The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #7 “The Stranger”

51s1mxgi0qlAnimorphs #7: “The Stranger”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel and the other Animorphs have finally found the new entrance to the Yeerk pool. They’ve even figured out a way to sneak in. The infamous roach morph. But they didn’t count on roaches being a Taxxon delicacy. This time escape doesn’t look so good.

And then everything stops. Everything. The feasting Taxxon, the human-Controllers, the Hork-Bajir. Time. Now Rachel, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Tobias, and Ax are in for their wildest trip ever. They’re going to get the chance to decide whether they want to stay on Earth and fight the Yeerks. Or go to another planet. And the guy giving them the choice says he can save them. Now all they have to do is make the choice…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: So much happens in this book! We have major family drama in Rachel’s personal life, with her father moving to a new city/state and asking Rachel to come live with him. We have a the re-discovery of a Yeerk pool entrance and a rather disastrous trip down. We meet an all-powerful alien creature called an Ellimist who offers to whisk the Animorphs, their families, and a few select humans away to a new planet to re-start the human race, claiming the war on Earth is lost. We have time travel. We have new morphs. We have major wins and major loses. And again, this is a tiny, tiny book!

As highlighted above, the main drama for this book comes with the arrival of the Ellimist and his offer to save the Animorphs. After deciding against his offer the first go around, the Animorphs all sink into a very dark place, but Rachel especially, questioning their motivation to continue fighting a war that they are being told is unwinnable. In an attempt to convince them for a second time, the Ellimist jumps them all forward in time to a version of their city that is now completely overrun by Yeerks. The school is laid to waste with skeletons of teachers left at their desks. The mall is a hive for Taxxons. And Rachel meetings a chilling older version of herself who now a Controller herself and palling it around with Visser Three.

After being returned to their own time, however, the group begins to question what they have seen. Future Visser Three’s strange reaction to Ax (being surprised that he was there), and the seemingly endless power of the Ellimist himself, leads the group to wonder at the elaborate methods being used to convince them and the inevitability of this so-called future. They come to the conclusion that the Ellimist is playing his own game within the structure of the rules imposed on him  by his kind. He has said that he’s not allowed to interfere, only to save the group. But through his interactions with the Animorphs he has saved them once (freezing time the first time he meets them when they are about to become Taxxon chow and allowing them an opportunity to spot an exit) and then showing them key intel  by transporting them to the “future” (they spot one skyscraper from the old city skyline that has  been left untouched). They are able to deduce that this skyscraper is where the Yeerks are storing the Kandrona, the food source that is transmitted to the Yeerk pool and sustains the Yeerks when they swim in it every three days. Back in their own time, the Animorphs are then able to use this knowledge to infiltrate and destroy it, marking a major win for the group.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Applegate sure doesn’t cut Rachel any breaks in this book. In a nice (terrible, for Rachel, at least!) little parallel story, Rachel’s dad asks her to decide whether she wants to move to another city and live with him. With this decisions comes many pros: a renewed dedication to gymnastics, a sport her father wants to help her pursue, a closer relationship with her father, and, of course, the chance to live a “normal” life far away from the constant fear of war and the stress she feels from the role she has taken on in the group as the de facto “courageous” one. I really liked how much thought and page time was given to this story line. In a tiny book that is jam packed with tons of action and high stakes, it is impressive that we get a very fleshed out take on the hardships of this decision as well and the stress it puts on Rachel. She loves her dad. But she also loves her mom and sisters who she would be leaving behind. She feels obligated to stay in the war against the Yeerks and has begun to resent being taken for granted by the group to make the tough calls. But she also loves her friends and can’t abandon them. It’s no wonder that she has several different break downs in this book.

Here we se even more how boxed in Rachel feels by the others’ impression of her. They take her courage and willingness to fight for granted, never considering the emotional toll it is taking on her. When the Ellimist first asks them to vote, they don’t even ask her, they just assume she’ll say “no.” And then she realizes that she would, but not just because that what she feels is right, but because they all respect her and look up to her and she doesn’t want to let them down. This constant tension between being strong for the others while repressing her true feelings (she can be hurt and scared as much as the rest of them, and her fear for her family and the temptation of the Ellimist’s offer is just as strong as well) leads to spiral in the middle of the book. Not only does she snap in front of her friends, yelling at them that she’s not invincible and fearless, but she’s the first to begin using morphing as a coping tactic, hiding in the simple-mindedness of her eagle form to escape. She also seeks out a stronger  battle morph, a grizzly, on her own. Several bad decisions here. First, the Animorphs have to touch an animal to acquire its DNA, so going it alone to get face to face with a grizzly with no back up is really dumb. And then, she never practices the morph, which we have all learned in mistake numero uno and thus has some control issues when she first uses it in the midst of battle. Her bear morph is really the only thing that gets them all through, its brute strength being the tipping point in their favor against tons of Hork-Bajir, so none of them can get too mad at her, but there are still “stern talks” from Jake about these poor decisions.

