendship with Aldrea, he thinks that this “new way” is simply learning the vastness of the universe and all of the secrets of life and technology that Aldrea is showing him.

In the meantime, Esplin 9466 has his first experience outside of the Yeerk pool. He reveals that many Yeerks are perfectly satisfied with their lives in the pool, and that some, even after infesting a host body, find the prefer that life, finding the infestation experience too frightening and overwhelming. Esplin, however, becomes immediately addicted, especially to the sense of sight. He quickly understands that he must make himself useful if he is to earn the privileged of gaining a permanent host body (which are in high demand), so he sets out to become an expert on their enemies, the Andalites, with the hopes that his knowledge will be called upon in the future.

Three months pass.

Aldrea and Dak have become friends, and Aldrea is continuously surprised by how quickly Dak is absorbing all of the information she is presenting him. But she is also beginning to feel bad about spying on the Hork Bajir, having not explained to Dak the truth of why they are on his planet or anything about the Yeerk threat. Her parents are too caught up in their own things to pay much attention to what she is doing. They both question the fact that Dak is truly as intelligent as Aldrea reports.

One day as Aldrea and Dak are exploring (Aldrea has acquired a local animal called a Chadoo that she uses to travel through the trees alongside Dak), Dak hears a message being sent from another valley. The Hork Bajir use the trees and a system of strung vines to communicate across the distances. He says they are confused by a strange new alien creature that has come and taken away some of their own. Aldrea quickly realizes that they are describing the Gedd and that the Yeerks have arrived. Even worse, she realizes that her father will be sending out his nightly report and that the message is sure to be intercepted by the Yeerks in orbit if she doesn’t stop him. She arrives just in time to see her father send the message.

Meanwhile, Esplin has gained a Hork Bajir host body and is reveling in its power and the possibilities that this new species will give the Yeerks in their fight against the Andalites. The Yeerks intercept Seerow’s message and quickly locate the Andalites’ camp, and see three of the four Andalites nearby. Esplin warns them to wait until the fourth Andalite appears before shooting, using his knowledge of Andalites to deduce that the fourth wouldn’t be inside the scoop, as the other Yeerks theorized, as Andalites do not like to be cooped up if they have a choice. The Yeerk leaders ignore him and fire on the camp.

Aldrea watches her family and her home explode. Dak, confused by the violence and what is happening, has to drag her away from the scene. The Yeerks land and Hork Bajir Controllers immediately go after Aldrea. This is the first time Dak sees his own and his people’s blades as weapons, and manages to cripple one of the Controllers before he could kill Aldrea. They flee.

Aldrea swears vengeance for the death of her family and looks to Dak to inspire his people to fight. Suddenly realizes that the Hork Bajir aren’t peaceable by choice but that they literally don’t understand the concepts of fighting and battle. Dak insists that she explain everything; she tells the story of her father’s mistake. Dak quickly realizes the heart of the matter: the Yeerks were content on their own, but once they saw what they didn’t have, they wanted more. Aldrea, in her arrogance, assumes this insight is simply because now, too, the Hork Bajir are going to be jealous of the almighty Andalites.

Aldrea is insistence that the Hork Bajir must become killers to avoid being slaves. Dak sees this for what it is: both a death for his people and their ways. Aldrea sees Dak  begin to look at her in a strange, new way, his face filled with contempt. As the Yeerks continue to chase them, Aldrea and Dak flee to the Deep, one of the deeper crevices on the planet’s surface that is known to contain monsters that have killed all Hork Bajir who have wandered their in the past. They have no choice, however, and run down. The Yeerks follow, but Dak and Aldrea are saved when one of those very monsters, a huge Jubba Jubba creature, attacks them and kills the Yeerks. Aldrea manages to lob off its hand and they flea deeper.

Further down they find a sheer cliff, and in the cliff an intricate city of windows, bridges and balconies. They hide in one of the rooms that has been built into the wall. There they discover a new species, the Arn who look very similar to the Chadoo animal that Aldrea morphed. The Arn, however, are an intelligent species and, while trying to get Dak and Aldrea to leave, they explain their own history and that of the Hork Bajir planet. The Arn had been there first when the planet was lush and beautiful. However, there was an asteroid that had an unstable orbit around them. The Arn know that one day it would hit, however, being biologists, they couldn’t manage to create space ships that could get them past their own moon. Eventually the asteroid did hit, and only a few Arn who had been frozen and left on the moon survived. When the woke up they found their home world much changed, now covered in deep valleys and with an atmosphere that was barely stable. To manage this they created the vast trees. And to manage the trees, the created the Hork Bajir. They also made the monsters to serve as a barrier between the Hork Bajir and their own civilization further below.

The Arn want nothing to do with the war, but Aldrea and Dak manage to convince them that the Yeerks’ threat to the Hork Bajir will result in the Arns’ loss of their gardeners. The Arn teach them how to use the mind control system they have in place for controlling the monsters.

Meanwhile, Esplin and the Yeerks have been busy acquiring more Hork Bajir, around 100 a day. They cut down one of the massive trees and turn it into an impromptu Yeerk pool to aide in the infestation process. However, Esplin knows they must still find the Andalite. But Aldrea and Dak find him first, leading an army of monsters. Aldrea also calls to the Hork Bajir watching saying “Do as he does! Do as he does!” to get them to mimic’s Dak’s fighting. While Dak and the Hork Bajir fight, Aldrea sneaks on one of the Yeerk ships and manages to send out a message to the Andalites, calling for aide and saying the Yeerks have arrived. Hork Bajir!Esplin shows up and tries to capture Aldrea to infest her. She morphs a Jubba Jubba and escapes after using the fighter to blow up the tree  Yeerk pool.

Seven months pass.

Dak and Aldrea lead a guerilla war against the Yeerks, but they are taking huge losses. Aldrea can’t understand why the Andalites haven’t shown up; it should have only taken two months. Finally, they do arrive. Immediately they call Aldrea to come speak with Prince Alloran, but dismiss Dak. Dak insists that this war is taking place on his planet and being fought by his people: Alloran can come to him. Once the Andalite higher ups land, Dak finally manages to get their attention by giving a detailed report on the terrible conditions on the planet. Not only are the Yeerks infesting thousands of Hork Bajir, but they are also building new ships and will soon be able to travel the galaxy in huge numbers. They’re even creating a massive ship called a Blade ship.

They learn that the Andalites only showed up in small numbers, having not taken Aldrea’s warning seriously. After all, she was only a young female and the daughter of Seerow at that. The entire fleet is in another sector altogether and can’t arrive for another year. Dak knows that the Andalites will only use the Hork Bajir in this ongoing war. Aldrea doesn’t want to believe it, saying that Andalites aren’t like that.

We had been created by one brilliant species, invaded and enslaved by another. And now a third was using us. 

Esplin has been promoted to Sub Visser 12. He leads an attack on the newly arrived Andalites and reduces their number substantially.

Six more months pass.

The fight is not going well. Two thousand Andalites have been reduced to four hundred and the Hork Bajir are down to only 12 fighters. There are now one hundred thousand Hork Bajir Controllers. Dak, Aldrea, and the Andalites are holed up alongside the Arn (the Arn have adapted their bodies so that if they are infested they die,  however the Yeerks have simply turned them into slaves in other valleys). Dak notices that there is a section that the Andalites are guarding. He points it out to Aldrea. She is skeptical of it being anything of note, and tried to defend the Andalites. However, the two have grown much closer throughout all of this and she tells Dak that if the choice is between him or her people, she’ll choose him. After all of the Andalite arrogance and even Aldrea’s own lies to him, Dak doesn’t believe this, though he feels good to hear her say it. Aldrea manages to acquire Alloran. When Dak is confused by how she managed to pull this off, she says that morphing is a new technology and acquiring can be quite subtle. She simply took Alloran’s hand and gained his DNA without him noticing the drowsiness. She demonstrates how easy it is by acquiring a nearby female Hork Bajir.

She morphs Alloran and she and Dak gain entrance to the guarded room. There they find a computer lab and learn that Alloran has been creating a virus that is targeted to kill Hork Bajir. Dak is enraged, but not surprised, saying that this is the obvious next step for the ruthless Andalites who know a lost battle when they see one. Aldrea, equally horrified, insists that this is beyond the pale, even for Andalites, and that Alloran has clearly gone insane. They nab the canister containing the virus and destroy the lab. Dak is impressed and touched that Aldrea is willing to stand by her word, choosing him over her own people. Aldrea morphs a Hork Bajir to escape. This draws the attention of the rest of the Andalites. They only manage to escape because the Yeerks choose this very moment to attack the valley.

Dak and Aldrea managed to leap from a high bridge onto the passing Blade ship below. However, when the leap off, they are immediately captured by Yeerk Controllers and Esplin. Esplin immediately announces his plans to infest Aldrea, but Aldrea says that in two hours she will be trapped in this body forever (this is news to the Yeerks who don’t understand morphing technology). To prevent this, Esplin abandons his current Hork Bajir host body and attempts to infest Aldrea. Just before he fully gains control, the now freed Hork Bajir kills the Controllers around them and tugs Esplin back out from Hork Bajir!Aldrea’s ear. However, a nearby Andalite ship attacks the Yeerk ship they are in and they all go down.

