The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “The Andalite Chronicles”

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

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

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

But this is how it all began…

Narrator: Elfangor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

No change!

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

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #12: “The Reaction”

815401Animorphs #12: “The Reaction” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel’s got some pretty strange stuff happening. She can’t control her morphing. One minute, she’s doing homework. The next, she’s morphing a full-grown crocodile, and — without returning to human form — she becomes an elephant. That’s when the floor gives way and Rachel finds herself looking up at what used to be the kitchen ceiling.

What’s going on? No one’s sure, but Rachel and the other Animorphs have to figure it out — quickly. Because if someone sees Rachel’s out-of-control morphing, the other Animorphs and Ax are in some serious trouble…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: The story starts out in typical Rachel-fashion: jumping into a crocodile pit at the zoo! To be fair, she does it to save a small boy who has fallen in, and this is exactly what she tells Jake when he rants at her later at Cassie’s farm about “exposing them all” when the “friendly crocodile” gave the kid a ride out and drew notice. And in a book full of Rachel making really rash decisions, this one is pretty understandable! Pretty sure they all would have done it, but Rachel has a history of rashness (morphing elephant at both a used car lot and at the zoo, to make animal rights points), so the hammer always seems to come down on her a bit more for this type of stuff.

All of it seems to be mostly put to bed, until Rachel gets home and suddenly, unwillingly, starts morphing elephant in her own room. This, unsurprisingly, brings down the house and she is only just able to get control of herself and morph back before her sisters and mom show up. Between this and the crocodile escapade (people thought she also fell in), she gets quite a lot of local news attention. Rachel, being Rachel, decides that this is just some strange one-off and keeps the whole weird morphing to herself.

The main plot of the story gets tied in when the Animorphs discover that the Yeerks are quite interested in a certain teenage boy actor, one Jeremy Jason McCole. So, I haven’t talked much about the dated aspects of the book, because for the most part they’re just random mentions of VCRs and such, but this is a big one. Teenage super stars are no thing specific to any decade. I mean, we have Beiber and the Jonas Brothers and all that, now-ish. But this one’s pretty hilarious for anyone who grew up in the 90s, as it is a clear and direct reference to Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I mean, you’ve got the name with the rhyming ring to it, and past that, they even discuss the show he is on which has to do with family and, you guessed it, construction. This is such a direct and obvious call out that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud every time I read about it. Which was a lot, since it was the main focus of the story. So, sure, this will read fine to new readers picking up the books today, but without the 90s memories of “Home Improvement” and the JTT madness, much of the humor of this will be lost. But I got it all! And love it.

giphy2
Jeremy Jason, for all intents and purposes.

Anyways, Cassie and Rachel are the only ones who truly understand how bad it would be if Jeremy Jason was to be made a Controller and started promoting The Sharing. After they very strictly made this point to poor, clueless Jake and Marco (while throwing in the fact that boy, wouldn’t it be fun to scout out this situation anyways!), the team decide to morph seagulls, fly out to Jeremy’s yacht (cuz of course he has a yacht), and see what’s what. Turns out that Visser Three himself is there wooing Jeremy Jason to become a willing Controller. Much of the love for Jeremy Jason is thus instantly evaporated for poor Rachel and Cassie.

With perfect timing, Rachel’s morphing issue strikes again and she falls from the air, somehow morphing directly from seagull to other animals (luckily, conveniently, so that the Controllers don’t find out they’re all human). After escaping from another of Visser Three’s freaky morphs (some type of javelin-throwing sea creature that Rachel is able to “pop” by biting it in her croc morph), Rachel’s little problem is outed. Ax, of course, knows a bit about it and it turns out that Rachel is allergic to crocodiles, and will continue to have this morphing issue until she somehow mysteriously “expels” the DNA.

Now knowing that the Jeremy Jason thing is a serious problem, Rachel decides to take advantage of her moment of stardom as “disaster girl” and get on the same local TV program that will be featuring Jeremy Jason. They will then…somehow stop him from promoting The Sharing?? To do this, however, she lies to her friends and says that the whole allergy thing was taken care of, DNA expelled, she’s ready to go.