Our Fearless Leader: Dear Jake is a hold out both times against the Ellimist’s offer to save themselves and his family. It’s another testament to his role as the rock of the group, not one to be easily swayed against the mission or abandon the war they are fighting. He’s also the most upfront against Cassie who sides

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias yet again proves that he is the most dedicated to the fight against the Yeerks. He not only never considers the Ellimist’s offer to give up the fight, but is savvy enough to realize that he is being used against his friends. (The Ellimist returns him to his human form during these interactions and promises to allow him to remain that way if they accept his offer). He calls the Ellimist out on attempting to leverage their love of him to manipulate them into accepting so as to spare him a return to life as a hawk. Have I mentioned that I love Tobias?? It’s also fun seeing him pair up with Marco in the beginning of the book to discover an entrance to the Yeerk pool. It makes sense that he would do something like this having tons of time on his…er…wings, and Marco/Tobias is a team up that we don’t often see, so it was a fun twist.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, I really do try with Cassie, and there are times (like in the last book specifically) where I really love her character. But she immediately signs on to what the Ellimist is offering, and while I can see this being a true reaction for her character (approaching it as a human would view saving a few animals of an endangered species), I still have trouble respecting much of her thinking in many of the books, and this one in particular. Her lens often feels so narrowly focused that she isn’t as sympathetic as the others to me. Yeah, yeah, she loves animals and peace…but this is a really cowardly decision (not necessarily the choice as a whole, since we see the shades of grey as the rest of the Animorphs continue to struggle with the idea, but the fact that she rationalizes it so quickly). The fact that she so easily goes for it, even with characters like Ax who, presumably, knows more about this new creature than she does, is strongly warning against it, just sticks in my craw and continues to highlight what drives me nuts about her as a character. I mean, she’s the ONLY ONE who signs up immediately…that says something, I think.

The Comic Relief: As I’ve said so many times, Marco is the brains of the operation, proving it yet again by setting up the plan to track down an entrance to the Yeerk pool, along with Tobias. Other than that, Marco is the one to change his mind on the second go-around. And, again highlighting the pressure that is put on Rachel by them all, the first reason he gives for it is Rachel’s ongoing breakdwon. If the strong one is spiraling, what are the rest of them to do? It goes a long way to highlighting how highly Marco views and relies on Rachel’s courage in this battle. It’s not just “Xena” jokes, he truly does gauge their effectiveness based on her mindset, and seeing her lose it, shakes his own dedication to the fight.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s increased knowledge of the greater galaxy as a hole is again highlighted as a unique asset to the the Animorphs. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the Andalites, through Ax, are presented as a real and flawed society. They have their own biases and false histories, as evidenced with Ax’s interactions with the Ellimist. While he is correct to warn the Animorphs that there is more to the Ellimist than he presents, his clear fear and anger towards him is a bit extreme, as we see later in the book. Further, we haven’t had an Ax book yet, and there continues to be hints here and there that Ax still doesn’t view himself as really being part of this team. He takes himself out of the vote for whether to accept the Ellimist’s offer, for example, claiming it is not up to him to decide (though Rachel rightly mentally lists him as a “no” based, again, on his unsubtly expressed opinions of the Ellimist).

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Well, first off, the fact that they were all almost eaten by Taxxons while in roach morph. But secondly, the violence! So much gross violence. Rachel gets a hand taken off in the final battle and the description it…detailed. Again, this is crazy that it was written for a middle grade audience!