Later, they wake up crashed on the valley floor. Aldrea has been trapped in Hork Bajir morph. As they search for Esplin (they theorize that he may have escaped into a nearby stream), the freed Hork Bajir swings down from the tree carrying the canister that he knows must be important. It’s open. The freed Hork Bajir immediately begins showing symptoms. Aldrea and Dak flee, hoping that the fact that the wind is against them will prevent their being infected. Right when they reach the Arn valley, they see the remaining Andalite ships leaving the planet.

They know the fight is lost. The virus is loose. And the Andalites have abandoned the planet. Aldrea and Dak reflect that there are valley far away that won’t be reached by the virus for quite a long time. And at least they have each other.

The book ends with Jara Hamee concluding his tale. Tobias says that now he’s even more depressed. Jara is confused by this and Tobias says he wishes he knew what happened to Aldrea and Dak, and even Esplin. Jara explains, as if to a small child, that Aldrea and Dak had a son whom they named Seerow, who had a son named Jara Hamee. And that Tobias already knows Esplin: Visser Three. As Tobias gets ready to leave, Jara introduces him to his daughter, Toby, named after Tobias. He says that Toby is special, and Tobias realizes that she, too, is a seer.

Dak Hamee & the Hork Bajir: Dak is a great character. I love everything about him. And it is clear that he is set up as the most wise of all the characters in this book, even the almighty Andalites. Really, looking at his character, this is what Cassie should be. He is peaceful by nature, incredibly talented at reading the underlying messages in people’s behavior, easily able to predict how those same people will act, and, importantly, willing to fight, even if he hates it. Yes, Cassie gets there too. But Daks’ anger and sadness never overcome him, he never puts others at risk to save his own conscience. His relationship with Aldrea is also great. Especially given the deeper understanding he has of some of her less positive qualities. But his ability to forgive is probably his strongest asset.

As for the Hork Bajir, I had forgotten much of their history. Especially their creation story, so that was a fun bit to re-experience. And man, the Arn are kind of the worst! I think they rival even the Andalites for arrogance! And are much more self-centered at that. They could care less what happens to everyone else, as long as they’re left alone. Their plan to adapt their bodies so that they’re uninfestable is clever, but they’re so self-focused that they don’t listen to the wisdom of others when they’re warned that the Yeerks won’t care about that and will find a way to destroy them anyways. Which they do by enslaving them and putting them to work mining for resource to be used to build more space ships. However, it’s not quite clear what their ultimate fate would be. After the virus was released, the Yeerks would flea the planet to avoid their hosts dying. But would the virus wouldn’t affect the Arn. So maybe their “outlast” plan worked after all. Even if they were little jerks the entire time.

Aldrea & the Andalites: Aldrea is also a great character. Most importantly because she is by no means a perfect character. Whereas Dak learns technical things about space, science, art, etc., he’s already a wise person. Aldrea is book smart, but she is naive about her own people and  exhibits many of the flaws of her species right from the beginning. She lies to Dak repeatedly; tries to downplay the Yeerk threat as long as she can; after her parents die, she becomes obsessed with revenge, not caring that the people who will be dying in this fight aren’t her own; when the Andalites arrive she fails to anticipate just how badly they will treat the Hork Bajir, and even at the end, struggles to believe Dak when he suggests that they are hiding things. For all of this, however, her arc of growth is clear. In the end, she stands by her statement to support Dak over her own people. And of all the characters we’ve seen become stuck in a morph, Aldrea expresses the least regret. Obviously this allows her to be with Dak, but I have to also think that by this point, she’s not a huge fan of her own species. Her father let loose the Yeerks on the world and then her commander tried to commit mass genocide. Maybe being a Hork Bajir is better, even if it’s short-lived.

As for the Andalites as a whole, you can’t say that Applegate ever gets “precious” about her “hero” alien species. If anything, the Andalites are getting a rougher and rougher history. They’re just kind of…all dicks. And sexist ones at that! Alloran says they pretty much dismissed Aldrea’s first call for help not only because she was Seerow’s daughter, but she was just a young female, so probably just foolish. It looks more and more like Elfangor and Ax are outliers, rather than examples of the Andalites as a whole. Even Ax struggles quite a lot to overcome his people’s arrogance and condescension towards other species. As always, Dak says it best:

I laughed. “You almighty Andalites. There is no limit to your arrogance, is there? Well, let me tell you something: We may be simple people. But we don’t use biology to invent monsters. And we don’t enslave other species. And we don’t unleash a plague of parasites on the galaxy, endangering every other free species, and then go swaggering around like the lords of the universe. No, we’re too simple for all that. We’re too stupid to lie and manipulate. We’re too stupid to be ruthless. We’re too stupid to know how to build powerful weapons designed to annihilate our enemies. Until you came, Andalite, we were too stupid to know how to kill.”

Esplin 9466 & the Yeerks: Esplin’s story was a very interesting one. My first thought as I started reading his chapters was that he sounded nothing like the Visser Three we know and love (?). For one, he seems pretty darn smart. He very quickly understands that he needs to make himself useful to be earn a permanent host body. And he also realizes, more than any of the other Yeerks, that to win they must understand the enemy. In this case, the Andalites. The interesting thing about this is that this plan is ultimately what also becomes his downfall. He learns everything about the Andalites, but then seems to become obsessed with them, and with the idea of infesting one.

In the main books’ arcs, this obsession has become a problem. His obsession with the Andalites has translated into a conclusion that they are the only worthy enemy in the universe. He immediately dismisses humans as a threat, thus leaving him with the inaccurate conclusion that he’s fighting Andalite bandits. Not only does he then misunderstand their tactics, motivations, and methods, but he fails to do the due diligence on the enemy he’s currently facing. The guy knows practically nothing about humans and the Earth, something that Visser One mocks him for. So the guy who began his career because he knew that it was important to fully know those whom you are fighting, is now losing because he got to caught up in his obsession over this first enemy. He’s no longer using what once was his best weapon, and thus losing this fight.

Beyond Esplin, we got some interesting facts about the Yeerks. Most notably, not all Yeerks enjoy infesting a host body. And, as Dak realizes early in the book, the Andalites failed to realize that a species might be content with the lives they lead and that introducing more is not necessarily helping. The Andalites’ huge failure is to under appreciate the difference cultures and priorities of the aliens the encounter. They believe they are the ideal, and therefore either dismiss (the Hork Bajir) or try to “help” (the Yeerks) the “lesser” species they encounter.

We also learn that the Yeerks already had a Council of Thirteen system when they lived in their pools, but the Visser/Sub Visser ranking only came after they attacked the Andalites. Esplin is also one of the first to realize that the type of host body you have reflects your own importance. Another reason for his obsession to become the first Yeerk with an Andalite host body.

A Hawk’s Life: As I’ve said before, a case can definitely be made for Tobias being the main character of this entire series. We now have both Chronicles books tying back to our main characters and storyline through Tobias. In the first, obviously, we learn that he is Elfangor’s son. Here, Toby, the new seer of the Hork Bajir, is named after Tobias in honor of the role he played in helping free the Hork Bajir now living in the hidden valley. For his own bits, the few scenes we have for Tobias are fairly depressing. He ends up at the valley because he’s feeling sad and lonely, and then it’s not like this story is the most uplifting thing ever either, so he’s pretty bummed at the end of it too. Obviously, the pay off and optimism comes with the introduction of Toby.

“I Get that Reference!”:  There were a few bits in this book that clearly touched on information that we as readers can connect to other bits of the story. One of the monsters from the Deep is one of the strange alien morphs that Visser Three uses (the vine-tentacle monster that took out all of the Animorphs back in the alternate timeline jungle story in book #11). There’s a reference to Dak and Aldrea theorizing that Esplin escaped in a nearby creek, something that must be kind of his move, since we saw him pull the same trick on Ax back in book #8.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a lot of body horror in this book. For one, Aldrea is the only one to morph and she doesn’t fixate on the process all that much. It was interesting learning that morphing was a very new technology at this time. Which means that in the grand scheme of things, morphing is very, very new for Andalites, even by the time we get to our main storyline back on Earth. I always thought of it as something the Andalites must have had for quite awhile. Aldrea also mentions that she is more skilled at morphing than others, and theorizes that females might have a better affinity for this technology, which is supported by the fact that Cassie is so good at morphing herself.

Couples Watch!: These Chronicles books are also turning out to be the most romantic of the entire series, and yet again we have a cross-species relationship forming. While I love the sweetness and humor of Elfangor and Lauren’s relationship, their storyline takes place over a short period of time, so it feels a bit less fleshed out. And then we miss the years in between when they truly form a romantic relationship. Here, with Dak and Aldrea, their romantic relationship grows in a much more realistic, and more painful, manner. The differences that they carry with them simply due to their species (Aldrea: arrogant, supremely confident, a tendency to think she knows best and look down on others. Dak: optimistic, has wisdom that could be seen as simplistic, but is actually more honest) are apparent from the beginning and are something they have to spend months working through.

Their relationship also forms through a much harder set of circumstances. Aldrea’s grief and anger over the loss of her family. Dak’s grief and anger over the loss of his entire people. And the fact that 90% of their time together is spent fighting a hopeless war. It’s dark, but it also makes their relationship feel that much more true and earned in the end.

We also get to see a Hork Bajir “kiss” when Dak presses his head blades to Aldrea’s in a moment of tenderness after she’s morphed Hork Bajir. She then compares it to an Andalite “kiss” which is when an Andalite strokes another Andalite’s face with their palm.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the entire book?? While I do love this book, it’s also one of the more challenging reads for me. It’s probably the most serious book in the series so far, and even at the beginning, the reader knows that things aren’t going to end well. We know the outcome of this war. We know the depth of betrayal the Andalites commit. We know that ultimately the Hork Bajir, and Aldrea and Dak, are doomed. So while the story does an excellent job of exploring some really important and challenging stuff (the price of violence on a peaceful people, the value placed on individuals based on intelligence, the lines that can be crossed in warfare), it’s still a tough book to feel pumped about reading from the start.