So, of course, while they’re all at the TV studio, Rachel’s croc problem goes live and she begins growing a crocodile out of her back (apparently what Ax meant by “expel DNA” was grow a full, live crocodile out of oneself that will detach and then just…be there). This leads to much mania and confusion (Marco morphs a llama, Cassie morphs Rachel, a wild croc is loose), and they are only saved from complete discovery by the fact that there also happened to be a zoologist scheduled for the show and the wild animals running everywhere are thought to be his. Through this all, the Yeerk (bizarrely) decides to bail out of Jeremy Jason, and Rachel steps on it accidentally. Jeremy Jason than flees to Asia after deciding that this whole Controller thing wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be. The end!

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s strengths and weaknesses are fully shown in this book. Like a wounded animal, she doesn’t like to let others see when she’s hurting or confused, which leads to much of the craziness from her not asking for help with her morphing issue right away. Later, when she also lies about having expelled the DNA, we see another example of her hiding things from the others. This time, however, we can also see that this is tied up with the fact that she understands her role in the group. She’s the brave one, the one who often helps push the others into action, and to do what they hesitate to do. She, partly rightly I think, worries that without her, the others would struggle with this, and many, missions.

She’s also incredibly brave. When Visser Three is coming after them in the ocean, she plays dead and attacks him when he gets close, giving the others time to flee. She often puts herself in these roles where her own survival is called into question to save her friends.

The other notable feature of this book was the direct tie between her reaction to her croc allergy and her ability to keep control of her emotions, specifically anger. I know that this is a recurring theme in the Rachel books: her anger is what makes her powerful and brave, but it can also really hurt her. Some of the later books get quite silly with this, I think, almost jumping the shark with her character. But this was a good look at this issue as it begins to play a bigger role in Rachel’s character and arc throughout the series.

Our Fearless Leader: Poor, poor Jake. After the last book which focused on the tough realities of being a leader, here we have this one where the poor guy has to deal with crazies like Rachel who just go ahead and don’t tell the whole group relevant information that then leads to even worse scenarios, that he then has to make a call on, mid-mission. All cuz of Rachel’s bad decision making.

<No, it’s much better to find out this way, Rachel. You know – when you
could get us all killed,> Jake said.

Other than this, it was funny reading about Jake and Marco’s endless discomfort with the girls’ infatuation with Jeremy Jason McCole. When they first decide to scout out the yacht more closely, this is Jake’s original plan:

<Marco and I will go in close, land on the boat like any ordinary
seagulls, see what we overhear,> Jake went on. <Rachel and Cassie, you
can be backup. Stay ->
<Yeah, right,> I jeered. <You and Marco go. Me and Cassie stay away.
Yeah, that’s really going to happen. Come on, Cassie, we’re going in.>

A Hawk’s Life: Was Tobias even in this book?? Thank god his book is coming up next and SPOILER this problem gets mostly solved. But not too solved, gotta keep a hold on the massive corner of the teenage tragedy market that is Tobias’s life.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Why Cassie?! Why are you such a fun character in Rachel books, but then become the most stick-ish of sticks in the mud during your own books?? It drives me nuts. Cassie was actually a blast in this book, and her friendship with Rachel is definitely me favorite platonic relationship (others being Marco/Jake and Tobias/Ax). They had a lot of good moments just being girls about Jeremy Jason, and it was fun to read. Cassie was also quick to always correct any mistaken identification of the crocodile as an alligator, too, thus fulfilling her “animal facts” quota for the book.

A fun example of their thoughts on the boys’ reaction to Jeremy Jason:

<It’s so sad to hear so much jealousy, don’t you agree, Cassie?>
<It is sad, Rachel. Terribly sad.>
<This is the worst mission we’ve ever been on,> Marco said.