Couples Watch!: While she struggles with the decision presented to her by her father, Rachel’s reaction to is fly off into the night to be with Tobias. While she doesn’t tell him everything right away, it is sweet that she clearly relies on him for emotional support. Also, when the Ellimist first appears

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only shows up in the flash forward bit of the story, but he’s as campy as ever when he does, parading around with future!Rachel.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Rachel’s breakdown to the group was really sad and hard to read. Even as a reader, we come to expect certain things from her and it is easy to forget that she’s not oblivious to the pressure that these impressions of her assert. So it’s a shock to hear her yell at her friends with a healthy dose of brutal honesty thrown in about how she’s always scared, too. Always.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They actually have some fairly good plans in this one, even going so far as to think out the bizarreness of their clothes being found left on the floor of the mall’s changing rooms (the entrance to the Yeerk pool and where they all morph to roaches). Sure, they are vastly outnumbered in their attack on the Kandrona tower, but there is really nothing to be done about that and all’s well that ends well, I guess, even with lost hands/paws in the mix.

Favorite Quote:

Ax is having trouble adjusting to the small things of life on Earth…like “human minutes”…

“You know, Ax, they’re your minutes now, too. I mean, we are all here together on good old Earth where we only have one type of minute.” – Marco

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

A major win for the Animorphs in this one, taking out the Kandrona and likely dooming hundreds of Yeerks to starvation.

Rating:

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #6 “The Capture”

125332Animorphs #6: “The Capture”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It was really bad when Jake found out his older brother was one of them. It was even worse when Tobias stayed in his morph too long. But nothing compares to the horror the Animorphs are about to face. Nothing.
Jake and the other Animorphs have a feeling they know where the Yeerks’ new base is located. And they’ve found out how to get in – how many people will really notice a few flies on the wall? But they never figured that they might get caught. Or that Jake could fall into the Yeerk pool. That Jake could become a human-Controller. A Yeerk. The enemy.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: I only have vague memories of some of the plots of these books. This one I did remember was about Jake being infested by a Yeerk, but, as always it seems, there was tons more going on in this book that I had completely forgotten! In my memory, Jake was taken over about a quarter of the book in and the rest was his struggles, but nope! That only happens about halfway through the story (and considering how short these things are, you do the math on how much page time that means this plot line actually gets!)

The story starts out with a Jake doing something the Animorphs NEVER seem to do! Practicing a morph! This time it’s a cockroach morph that leads to a short, madcap adventure through Jake’s kitchen that ends with him stuck in a roach motel. It’s a pretty humorous start to the story and Applegate even plays a bit with the narrative, having the scene cut and then finish as a story that Jake is telling his fellow Animorphs later. The crux of their larger mission revolves around some quick deductions (and a mini mission as roaches into a Yeerk meeting) that lead them to believe that the Yeerks have installed a mini Yeerk pool in a local hospital which they are using to infest patients who come in for procedures. While this is worrying enough, the fact that the state governor is scheduled for a minor surgery in the upcoming week is the real kick in the pants they need to investigate. And low and behold, there is a Yeerk pool and in the confusion of battle Jake ends up face first in said pool, only to emerge as a Controller. Luckily, the Yeerk in his head doesn’t have the best self-control and lets out a few major slips early on in his possession of Jake, alerting the others that something is up.

The rest of the book is basically an outwit/outlast scenario set in an abandoned cabin in the woods with the Animorphs trying to coral Yeerk!Jake for the three days it will take to starve the Yeerk in his brain. We get some really interesting looks into the Yeerk’s mind and this portion really serves to flesh out the Yeerks as a species and explain some of the questions about how they are able to mimic the person they are controlling. It’s also a very drawn out Yeerk torture scene, as Applegate doesn’t pull any punches about the reality of what is happening, the Yeerk slowly dying of starvation. In the end, of course, Jake is freed of the Yeerk and the game board is essentially re-set, if only now with a clearer understanding of the Yeerks  altogether.

Our Fearless Leader: There are a lot of interesting things going on in this book for Jake. First, he is having nightmares of being a tiger and hunting his brother and then even himself. It’s a bit heavy handed, but I applaud Applegate for trying to bring in the psychological struggle of it all so early on in the series. Through these dreams, we can see the ongoing mental exhaustion that comes from living a life so full of violence and moral dilemmas. And for Jake, the chosen leader of the group, it makes sense that this burden would weight more heavily. Second, a large part of the  book is understandably spent simply in Jake’s head and it is interesting hearing his thoughts on his fellow Animorphs as he basically roots for them against himself. Through his eyes, we see just how adept this team has come at managing unexpected and difficult situations as a united group with very few missteps.