On a specific note, in this re-read, towards the very end of the book there is this quote:

It was Gah [the recently freed Hork Bajir whom Esplin had abandoned]. He was in the tree above us, in the high branches. He was swinging down to meet us. He was carrying the canister. He had retrieved it from the branches above. He had known that it was important. He was bringing it to us. It was open.

I don’t know why, but the sad, simple, sweetness of this small moment just crushed me. It perfectly illustrates the sadness behind the Hork Bajir people and the loss that was their ultimate fate. Here is Gah, just trying to help his friends, not understanding any of the complexities of the situation. Just bringing something he knows they found important. And dying for it.

Favorite Quote:

This really gets at the heart of the tragedy that is the fate of the Hork Bajir. And Dak understands this really early in the story, after only his fist encounter with the Yeerks:

<We can save your people, if they will learn to fight! They don’t have to be destroyed.>
“Yes, they do,” he said quietly. “Either they will learn to fight and hurt and kill, or they will learn to be slaves. Both will destroy them. Killers or slaves. They will be one or the other. Killers or slaves.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

No change!

Rating: As I said above, I think this is one of the more serious books in the series and the one that tackles big topics most head-on. Dak is an incredible character, and Aldrea is a great example of creating a flawed character who experiences a life-changing story arc. It’s also incredibly depressing. Unlike the “Andalite Chronicles,” we know how this story will mostly go. So while there are surprises (most notably the history of the Hork Bajir), it’s hard not to read it with an ever-present sense of dread. I have a hard time with sad stories, so that always make this book one of the ones that I have to talk myself into more when considering a re-read. But I’m also always glad that I did re-read it. After this book, it’s hard to read the battles between the Animorphs and the Yeerks without thinking about the tragedy that are all of the Hork Bajir hosts who are dying in these fights, confused and alone.

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!

Rah Rah for RA!: Spooky Reads for Kids!

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us. 

Dear Library Ladies,

As a person who is occasionally asked for reading recommendations for kids/teens, I could use some advice. I’m not well versed in the scary/horror story genre, so I would like some suggestions for books for kids, middle grade, and teens. Since I can’t always interpret the scary-tolerance level of the people that ask, a range, or even a general guideline for people new to this genre, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Sincerely,

“Person who definitely did not fast forward through the Oogie Boogie Man song as a kid”

Hi, Person!

Good on you trying to expand your literary repertoire! It’s always good to have a nice bag of tricks when it comes to all genres. Given that horror can run a huge gamut, we’ll give you some titles that could be for those who need tamer works, and those who want to be super scared.

Picture Books:

7552359Book: “Zen Ghosts” by John J Muth

While this picture book does talk about ghosts and spooky folklore to an extent, the imagery and the themes are so gentle and muted that it probably won’t be too scary for any reader. Muth’s books in this series star a panda who gives zen teachings to children, and even in this Halloween themed book he addresses the spirit of the season as well as more thoughtful and introspective things.

363973Book: “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” by Linda Williams

This is another Halloween themed story, but it can work year round as well. This brave little old lady is normally not afraid of anything, but then something follows her home. It’s a story that shows that even brave people can be scared sometimes, and that sometimes confronting your fears can be hard, but rewarding.

760205Book: “There’s A Nightmare in My Closet” by Mercer Mayer

What child hasn’t been afraid of things hiding under their bed or in their closet? This story is about a boy who ultimately confronts that monster in his closet, and finds out that it may not be as scary as he thought. The empowerment of the main character is a nice touch to a story that teaches the readers that sometimes what we are afraid of can’t really hurt us. And Mercer Mayer is always a joy, with fun and sweet characters.

Middle Grade:

267972Book: “Wait Til Helen Comes” by Mary Downing Hahn

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the high queens of children’s horror, and “Wait Til Helen Comes” is probably her most well known. When Michael and Molly’s mother marries Heather’s father, the blended family goes through immediate growing pains. Not only is Heather a manipulative brat, but she is constantly talking about her new friend Helen… who happens to be a ghost with not so nice intentions. This book is both creepy, and also addresses some real life issues involving family and siblings.

22859559Book: “The Jumbies” by Tracey Baptiste

This book brings Caribbean folklore to the forefront as it sends thrills and chills down readers spines. Corinne and her father are non believers when it comes to
Jumbies, Haitian folk creatures that lure people into the woods to eat them. But when
Corinne’s father falls under the mysterious spell of a strange woman named Severine, she needs to enlist the help of her friends and a witch in hopes of getting her father back! With diverse characters and a mythology that may be new to readers, “The Jumbies” is a fun, spooky read!

125581Series: “Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine

Well, of course. R.L. Stine’s classic book series for kids may have started in the 1990s, but it remains a favorite of children who love to be scared. While the levels of horror and themes vary from book to book, there are so many different monsters and creepy crawlies that most horror fans will find a couple that resonate with them (Kate still thinks about “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” on occasion). True, the stories can be repetitive at times, but the familiarity can be a plus for those who want to read more and more with an author they are comfortable with.

Young Adult:

18748653Book: “Daughters Unto Devils” by Amy Lukavics

Starting this section off with a book for hardcore horror fans. The cover alone is jarring and upsetting! When Amanda Verner and her pioneer family move from their home in the mountains to an abandoned house on the prairie, weird things start happening. Amanda, with secrets of her own, starts to wonder if the demon she thinks saw that past winter has followed her… With claustrophobic settings and an undercurrent of paranoia, this book will keep the reader up at night jumping at any sounds outside the window.

19364719Book: “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys” by April Genevieve Tulchoke

For people who want multiple scary stories that can be read in one sitting, “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys” may be the book for them! this collection of horror short stories takes various pop culture influences to make all new takes of terror. From multiple authors in the YA horror genre, this collection has something fun and scary for everyone! The scary factor also varies from story to story, some being tame and weird, others being deeply disturbing.

25263927Book: “The Girl from The Well” by Rin Chupeco

Fans of “The Ring” and “The Grudge” will be familiar with the premise. Okiku, a Japanese vengeance ghost, traveled the world hunting down child killers and rapists, giving them a death they truly, truly deserve. But one day she stumbles upon a boy named Tarquin, an American teenager with intricate and strange tattoos. They aren't just ordinary tattoos. There is something creepy and sweet about an onryō actually helping others instead of straight up murdering them…

So there you have it!! A list of horror for kids of all ages and all levels of freak out tolerance. If anyone else has any recommendations, leave them in the comments!

 

 

The Great Animorphs Re-read #22: “The Solution”

366790Animorphs #22: “The Solution” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the newest Animorph, is not what he appears. His need to control the other Animorphs and Ax is all he thinks about. And the things he does are starting to break up the group.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Part two was where things got real. Part three is where things get dark. Real dark. And I retreat to a hole of my own making and cry forever.

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Me: re-reading this entire trilogy (source)

Ax shows up in the middle of the night, waking up Rachel with messages of doom. David has truly gone off the deep end, Tobias is likely dead, and Jake is MIA after sending Ax to get her. They are able to figure out that David and Jake are at the mall and rush there only to find tiger!Jake unconscious and bleeding on the floor. Knowing David must be lurking nearby, Rachel takes charge and has Ax demorph to look around. Lion!David attacks her, but with some fancy gymnastic skills, Rachel is able to avoid him. In the process, David shares, again, his gross little philosophy about not murdering humans only “animals.”

The police show up and David takes off. Cassie’s parents show up as the local animal experts. Cassie’s mom, in particular, is confused since she recognizes the tiger as one from the zoo (Jake’s tiger morph original). Cassie shows up too and they are all concerned about not only Jake’s recovering but about needing him to wake up to demorph before the two hour limit. With Jake in Cassie’s (and her parents’) hands, Ax and Rachel fly to Marco’s to gather the troops, essentially. On the way there, Rachel thinks about how challenging this is all going to be, and even empathizes a bit with the frustration that Visser Three must feel: with the morphing ability, David could be anything and anywhere.

They arrive at Marco’s to find him sleeping in his bed, but as they fly in, Marco smashes Ax with a bat. It’s David in morph. He quickly demorphs and remorphs a golden eagle and chases owl!Rachel. Behind her, she is relieved to see Ax demorphing.

As David chases Rachel, he begins taunting her about killing Tobias. Up to this point, Rachel had been in a state of confusion, but with his words, she goes cold and knows what she has to do. She takes advantage of her better knowledge of her owl morph and manages to just stay ahead of David, leading him towards some power lines that he won’t be able to see with his daytime bird eyes. But just as she nears it, David manages to attack her. Just in the nick of time, David is attacked by a red tailed hawk. Tobias to the rescue! Not liking the odds anymore, David runs off. (How does David not put two and two together with this? Throughout this book, the fact that Tobias is still alive is a huge secret. Maybe David didn’t pay much attention to what kind of bird attacked him here).

Later, the group are back together. Cassie managed to jab tiger!Jake with a syringe and wake him up so that he could demorph and walk out of the vet’s office (Cassie’s mom was super freaked by the whole thing, discovering later that the tiger was somehow magically back in its cage at the Gardens and free of any injury). Marco had woken up to find David standing over him with a bat and had been tied up in a closet

They go to school, all exhausted and scared. Marco!David shows up and Cassie rushes to get the real Marco to hide. He sits with them and is his usual blowhard self, going on and on about how they should just give up now as he has their same abilities and is oh, so much smarter than them all.