The Comic Relief: Marco gets some good comedic moments in this one (what’s new), when he decides to abandon Jake with the whole “morph a bug” plan while scouting out the TV studio and just morph a convenient llama that was wandering around from the zoologist’s program. I mean, any excuse not to go bug, ammiright? Lots of quips about llama fur and llama spit and llama behavior ensued and it was great. Most impressive, however, was when things went south with the now-detached croc, Marco, in llama morph, did a mad rush at it. For all of his comedy moments, Marco is one of the bravest members of the group and my love for him only grows! He also has a fun moment in the end of the book with Rachel and some more “Xena” nods.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax, too, plays a significant role in handling the loose croc situation and essentially takes it out of play all on his own. Rachel makes some pretty clear comments about how she’s been impressed by Ax in the past, but this moment really highlighted the strength and speed of Andalites, raising him to a new level in her eyes.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Hands down, the “expelling” of the crocodile DNA. I mean, there were pages and pages of descriptions of the very slow process that was the crocodile growing its way out of Rachel’s back and finally dropping off, fully formed. I mean, just think about that whole experience. Or, better yet, don’t.

Couples Watch!: Man, for a book told from the perspective of one of the four characters involved in a couple-ish situation, there was very little to go on here! Maybe a few private asides from Tobias, but we got zero, ZERO, bedroom visits by hawk!Tobias, something that I remember clearly associating with this couple and as happening fairly often in their books. But nope! Nothing! Very disappointing. But the next book is his, so hopefully we’ll see an improvement there. For this book, I just had to fall back on my secondary Marco/Rachel fixation.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: It was strange having Visser Three sucking up to Jeremy Jason McCole, essentially. Didn’t really seem like his usual style of “do first, ask never.” I guess the idea was to highlight how much easier it is on the Yeerks, especially the one controlling someone, if the host is willing? But still, there are more than enough examples of forced-Controllers and in a situation like this where this one, very specific person is needed, it seems like Visser Three wouldn’t have given a hoot what the potential host wanted. But at least he had a relevant morph for chasing the Animorphs again! The javelin-shooting beast (Ax wasn’t paying attention in school to know all about it. Typical.) was a pretty good adversary, all told. Except for that “burst balloon” action there at the end.

The fact that they Yeerks then just let Jeremy Jason run off to Asia to hide also seems highly unlikely. I guess they figured that he wasn’t likely to say anything about it without sounding like a crazy person. But why not just re-capture him and go on with the original plan of using him as a spokesperson for The Sharing?

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This didn’t have a whole lot in the “feels” department. It was a pretty wacky story, bookended by an even wackier morphing allergy. Even the side plot with Rachel’s family seemed fine. It’s clear that she still has a good relationship with her father, and the brief moments with her sisters, especially her fear that they may have been hurt when the house collapses, were nice. All in all, just a kind of fun adventure!

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, I’m pretty sure Rachel just straight up admits that they have no plan whatsoever when it comes to trying to mess up the Jeremy Jason TV spot. Beyond the lack of plan there, Rachel herself knows there is even less of a plan since she was the only one who know that the crocodile allergy hadn’t exactly been taken care of. All of the luck, all of the time!

Favorite Quote:

Rachel sums up her own character:

But the thing about fear is you can’t be afraid of it. I know that sounds confusing. I guess what I mean is, be afraid if you have to, right? Fear is like this vicious little worm that lives inside you and eats you alive. You have to fight it. You have to know it’s there. You have to accept that you’ll never get rid of it, but fight it just the same. Brave isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about being scared to death and still not giving in.

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 5

No points awarded! I guess the Animorphs technically pulled off their plan of stopping Jeremy Jason from being taken. But really, if I was going to award points for their success in that, it would be 1 point for the crocodile.

Rating: Pretty good! Lacking in much sustenance, but a fun read none the less. I can excuse wackiness when it leads to a fun story. But when wackiness is combined with dramatic nonsense *cough”The Secret”cough*…

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 #11: “The Forgotten”

363392Animorphs #11: “The Forgotten”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Jake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

And a good Marco quip about their terrible planning:

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 5

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

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

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

Book Club Review: “The Inquisitor’s Tale”

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

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

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

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

Kate’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Serena’s Thoughts

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

giphy3
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club Questions

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

Reader’s Advisory

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

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

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

 

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

7089Animorphs #10: “The Android”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Marco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 5

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

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

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #9: “The Secret”

363362Animorphs #9: “The Secret”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

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

Narrator: Cassie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 4

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

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

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

Book Club Review: “Ghost”

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

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

Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

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

Kate’s Thoughts

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

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

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

Serena’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club Questions

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

Reader’s Advisory

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

Find “Ghost” at your library using WorldCat!

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