After Jake is taken over, we learn a lot more about the Yeerks as a civilization. Particularly, just how entitled they are! We hear about a species called the Gedds, which were the first race of beings to be taken over by the Yeekrs, and through Jake’s Yeerk’s thoughts on the matter, we learn that since the Gedds were simple minded beings, the Yeerks essentially decided they were just made to be infested. And then this mindset just expanded out to the larger universe.

As I said earlier, it was also really interesting (and horrifying!) reading about the process of being controlled. Jake discusses feeling like his brain is being read like an open book. And being amazed and horrified by how completely the Yeerk slips into character, able to mimic not just the words that Jake would say but the way he would say them. It’s all super creepy and really highlights the hell that all the Controlled beings are living in constantly.

Towards the end, when the Yeerk in Jake’s head is dying, things get rather gruesome. But in it all, we get a brief vision of a great red eye. I can’t remember all of the details, but I do know that this is foreshadowing for another big bad who shows up later on. I had completely forgotten that these little bread crumbs were being sprinkled so early.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s big moment is getting to be bait in some weird attempt to lure Yeerk!Jake into trying to escape into the woods. There are several problems with this plan, as I detail later in the “bad plans” portion. But another problem with it has to do with the Yeerk’s intimate knowledge of all of the Animorphs based on Jake’s own knowledge. I feel like Jake would know that, of all of them, Rachel would be the last one to sleep on the job and most likely to take the whole thing as a personal insult and just stare angrily at Yeerk!Jake for the entire time. So the fact that the Yeerk (and even Jake) is tricked by this, seems strange and out of character.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias really doesn’t do much in this book. He helps guard Yeerk!Jake, but can’t participate in most of the action of the hospital mission. Very sad for me, as a major Tobias fan.

Peace, Love, and Animals: The Yeerk immediately narrows in on Cassie as the weak point of the group, misidentifying her caring nature for naivety and carelessness. It’s an easy mistake to make, and I know that as a reader, even I am likely to fall into the trap of underestimating Cassie. But here she proves that her sympathy is a strength. Her greater knowledge of Jake (and people in general) allows her to focus in on the differences early on, and she’s just as fierce as her teammates when it comes to patrolling the woods and containing Yeerk!Jake.

The Comic Relief: Marco proves yet again that he is probably the smartest one of the group. I’ve probably said it before, and I’ll say it again, the decision to make Marco the most canny of the characters was a really good choice that saves him from just being, as this section title implies, the comic relief character with all the one liners. Here, Marco gets the governor’s schedule all on his own by coming up with the direct, yet effective, plan of posing as a member of the press on the phone and simply requesting it. If left to themselves, the rest of the Animorphs would have probably come up with some stupidly complicated mission that involved infiltrating the governor’s mansion with no prior scouting using three morphs they’d never tried before. He also identifies the deeper tell that Yeerk!Jake gives away: the fact that if Jake weren’t controlled, he’d be trying to help them with this plan to hideout in the woods as a necessary precaution, rather than arguing against it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax plays some pretty important roles in this book, both on and off page. First, if he hadn’t been there in his Andalite form, it’s not a given that the Animorphs would have caught on to Jake’s situation. Apparently the Yeerks just can’t contain their hatred! I mean, it wasn’t even a minor slip. The Yeerk outright called Ax “Andalite filth.” There’s really no coming back from that. Jake being “stressed” is a ridiculous attempt at an out, and one that the Animorphs weren’t buying for a minute. But I feel like we were all greatly denied the three days that Ax had to impersonate Jake at home. The few references we got to it were Jake’s parents’ confusion about his suddenly increased appetite and weird vocabulary issues during this time (and their barely disguised relief that he was back to normal when he returns). But given the last time we saw Ax as a morphed human he was busily eating cigarette butts in a mall, one has to think we missed out on real comedy gold never getting these scenes.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the cockroaches are pretty bad. They’re made a bit better by the comedic introduction the morph gets in the beginning of the book with Jake’s roach motel escapade, but there’s no avoiding the simple fact that they all end up morphing roaches. And then they morph flies. It’s just a book full of bugs. And, like all the bug morphs that have come before and I’m sure will come later, there’s the rather gruesome descriptions of their skeleton and organs all essentially turning to goo…