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He wants them to hand over the blue box to. They refuse and David gets up to go, issuing more threats. Rachel follows, cafeteria fork in hand. Outside, she catches up with  Marco!David and warns him that if he tries to rat them out to the Yeerks that they’ll know. David doesn’t know about the Chee, so Rachel is able to convince him that the Animorphs have a source within the Yeerk organization since how else would they have known about the world summit meeting. She goes further to say that if he did rat on them, they’d still have time to retaliate and would go after his parents.

“You know, maybe you forget this sometimes, but you are a girl, Rachel.” 

“And you’re a worm,” I shot back. “Want to see who wins that fight?”

He swings at her and she neatly avoids it and jams the fork in his ear, getting her point across. After he leaves, Rachel is shocked by her own actions, especially her threat against his parents. Further, she finds herself becoming more and more angry at Jake. For sending for her in the first place, and all the implications that come with that. And the fact that he let her go after David here too, knowing what she would do, but also making her feel judged for being the one to do it.

What made me feel stupid was that I hadn’t realized I was changing. But everyone else obviously did. Jake did. When he knew it was coming down to kill-or-be-killed with David, he’d sent Ax to get me. Not Marco. Not Cassie. “Get Rachel.” 

After school, the group meets back at the barn. After grilling Marco to make sure it’s really him, the group begin planning what to do about the world summit, since they still need to deal with that. Ax privately thought speaks Rachel telling her that they are putting on a show, assuming David is in the barn listening. After they all morph birds, they discuss the real plan. Rachel compares the new plan to a game of chess where you know you’re going to lose so instead you simply throw the board across the room.

They go to the Gardens to get morphs and then head to the ocean. There’s a huge storm rolling in, so the transition from bird to dolphin in the middle of the ocean is a difficult one. Cassie’s skill with morphing helps them all make the change safely. They swim to the beach outside the resort and then put their plan in motion: morphing big animals. Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Ax go elephant. Jake and Marco go rhino. The security at the resort was pretty unprepared for a bunch of huge animals to barge out of the ocean, so the plan to wreak havoc is pulled off well. Once the big guns show up, including Visser Three, the group retreat back to the ocean. Ultimately, the storm plays in their favor, hiding them and preventing the boats from getting in close.

But as they swim away, killer whale!David shows up (a question mark here: it seems fairly unlikely that David would have been able to anticipate all of this and have a killer whale morph on hand. He also wouldn’t know what ocean animal morphs the Animrophs would use. They could have all had killer whales themselves.) David, again, starts taunting them and tells the group about Rachel’s threat to his parents. The others are silent, infuriating Rachel, especially with Jake whom she thinks is a hypocrite for letting her go after David and then seemingly judging those same actions later.

David goes after Ax, but Rachel calls attention to herself and gets him to switch to her. Just in time, Cassie shows up in humpback whale morph (she manages to slip away during all of the taunting) and scares David off.

When Rachel gets home, she hears that her cousin Saddler is likely going to die. Rachel comforts her younger sister, Jordan. Back in her room, she hears David, talking to her in morph, hidden somewhere in her room, demanding the blue box again. Rachel asks what he’s going to do with it, make new Animorphs who can do to him what he’s doing to them? He’s silenced, but she doesn’t know if he’s left or not. She avoids the shower.

With her family, she heads to Jake’s house where they’re meeting to travel together to the hospital to see Saddler. Rachel tells Jake about David’s invasion of her room and that it’s gotten personal between her and David. She also confronts him about the hypocrisy of his actions, sending her to do his dirty work and then judging her later.

They travel to the hospital where a miracle has occurred: Saddler simply woke up, completely healed. Rachel and Jake realize the sick joke that this is: David has done away with Saddler and morphed him in his place. They go to the hall to try and frantically plan, since it’s one of the few times when they’ll know where David his. But Rachel is still angry about Jake’s hypocrisy.

“Look, Rachel, every one of us has his strengths and his weaknesses.”
“And my strength is being some kind of crazy killer?” I practically shrieked. 
 
“Okay, fine, Rachel. You want to do this, fine. I think you’re the bravest member of the group. I think in a bad fight I’d rather have you with me than anyone else. But yeah, Rachel, I think there’s something pretty dark down inside you. I think you’re the only one of us who would be disappointed if all this ended tomorrow. Cassie hates all this, Marco has personal reasons for being in this war, Ax just wants to go home and fight Yeerks with his own people, Tobias . . . who knows what Tobias wants anymore? But you, Rachel, you love it. It’s what makes you so brave. It’s what makes you so dangerous to the Yeerks. I thought you’d scare David. I thought you’d say the things it took to scare him. I thought you’d say whatever you had to. And I thought that of any of us, David would be most likely to fear you.” 

Rachel responds by saying that she has a line, and she knows where it is. Jake says he has his own line, but he learned here and now that it wasn’t where he thought it was: he was willing to use his friend and cousin to do his dirty work, and apologizes.

Back in the barn, the group put on a masterclass performance for David whom they know is lurking around inside spying on them. Everyone plays their roles, with Cassie upset about Saddler. Marco taunting Rachel about being beaten, Tobias not being there and them all referencing the fact that David killed him. Cassie tells a tall tale about having Ax break the blue box down into pieces and “slips,” mentioning that Rachel was the one to hide it with her. They all go home, poor Jake returning to his house where now Saddler!David is in residence.

The next day they arrange to meet with David at a Taco Bell. David swaggers in and Rachel forces herself to not smack him, but play the humiliated and defeated role that they all figured David would want to see. David announces that he wants Rachel to lead him to the box because he was (surprise!) spying on them in the barn and heard everything. (Again, it’s so shocking how stupid David thinks they are. Even the brief amount of time he had with them, you’d think he’d have a better read on their abilities, but guess not). They head to the construction site.

Rachel morphs rat, and then snake!David threatens to bite her unless the group all morph cockroach and climb into a jar he found lying nearby. He seals them in, knowing that they can’t demorph without crushing each other. He then morphs rat and Rachel leads him into the maze.

They get one piece (a blue lego block, but the rat’s poor eye sight can’t see that), but as they head for the second one, Rachel realizes that she can small fresh air and hear a jet plane, belying the fact that they are supposed to be deep underground. David begins to put things together, and Rachel makes a dash towards the exit pipe. They wrestle and Rachel privately thoughts speaks to the others to be ready. She turns, chews off her own tail, and dashes out, just avoiding getting hit with the box lid slamming shut behind her, trapping rat!David within.

The group explain to David that they planned it all, that Tobias wasn’t dead, and then they sink into silence as David tries to talk his way out of it, saying they won, he’d just be going now.

“You tried to kill us,” Jake said. “You threatened to turn us over to Visser Three. Not to mention what you’ve done to Saddler’s family.”
<You can’t judge me!> David cried. <You’re not God!>
“David, we have fought the Yeerks for a long time now. It seems like forever,” Jake said wearily. “We are not going to let you beat us. We are going to save the human race if we can. There are larger issues . . . more important . . .”

They all leave, but Rachel and Ax. Ax to keep time. Rachel because she volunteers, saying that she can take it. After two hours, David is trapped in rat morph and they fly him out to a rock on the ocean that is known to have a thriving rat population. Later, they hear rumors that the rock is haunted and that passing boats have heard yells of “No!’ coming from the rock.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is a huge book for Rachel. Some fans, myself included, have theorized that the action of this book (not only her own choices with regards to David, but her realizations about how the others, and particularly Jake, see her) are a tipping point in her arc and a direct point of reference for the further struggles her character goes through, particularly in the last few books of the series.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that Rachel is pretty messed up by the fact that Jake sent Ax to get her specifically. At the same time, she completely agrees with his decision. Not only because she is particularly close to Tobias, but after Marco!David tries to kill Ax and is chasing and taunting her in bird morph, she knows that she is capable of leading David to his death. Jake was right.

But what seems to be the killing blow is the fallout from her one-on-one with David where she threatens his parents. Jake allows her to go. She does her thing, knowing it needs to be done and that that’s what Jake “sent” her to do anyways, but still feeling sick about it. And then, worst of all, later when they’re all in the ocean and David begins taunting her once again and exposing what she said to the group, they all just….leave her hanging out to dry. It’s not a good look for any of them, but particularly not Jake.

I’m completely with Rachel on this. It’s one thing to send someone to do your dirty work, it’s another to leave them at the mercy of your enemy’s psychological mind games and let your silence serve as judgement. They completely abandon her in this moment. And while when Rachel and Jake are fighting at the hospital, Jake apologizes and even owns up to the hypocrisy of his actions, it’s still not enough, in my opinion.

He lays too much of it at Rachel’s own feet, and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the entire group let her down here. Regardless of their opinions on her actions and threats, several of them (definitely Jake, and we’d assume Ax and Marco would likely agree with this too) essentially approved of what she did when she did it. And beyond that, even if they disagreed, not sticking together in this moment, letting David pick out one of them and letting it stand, is a huge breach of teamwork and mutual support. So, badly done, y’all.

Through this all, through being used and judged by her friends, Rachel still proves her own strength in several small scenes. When they are all dolphins, as is typical of her, she draws the attention of the threat away from another (this time Ax) and to herself. We’ve seen her do this countless times now, and it’s pretty unique to her character. In a very human moment, she comforts her younger sister as she grieves the imminent death of their cousin Saddler. And, most importantly, in the end, she volunteers to stay behind as David is trapped as a rat. This is the ultimate self-sacrificial move. Beyond simply staying, she tries to relieve the others’ guilt for not staying themselves, saying that it won’t bother her. She muses that some of them may actually believe that. But it’s hard to really think any of them would (Cassie is her best friend, Tobias is her…something, Jake definitely knows this isn’t true after their conversations in this book. Maybe Marco? But he seems too smart to fall for this line).

Our Fearless Leader: Another big book for Jake and his leadership skills. This book is a good look at how cold Jake has become when he begins evaluating situations and the assets in his arsenal. In this case, his assets are his friends and he’s beginning to see and use them like tools. He’s surgical, accurate, and, yes, cold. When he’s confronted by Rachel in the hospital, he seems to be almost surprised by his own actions. But, while he does apologize, it also seems pretty obvious that if he had to do it over again, he’d do the same thing. Because he didn’t make the wrong choice, even if it was one that almost broke his cousin.

His biggest mistake, I still think, was not standing up for Rachel to David when he begins coming after her while they’re in the ocean. It’s pretty unacceptable to leave a team member hanging there, vulnerable to an enemy’s jabs. Better to support her in the moment, and then, if he had qualms, confront her later. It’s even worse because the confrontation never comes, at least not on his part. He never expresses any regret that Rachel threatened David’s parents, so the judgemental silence is even worse in the moment.

In the end, Rachel also admires Jake’s leadership abilities when he makes the rest of them leave her and Ax with rat!David. She recognizes the fact that he knows he needs to spare as many of them as he can from the traumatizing scene that is about to unfold.

A Hawk’s Life: David is really terrible at counting (as is Visser Three in Jake’s book when he fails to see cobra!Marco). I mean, there are a bunch of times when David had to have been lingering around and Tobias was there in morph. Most notably, all the points during the world leaders summit mission. Flying there. As rhinos/elephants. As dolphins. Clearly David was around since he was so easily able to intercept them in his killer whale morph. So how did he not catch this? Highly questionable for some who is a self-proclaimed “genius.”

Tobias is pretty instrumental to the final plan in helping get them out of the jar. But, other than the moments when David should have spotted him, he makes himself scarce for much of the book to keep up the facade. I do wish there had been more Tobias/Rachel scenes in this book. Their reunion was nice, but too brief. And poor Rachel was left without all of her support systems it seems. Not only did she not have any scenes with him to talk through all of this, but she also doesn’t get any time with Cassie, her other primary support person.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is on top of her manipulation skills in this trilogy! Her biggest move came during the cafeteria scene when David showed up to threaten them. She pointedly sits right next to him, reminding him that they are, in fact, people and not animals. And then talks very clearly to him about what he’s doing and the realities of trying to bargain with the Yeerks. It’s pretty slick.

Her morphing abilities are also paramount to their success with all of their morphs in the ocean during the storm. Rachel is pretty clear about how dangerous the water is and Cassie’s ability to quickly morph is one of the only reasons they manage it, with her able to be in dolphin morph to help the others. She’s also able to quickly leave, morph out of dolphin and then morph back to humpback whale during the fight with David.

In the end, she’s very broken up about what they have to do to David. But she also was the one to come up with the plan (again, probably largely due to her knowledge of animals and what morphs would work, but mostly because she understands people and could predict what David would want/do).

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up being the one to get sidelined a few times in this book. First getting attacked and left in a closet (more on that below) by David in the beginning, and then also needing to be shuffled out of the cafeteria once David shows up at school in a Marco morph. Part of me wonders if part of the reason Applegate did this was an attempt to work around the fact largely it was Marco, not Rachel, who had been set up as David’s primary rival (not only in his POV book, but Jake references the particular animosity between David and Marco several times in his book).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have much in this book, other than being the second Animorph to stay behind with Rachel and rat!David. Supposedly this is because of his ability to track time. But…there are such things as watches, so I’m not sure I buy this reasoning for why Ax gets burdened with this.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There aren’t so much “body horror” moments in this book as simply “horror” moments. David’s psychotic philosophy with the supposed non-humanity of the Animorphs while in morph is just so incredibly messed up. The bat to the face that Ax takes is particularly vicious  and it’s pretty surprising that he even survives it.

And the the sheer, traumatizing horror that is what happens to David at the end of this book. It makes Tobias’s situation look like a walk in the park. But did the Animorphs have much of a choice? They had to pick an animal that couldn’t hurt them. They had to find one that they could easily contain while in morph, preventing him from demorphing. And they had to find one that the could take somewhere away from the general population (so that he wouldn’t just start thought-speaking at anyone and everyone telling them all of the Animorphs’ secrets). So, supposedly Cassie (it had to be her, right?) already knew about this rock out in the ocean that had a thriving rat population and…well, there you go. But man, it’s cold. Luckily, Applegate spares us a blow-by-blow description of the two hour time period that they’re waiting him out, but even the brief glimpses are bad enough. It’s hard to think of anything in the series that is more horrifying than this.

Couples Watch!: When Ax first shows up to get Rachel in the beginning of the book, she assumes he’s Tobias. Another indicator that Tobias probably is a regular visitor to her room. She also shares this observation after hearing about his “death.”

And yet, as I completed the morph to fly, I knew Jake had picked the right person. See, I cared for Tobias. I don’t think I even knew how much I cared till right then.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There a brief moment in the beginning when Rachel and Ax are at the mall and overhear two Controllers discussing how they know that the hurt tiger must be an Andalite in morph but that they don’t have enough Controllers on the police force. They both wonder aloud how mad Visser Three would be if they didn’t do anything….and agree to just not say anything about the whole thing. Another instance when we get a glimpse into the thought process of Visser Three’s underlings, all of whom seem to have a pretty good read on their boss and know that avoiding any interaction with him is always best.

But, again, David is the villain of this trilogy.

His biggest downfall in this entire thing is that he forgets that he’s not fighting regular teenagers, but kids who have been fighting a real war for months now. Not only are they more skilled with their morphs and know how to construct and pull off complicated missions, but, physically, they are capable fighters. Rachel’s own battle abilities were on display in the exchange outside of the school. David’s small-minded, sexist opinions of her abilities (as evidenced in the quote earlier) get him in trouble not only in that scene, but in the entire ending of the story. If he hadn’t been so firmly entrenched in his own need to validate his ego and look down on the others, he would have known better than to be tricked by their act. His sheer inability to view Rachel as the powerful threat that she is leads to his doom.

Another example of this, his inability to realize he’s not fighting normal kids, is his failure to anticipate the fact that they would anticipate that he would spy on them and to not simply buy their whole scene they put on in the barn. But it played to his ego a bit too much, and, like all ego-maniacs, he couldn’t look beyond his own assurance that he was the smartest one in the room, to realize that the Animorphs, again, have been doing this for a while and could guess David’s actions.

“See, David,” Marco said, “we knew you were in the barn, listening to our every word. How did we know? Tobias. So we played out that whole pathetic scene for you about how disgraced Rachel was. We knew you’d get so much sick pleasure out of forcing her to obey you.”

 

<All of your actions, even your emotions, were anticipated,> Ax said. <We anticipated how you would respond. So we were able to manipulate you.>

It’s also worth noting that David’s issues with Rachel largely seem to stem from a fairly insecure, sexist viewpoint. She’s the one to call him a coward in Jake’s book after he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, and he knows that she’s widely agreed to be the bravest and best fighter in the group. And we have the quote earlier in this post when he tries to wave off Rachel as being “just a girl” when she’s not in morph. She proves that to be the load of bullshit it is pretty quickly. But his kneejerk judgements and insecurities with women are yet more nasty elements to David’s personality that were likely always lurking there before any of this happened.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the whole book?! Rachel’s arc in this is just so sad and hard to read, especially knowing the mindjob it works on her that carries on throughout the series. But I won’t go into that all again, or the horror of David’s situation at the end.

Instead, we never see the fallout of David’s decision to morph Saddler and essentially bring him back to life. And now, suddenly, he’ll just disappear. It’s unclear what David did with the original Saddler’s body. He had a longterm plan to live Saddler’s life, so you’d think he somehow must have pretty thoroughly hidden/destroyed it. Not sure about the logistics there, but oh well. So now this family that was grieving the inevitable death of their son are miraculously spared, think they’re out of the woods, and then…he’s just gone. No signs where he went. No body. Nothing. Beyond the parents and family themselves who would be in mourning, shock, etc., this had to be terrible for Jake and Rachel. There had to have been a hunt for “Saddler” for months, and the family trauma would be ever present. And there sit Jake and Rachel, knowing the truth but not able to say anything.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: For the most part, their plans are very good in this book. For one, the way they cancel the summit was the obvious route to take from the beginning. I’ve already expressed my opinions on their whole “expose to alien invasion” plan in the last book/review. For two, all told, they fairly easily predict, manipulate, and capture David. For all of their concerns, they take him out in one day, essentially. And, while so, so cold, their plan to force him to be stuck in rat morph is a simple and effective way of handling a situation that could have easily gotten a much more dark, more murder-y route.

But there were a few things that didn’t make much sense. There were several instances in this book where David has to demorph/remoprh that you’d think would present golden opportunities to the group. In the beginning, when he’s in Marco’s room posing as Marco, he has to demoprh and the remorph golden eagle to chase Rachel. It’s supposed to take around 3 minutes either way. So, here, that’s six minutes for Rachel to either do the same and get into a more powerful morph. Or to easily get out of there and disappear. Doesn’t make much sense that he gets through these morphs so quickly without the Animorphs doing something about it.

And another big one is during this same scene when Marco is tied up in the closet. Why the heck wouldn’t he have simply morphed bug and gotten out of there? This is a huge flaw since he could have easily escaped and managed to either nab David himself (during one of his vulnerable in-between morph stages) or at the very least, warned Rachel and Ax.

Favorite Quote:

At points in the book, it was almost physically painful reading David’s gloating.

<You guys made a big mistake: You got me. See, I was smarter than any of you. That’s why you lost. I’ll be more careful. I’ll only choose the kind of guys who are too dumb to do anything except obey me.>
I rolled my little rat eyes. This guy’s ego just kept growing.

But on a more serious note, one of the last chapters about the two hours during which David is becoming trapped in morph…it’s rough.

It took two hours for David to become a nothlit. A person trapped in morph. Two hours. But that two hours of horror will last forever in my mind. If I live a hundred years, I will still hear his cries, his threats, his pleading, each night before sleep takes me. And beyond sleep, in my dreams. 

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10

I’m giving a point to the Animorphs. Partly because their plan to break up the summit meeting worked out in the end (though why they didn’t start with this is beyond me), but they managed to handle the David threat pretty quickly and efficiently, for all the inner drama of the situation. David posed the largest legitimate threat they’ve ever faced, knowing all of their secrets, but also being a human kid whom they would have a bunch of moral tangles about attacking. But they find a neat (as in “orderly”) solution to the problem and the execute their plan with exacting precision.

Rating: Simply excellent. The re-read just reminded me why I love this trilogy so much. It really highlights the very adult themes that a fairly wonky, middle grade sci fi series takes on and why these books are definitely more than they seem on the surface.

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 #21: “The Threat”

363361Animorphs #21: “The Threat” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: “The Threat” is a new Animorph named David. At first he’s a valuable warrior. But as crucial battle plans unfold, the Animorphs realize they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Part two of the David trilogy here I come! This is the one where shit gets real.

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My feelings about this whole trilogy: It’s the worst! It’s the best! (source)

This books picks up immediately where the last one ends: with half the team falling through the air as cockroaches. The situation is quickly handled by Rachel and Tobias swooping in to grab them from the air. They all land and demorph. But David, notably, doesn’t have a morphing suit yet. Tobias goes to steal some clothes from a near by shop, but Jake warns that they will need to pay them back. David goes on for a bit about how cool their abilities are and how they could probably steal anything they wanted. Jake is unsettled by this, but has to keep moving. They decide to morph gull to continue scouting out the resort. David is all too eager (again unsettling Jake) to morph his eagle and take down a gull for him to morph, but Jake has Tobias to it (not killing it), and both Tobias and David acquire the gull.

In morph, they team begin circling nearer the resort, but all they can see is security, security, and more security. They can’t see a single way in to this place. All of sudden, Jake is hit by an incredible flash of pain. They realize that one of the guards below is using his sunglasses to shock animals flying nearby with low level Dracon beams to scare off any Andalite bandits. Jake tells the others to take the hit, and then fly away like a real gull would. David does, but is sarcastic about thanking Jake when Jake compliments him on doing a good job.

They all head home, with David crashing in Cassie’s barn. At home, Jake finds out that his cousin Saddler (a kid he never got along well with) has been hit by a bike, and they’re not sure he’s going to make it. Jake is appalled to realize that his first thought is how this will affect the mission. Short answer, it plays out well since his parents leave town for a few days, freeing up Jake to focus on the world summit problem. That is until Cassie calls, cryptically warning Jake that “Dave” from “Letterman” is suddenly off the air: David is missing. Jake heads to the barn and meets up with Cassie and Rachel (Marco can’t get away that night), and decides to morph Homer to track David. Rachel, in owl morph, goes to fetch Tobias, but can’t find Ax. Owl!Cassie follows along. Jake is enraged to discover that David used his lion morph briefly, but then morphed eagle. Looking around further, and after asking Cassie what David talked about that evening (whining about missing TV), they discover a Holiday Inn with a broken window. Jake demorphs and barges in. He confronts David and says they don’t break the law or use their morphs for selfish reasons. David is rebellious and tries to tell Jake that sure, he’s the leader on Animorphs missions, but he doesn’t get to tell David what to do in the mean time. Jake knows that there is a line that needs to be drawn.

“No, that’s not what it’s like, David. I don’t want to come down on you, but the way it is is like this: You want to go around using your powers in selfish ways, then we can’t have you around. You’re just a danger to us. And you’re against what we stand for.”
His eyes widened. He rolled off the bed and stood up. “Are you threatening me?”
“No. Just telling you the way it is. We’re the only family you have now, David. The only people you can trust. The only people who can help you. We’re all you have. Deal with it.”

David sullenly goes with him. The next day, Cassie comes up with a plan of attack for getting into the resort. Jake morphs a dragonfly (the one bug they can think of that has good eye sight) and the others morph flea and jump on his back, having to bite into him to hold on as he flies. Tobias carries them as close as he can to the resort and then sends them off. To get in, Jake flies under a bellman’s hat, and manages to sneak into some air vents inside. By this point, they are all running low on time in morph (it took quite a while for the fleas to get on his back as they couldn’t aim their jumps very well). Jake gets caught in a spiderweb at one point, and David begins panicking and demorphing, risky crushing and exposing them all. At the last minute, Jake is able to escape and make it to an empty room that seems strange. They all demorph, right up against the time limit. All but Marco, who only makes it part way. Cassie, the fastest morpher, grabs him and begins calmly talking him through his demorph. He manages to finish it, and cries and hugs Cassie. Everyone is awed by Cassie’s abilities, even Ax, who says he’s always known she has a rare morphing talent, but this is almost miraculous.

They look around and discover they are in a hologramed pillar that contains a mini Yeerk pool. Jake goes out to look around and has to hide under a table when some people enter the room, arguing about the change in plans for the banquet. Jake realizes that the man they saw Visser Three acquire in the book wasn’t the President, but this man, the social coordinator for the White House who is now directing that all world leaders will need to pass behind the column when they go up for their speeches. They all eventually leave, and Jake sneaks back to the column. The only way out seems to be up through the hologram that is being projected through a hole that the Yeerks must have made in the ceiling. But before they go, Ax asks about the Yeerks in the pool. Jake says to leave them.

David volunteers to pull a fire alarm to distract everyone from a bunch of gulls emerging from the roof all together. He manages it, but trips on his way back. The others escape, but Jake rushes out to help David. David hides under a table and begins morphing lion, ignoring Jake emphatically mouthing “no” at him repeatedly. Jake frantically crawls towards him and just manages to grab him before he attacks a Controller who comes in to check the room. The Controllers decide that since the Yeerks in the pool are alive, it couldn’t be Andalites. Jake and David escape as dragonfly and flea once again. As they escape, David wonders aloud which would win, a lion or a tiger?

Back in the barn, they discuss the Yeerks’ plans and Cassie hits the nail on the head, saying that the reason they didn’t simply infest the social planner guy all came down to character. Notably, Visser Three’s character and his need to be on the ground when his biggest success goes down. Jake thinks hard about what Cassie has said about character, evaluating how little he knows about David and going over in his mind some of David’s more questionable choices that hint to the fact that his moral compass isn’t quite pointed the same direction as the rest of theirs.

He mentions the situation with his cousin and is even more unnerved by the strange look of excitement in David’s eyes. Later, he talks to Cassie who also admits that she’s confused by David and that he doesn’t quite seem upset enough about losing his family and home (I mean the guy was whining about TV for Pete’s sake!!).

The group regather with plan in mind to disrupt the Yeerks’ plot to infest the world leaders. That night, they all fly back to the resort. On the way, Cassie, the only one in owl morph with good eyes, thinks she spots the President wandering around near the pool in his shorts. But they fly on. They manage to get into the hologram above the building. From there they can spot three Controllers below them in the hologram pillar. Carrying fishing weights, they dive, release the weights, and knock them out. Rachel, carrying cobra!Marco, swoops down to join them.

They all get in place, ready to nab the passing world leaders and hopefully frantically convince them that the world is being invaded. But as the banquet ends and the speeches start, something is wrong: the world leaders are all walking directly to the stage, not behind the pillar at all. Jake realizes that it’s a trap, a hologram within a hologram, and sure enough Visser Three steps out from the hologram, and drops the facade all together, revealing an army of Hork Bajir surrounding them. Then, of course, he begins to gloat and threaten to kill them, but it doesn’t seem that he’s spotted Marco, still a snake on the ground.

As he continues to threaten to shoot them, David begins to break, calling out that he doesn’t care about the rest of them, and yes, he’ll demoprh. Wolf!Cassie grabs lion!David’s leg to stop him and they begin to fight.

<Rachel! Explain to David that he needs to knock it off!> I snapped. Rachel was on all fours. She half rose up to a sort of bear crouch. She reached out with her left paw and swung hard. She connected with David’s snarling, snapping jaw. David staggered. Cassie released David and jumped back.

Throughout this all, Jake’s been thinking. How did these Hork Bajir get in here when they could barely get in as one little dragonfly? He has Marco slither out, knowing that if he’s wrong, Marco will die. David continues to panic, yelling to Visser Three that they (the Animorphs) are threatening him and running towards him saying he’ll demorph and he’s on his side. Just them, Marco bites a Hork Bajir and it is confirmed that they are all holograms and it’s only Visser Three and a few human Controllers in the room. A fight breaks out, David quickly saying he can get Visser Three since he’s closest. It ends at a standoff after Cassie’s been shot and Ax has his tailblade at Visser Three’s neck. They all retreat, and the Animorphs fly back up and out of the hologram.

On the way home, Jake privately thought speaks with the rest, telling them not to confront David about his cowardice. David is busy telling them how it was all a trick anyways, that he was just trying to get close to Visser Three. As the others agree and nod along with him, he goes even further and starts bragging about how he could have taken Visser Three on his own and how he saved Cassie. (It’s all very intolerable and you can almost feel Jake’s skin crawling as he listens to it). In the end, Jake doesn’t trust David at all, but still wants to give him the benefit of the doubt; after all, he really could have been playing a trick.

They all head home, but after rigging his bed to look like he’s sleeping, he heads back with Tobias and Ax to watch Cassie’s barn. If David stays there, maybe things will be ok. Of course, he doesn’t, leaving in the middle of the night in golden eagle morph. Jake has Tobias follow him while he and Ax morph bird to join. They lose track of them, and as they’re flying Jake becomes more and more worried, unable to contact Tobias. He tells Ax to keep an eye out, not in the sky, but on the ground.

They head to David’s house, thinking that must be where he is heading. Ax wonders what they will do if David is truly joining the other side, and Jake doesn’t know. Outside David’s home, they spot a truck and know that there are likely Hork Bajir stationed there in case David returned. Jake has Ax go to the back of the house and demoprh to provide back up. He heads to David’s room, still in falcon morph. Eagle!David is watching TV (what is with his obsession with TV, btw??), and beside him there is a bloody, brown  mass of bird.

Jake is stunned, frantically calling to Tobias and trying to listen for a heart beat. David goes into a whole speech about his having no choice, that the Animorphs were just like cliques at school and would never accept him. He has no life, but now he has this power and he’s going to use it to create one for himself, morphing some other human and making his own way.

<You murdered Tobias because you think this is some stupid school thing?!> I yelled.

David says Tobias was just a bird. And so is Jake right now. He attacks. Jake, more familiar with his morph than David is with his own, manages to escape to under the bed, and then when David begins to demorph to try and grab him out, Jake flies at his face, scratching him up. The commotion draws the Hork Bajir and they both escape out the window. Ax scoops up Jake and runs away. Jake tells Ax to go get Rachel who lives the closest, and takes off after David.

David leads him to roof of the mall and Jake knows what he wants, a showdown between his lion and Jake’s tiger. The two morph and fight, with Jake struggling against the lion’s mane. They end up on the skylight and break through. As they fall, Jake feels the lion bite him on the neck. End scene!

Our Fearless Leader:

This is the perfect book to illustrate the many, many strengths that Jake brings to the team as the leader. He has to make tough calls, he’s the first to realize that they’re being tricked by Visser Three in the resort, and, most importantly, we see how crucial his understanding of his team is to their success.

I knew each of the others. Name any situation. I could tell you exactly how Cassie or Marco or Rachel or Tobias or even Ax would react. But David remained unknown. Unpredictable. He’d been brave, mostly. He’d done what he had to do, mostly. But there had been things . . . the way he’d been in eagle morph and attacked some passing bird for no reason. The way he’d gotten weird in the lion morph. And the thing with breaking into the hotel room. All totally understandable. Nothing really awful. Not given how his entire life had been ripped apart.

Throughout it all, he’s off balance with David, something that isn’t helped at all by David’s erratic behavior and his tendency to get on the wrong side of everyone else on the team (yes, the biggest one is Marco, but there is at least one example of him coming up against the wrong side of every single member of the group in this book).

There are probably two big moments for Jake in this book, leadership-wise. The first is how he handles David’s break-in to the hotel. He knows that coming down on him will change their relationship forever, but Jake knows his role and that protecting the group, and enforcing these rules, is crucial to their survival. He doesn’t really have an option to be soft on David. And, importantly, he walks a fine line with this confrontation. He’s not soft, but he also isn’t needlessly cruel. One can only imagine what Marco or Rachel’s responses would have been. Jake is firm, leaving no room for questions, but he also doesn’t shame David.

And second, after David turns coward, he knows that he must go into damage control mode. By silently contacting all the others, he lays out their game plan, making sure to leave room for the shrinking possibility that David really was trying to play a trick. It’s clear that Jake doesn’t really believe this, but his actions here prove why he’s the leader. He wants to be as optimistic as Cassie, and knows that he can’t be as harsh as Marco and Rachel. So instead, he lays the groundwork to test David’s character by letting him think they all believe him, then gathering a select group to spy on him, knowing that if he leaves the barn, they have real problems.

And then, once David “kills” Tobias, Jake doesn’t hesitate to call in the big guns, sending Ax to go get Rachel in case they need to do something drastic. But Jake doesn’t back away from fighting David himself, either.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Like Marco, Rachel has a hard time not blowing up at David. She immediately comes down on him when he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, calling him a spineless coward. David later rants about this, trying to say that maybe Rachel is the real coward. As we’ll see in the next book, these two’s power struggle is being set up in this book for a big pay off later. When they’re flying back, Jake has to very firmly hold Rachel back from continuing to come down on David.

And, in one of the most important moments for Rachel in the entire series, likely, Jake tells Ax to get Rachel after he thinks David has killed Tobias. He notes that Rachel lives the closest, but that is clearly only an excuse.

<Yeah. Get Rachel. If David’s killed Tobias, we may have to do a terrible thing, too. Get Rachel.>

Jake knows his team well, and this is the right call. But we, as readers, know how much this decision, and the action of the next book, will ultimately mess up Rachel.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is along for most of the missions in this book, but doesn’t have a lot of stand out episodes of his own. At one point early in the book, Tobias makes a comment about gulls being like rats of the sky, and David says that Tobias must be really into this bird stuff and says he’s kind of a “bird racist.” Cassie is quick to jump on this and point out that birds are different species, unlike people. David just answers with a sulky “whatever.” (A good example of David casually saying stuff that gets him on the wrong side of members of the group, this time both Tobias and Cassie).

Later, when he’s raging at Jake in the hotel room about what the long term plan is for him (and how much he misses TV, I’m sure), he mentions that he’s not like Tobias who isn’t human. In some ways, yes, this is factually correct that in his current form, Tobias is better equipped to live out in the woods. But it is also another disturbing little reminder of David’s skewed way of looking at the world and serves as some pretty dark foreshadowing for David’s main justification for becoming a murdering psychopath. Tobias was a bird; it wasn’t “murder” to kill him.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has some big stuff in this one. Not only does Ax essentially admit that her being able to talk Marco through almost getting stuck in morph is a feat of talent virtually verging on the miraculous, but she comes up with the entire plan to get in to the resort in the first place. This has to be one of her biggest ongoing contributions to the group, her ability to think creatively about the animal kingdom and then neatly pair morphs with the unique challenges of any given mission. Usually, they’re super gross solutions, but hey, that’s out of her control.

“You’re a very disturbing person sometimes, Cassie,” Marco said [in response to her suggestion of the dragonfly-carrying-fleas idea.]

Jake also specifically seeks Cassie out to get her take on David, saying that he trusts her judgement of people more than anyone. This is a fine line between Cassie and Marco. Marco, too, is a good judge of character, but Jake knows that he falls on the suspicious side of things. But Cassie, as seen in a couple of scenes in this book and the first in the trilogy, can also fall on the optimistically naive side of things, too quick to believe David’s lies and wanting to think the best of him. A balance between the two points of view would probably give the clearest answer.

And then, when David tries to give them up to the Yeerks in the resort, Cassie is the quickest to act, biting lion!David’s leg and preventing him from running off. Jake notes this with surprise, but it’s a nice example of Cassie also understanding the stakes involved with this new member and quickly seeing and doing what needs to be done.

The Comic Relief: Early in the book, Jake worries about Marco and David’s interactions. At first he chalks it up to the fact that Marco often doesn’t mix well with new people and that it will probably blow over. But as things progress, he becomes more concerned that it is an issue that he is going to have to deal with. And then, as the book goes on even further, I think he begins to understand that Marco may have simply been on to something the rest of them were late to see (which we, having read Marco’s book, know to be true). Marco misses out on some of the action in this book due to his Dad’s dating life. But that’s mostly the mission to retrieve David from the hotel, and given that even level-headed Jake lost his temper on that one, it’s probably for the best that Marco wasn’t there.

Marco, along with Rachel, also has the hardest time biting his tongue in the end of the book when they’re flying away from the disaster at the resort where David tried to give them up.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Like Tobias, Ax doesn’t have a lot action in this this book. He’s always there, but no really big moments. Most notably, probably, he’s the one to get up close to Visser Three during their mid-book battle and hold the Animorphs’ side of the stalemate. You have to wonder if Visser Three, somehow, subconsiously respects the threat of an Andalite tailblade more than he does the animal morphs he runs into. It seems that often it comes down to Ax and Visser Three in these moments.

He’s also the one to explain all the hologram technology that the Yeerks use at the resort.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When David and Jake are escaping from the resort during their first infiltration attempt, Jake has David bite him on the back and hold on while they both morph together, so that when David turns into a flea, he’ll already be on Jake. This is all to avoid the circus that was the fleas trying to aim their jumps the first time which took quite a bit of time. I mean, yes, this makes a lot of sense. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s completely disgusting. Even more so because David is a disgusting individual on his own. I mean, if this had been Marco, it would have mostly been pretty funny. But knowing what we do about David…

Couples Watch!: Other than Jake relying on Cassie for insight into David’s character, there really isn’t much couple-wise in this book. I wonder if another reason that Jake calls specifically for Rachel is due to her burgeoning relationship with Tobias, and the fact that he was the one first attacked?

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Cassie is right on about Visser Three’s ego. And, per usual, whenever they’re in a standoff that involves his own life, he backs down. But for the purposes of this arc, David is the true villain and the one more worth discussing.

David is Applegate’s reminder that humanity itself can’t be trusted. We’ve seen it before even with Chapman in “The Andalite Chronicles.” With examples like these, we see why the group of kids that make up the Animorphs are so special. It’s not shocking, maybe, that David doesn’t handle it well; perhaps it’s more shocking that all of these teens have held it together as well as they have. That they all had similar ideas about responsibility, loyalty, and bravery. Sure, they all come down on different sides of some things, but in the end, through David, we see what could have been. He does pretty much everything wrong. He uses his powers for selfish and illegal reasons, breaking into the hotel. He’s needlessly violent, killing the crow earlier. He’s too eager for battle (unlike Rachel who trusts Jake’s judgement), morphing the lion in the resort. He’s a coward who gives up his friends in a moment and breaks under pressure. He’s a liar. He’s a murderer.

And yes, David’s situation is terrible. Jake thinks about it himself early in the book, knowing that they will need to come up with something long term for David. But not every kid would turn into a psychopath. Given his words and actions from the very beginning, David is not a healthy-minded kid even from the start. And once he’s given power, his descent into complete psychopathy is sure and steady. In many ways, David is the worst villain in the entire series. Visser Three can come across as campy and is a comfortable villain: he’s a bad guy doing bad things because that’s what he does. But David, David is a kid, a kid who had the chance to save the world but instead chose to murder the kids who saved him so that he can become powerful using the gifts they gave him. He’s utterly despicable.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: In this re-read, knowing how everything turns out, I wasn’t too upset by most of the action in this book. Not sad at least, still very enraged. But I do have clear memories of reading it the first time and being legitimately concerned about Tobias’s death. I never bought that Jake would actually die, as is implied in the last scene of the book. In many ways, he’s almost the main character and as the leader of the group, he’s irreplaceable. But Tobias….I had real fears there. As we’ve seen, Tobias, even with his morphing abilities, is often the first character to get shuffled off to the side. Thinking about it now, I realize that there’s no way Applegate would have killed off Elfangor’s son without resolving that story line somehow, but as a little girl who had a major crush on Tobias and was fully shipping him and Rachel, I was very, very upset by this last scene.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: These plans to “reveal” themselves to big heads of state are always just so stupid, and this one in particular is bad due to the extremely short window of time they have to work with. Not only do they need to convince each of these head’s of state within their brief hologram-recorded speech when the Yeerks would think they’re being infested, but they also need to count on these same people calming walking back out and taking their seat again, as if nothing had happened. It’s just ridiculous.

Favorite Quote:

This quote comes before the botched resort mission and the confrontation with Visser Three. It perfectly highlights how much of a creep David really is, and makes you wonder how Jake wasn’t put on high alert from things like this even before David tried to switch sides and save himself.

David’s gaze was somewhere else. He was looking at us, but from far off. Like we were each animals at the zoo. Like he was sizing us up.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 9

I’m going to give the Yeerks another point for this one, simply for managing to so expertly trick the Animorphs into infiltrating the resort on the wrong day. Sure, it didn’t go completely to plan and they escaped, but it does show that Visser Three is trying to go on the offensive, rather than just waiting for the “Andalite bandits” to interrupt his own plans.

Rating: Excellent! The stakes are just shooting through the roof, and this book makes it clear why David is probably the most hated character in the entire series, even more so than Visser Three. Beyond that, the cliffhanger at the end of this book is much more crippling than the first. We all knew Tobias and Rachel would save them when they dropped out of the plane (plus, we’ve had about a million scenes of Animorphs seemingly tumbling to their deaths from high heights, so we’re pretty numbed to it). But here, it’s almost believable that Applegate may have killed off Tobias, and either way, the options for dealing with David are pretty limited, right from the beginning, so the tension is sky high when it ends.

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!

Kate’s Review: “The Tea Dragon Society”

34895950Book: “The Tea Dragon Society” by Kate O’Neill

Publishing Info: Oni Press, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons. 

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.

Review: Now see here, I may be the resident horror/thriller/true crime/all things macabre blogger, but I, too, am sometimes in need of a break from those things. While I do love me all the dark, dank, and creepy of the world, every once in awhile I yearn for a serious palate cleanser to take me down from a self made anxiety tower where I find myself perched all too often. So while at the desk at work the other day, my dear friend Tami (who is also the children’s librarian at my library) handed me this book and said “You are going to love this.” Boy oh boy, was she right, and was “The Tea Dragon Society” everything I needed in that moment!!! Hell, the cover alone gave me a vocal and physical reaction the moment I saw it.

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Specifically this with a loud “AWWWWWW!!!” (source)

“The Tea Dragon Society” is a calming and quiet graphic novel for kids, though I would argue that it’s suitable for all ages of youth AND adult as well. It takes place in an unspecified fantasy world, where there are dragons and goblins and animal creatures, and while none of it is really explained in depth, it really doesn’t have to be. This is just the world the story takes place in and it needs to explanation. We follow Greta, the daughter of a blacksmith who finds that her passion in life may actually be centered on Tea Dragon rearing. Tea dragons are dragons who grow tea leaves on their horns. Different kinds of dragons produce different kinds of tea. From Jasmine Dragons to Rooibos Dragons to Ginger Dragons, these creatures need love and attention to make the best leaves. IS THIS NOT THE CUTEST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD? Maybe I’m biased, as I love love LOVE dragons, but the creativity and the gentle sweetness of it just hits me right in the feels.

And let’s talk about those who blacksmith and those who raise tea dragons, and what that means for gender roles in this world. Right off the bat we are introduced to Greta’s mother, who is teaching Greta how to blacksmith. Greta’s mother is implied to be one of the best blacksmiths around, and it is Greta’s father who is the artist within the family. It was so refreshing to see a mother teaching her daughter a craft that is often associated with masculinity, and teaching her the family business. While Greta has some reservations about blacksmithing and her personal devotion to it, it’s never because of her gender. Along with that, the people who raise the tea dragons are two men, Hesekiel and Erik (though Heseikiel is some kind of animalesque being, kind of looking like a llama?). Erik used to be an adventurer, but after an accident those days are behind him. However, he is never shown as being weakened or at a disadvantage because he lost this previous life. On the contrary, he’s settled into a new life of dragon rearing and gardening as well as maintaining the home that he and his partner Hesekiel share.

We also get some really good diversity in this book, as Greta and her family are darker skinned, as is Erik. Along with that, Erik is in a wheelchair because of an accident in his past. As mentioned before, Erik and Hesekiel are romantic as well as business partners, and their relationship is so lovely and shows years of devotion and caring. Minette, Erik and Hesekiel’s ward, is also representative of a different ability set, and while I don’t really want to spoil it here, I will say that she also shows that with these inherent disadvantages she can still do what she loves. In the picture of the previous Tea Dragon Society there was also diversity, showing that just about anyone could take on this life and be successful at it. While I do think that explicit discussions of why diversity matters, and being explicit about these differences in these stories are important, I also like seeing normalized diversity such as in this world. Especially since fantasy and sci-fi does have a diversity problem within the stories that are told. This goes to show that it can be done and that it should be done.

And yes, we need to talk about the dragons. Because holy crap are they just the cutest things ever.

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OMG!!!! (source)
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SCREEEEECH! (source)

There are so many designs for these different kinds of dragons, and O’Neill made it so that they do kind of represent the various teas that their horns produce. The Chamomile Dragon (the yellow one above) always looks a little relaxed and sleepy. The Rooibos Dragon (the red one above) looks spiky and rambunctious. The Earl Grey Dragon looks dignified and regal. And so on. To make these dragons so varied and yet still similar amongst themselves is such a great design, and it goes to show that dragons don’t always have to be big and daunting and fearsome. Though hey, I’m never going to complain about those kinds of dragons either.

“The Tea Dragon Society” was the right bit of fluff I needed in my life to give me an overdose on cuteness while building a lovely fantasy world. I can’t recommend it enough to not only children and parents, but also to people who like fantasy. Or those like me who really just need a relaxing read once in awhile. While O’Neill says that the story has concluded, I would be so pleased if someday she decides to revisit these characters and the lovely world that they live within.

Rating 9: TOO CUTE FOR WORDS!!!!! Along with that, we have a diverse cast of characters and an interesting examination of gender norms.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Tea Dragon Society” is on the Goodreads lists “Comics & Graphic Novels by Women”, and “2017 YA Books with LGBT Themes” (though this book is definitely appropriate for all ages).

Find “The Tea Dragon Society” at your library using WorldCat!

Here is the website for the original webcomic for “The Tea Dragon Society”.

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

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

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Marco

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 5, Animorphs 9

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

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

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

The Great Animorphs Re-read #19: “The Departure”

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

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Cassie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giphy
How I felt through much of this book (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love their friendship!

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

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

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

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