Couples Watch!: Not a lot of couple action in this one, really. Yes, Cassie is one of the early ones to become suspicious of Jake, a testament to her knowledge of him. And the Yeerk does make a few comments about Jake caring for her, but other than that, this book is largely focused on other relationships in Jake’s life, primarily that between him and his brother Tom.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three shows up in a human morph for the first time in this book. And it speaks to his truly evil nature that somehow all of the Animorphs sense that something is wrong about this particular human right from the get go. Visser Three is so evil that it leaks through his morph! Also, after the cockroach infestation is discovered at the super secret Controller meeting, there’s a pretty funny visual image of a bunch of human Controllers all frantically stomping around the room trying to crush bugs. This is what the mighty Yeerk empire has been reduced to…

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: All of the Tom drama. Through the Yeerk’s inner monologues to Jake, we get a real look into Tom’s deteriorating mindset through this prolonged time as a Controller (the Yeerk just happens to be the one who had controlled Tom). We saw him rebelling in the first book, but since then, things have gone down hill and Tom has pretty much given up. At the end of the story, Jake disguises his voice and calls Tom and tells him not to give up, knowing that his brother will hear him even through the Controller’s ears. It’s all very sad, especially knowing how long the journey ahead still is.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:  Most of their plans are pretty good in this book, actually, especially given their success rate at both their original mission and the fallout that comes from it with Yeark!Jake. It doesn’t take them long to figure out how to deal with what has to have been a completely unexpected situation, and they pull off the whole thing fairly smoothly. The one part I really didn’t understand was why they felt the need to set up the Yeerk to try to escape in the first place. Rachel pretends to fall asleep, and Yeerk!Jake sneaks out, and then they capture him again. But why?? There’s no real benefit to be gained from this. First, just try to discourage him to begin with by highlighting all the fail safes you’ve put in place. And then, worst case scenario, if he still tries it, you can capture him anyways. But there’s no benefit to risking anything going wrong with a fake out attempt. What if the Yeerk had tried to kill fake-sleeping-Rachel? She was pretty exposed as her human self just “sleeping” there. (The reader in me knows that this was just for dramatic effect, but that really just proves how bad of a plan it would have been in actual life).

Favorite Quote:

This is what I’ve been saying!!

“I can’t believe we are actually going to practice a morph,” Marco said. “We never practice. We just do it, and when it’s a huge disaster we try and deal with it then.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 3

Not only do the Yeerks miss out on the best opportunity to completely wipe out the Animorphs that they’ve had yet (if the Yeerk in Jake’s head had had a bit more self-control and successfully pulled the wool over the others’ eyes long enough to sneak back to base and report on them all, the Animorphs would have been completely done for), but the Animorphs were also successful in their mission to sabotage the hospital Yeerk pool plan. They prevented the governor from being taken over and they boiled a bunch of Yeerks in the process. So a pretty solid win!

Rating:

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

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City”

7599985Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” by Warren Ellis and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo Comics, July 2001

Where Did I Get This Book: I own in!

Book Description: Continuing the acclaimed tale of the day-to-day trials and tribulations of Spider Jerusalem, this fifth installment has the no-holds-barred investigative reporter delving into the city’s police corruption. Living in an anti-utopian future, Spider continues his quest to expose society’s injustices as he focuses his attention on those sworn to protect and serve. But even more so than usual, he will learn that his dedication to the truth can come at a high physical cost, especially when dealing with the riot police. Featuring an introduction by actor Patrick Stewart.

Review: I really have to pat Warren Ellis on the back, because boy has this re-read of “Transmetropolitan” felt so relevant and timeless. I’m now halfway through the volumes, and every time I pick one up I say to myself “Boy, this sure feels like the stuff that’s going on in today’s world of politics and government.” The journey of Spider, Channon, and Yelena continues to be absurd and over the top in a lot of ways, be it the cyber punk setting or the various side characters and plots that involve genetic mutants, crazy technology, and a crazed society. But at the very heart of it, there is always truth and relatable heart. And “Lonely City” is no exception, as it tackles the question of the Free Press, and Police Brutality. Like I said. Familiar.

It’s kind of funny how these stories are so over the top, and yet there is that grain of truth to them. It starts out innocently enough, this collection, with Spider and his Filthy Assistants deciding to take on a Senator who is caught up in a potential sex scandal. It’s a move that they’ve done before, and how they usually operated when The Beast was President. It’s humorous and it’s fun watching them pursue this guy relentlessly, knowing that he’s going to expose corruption and hypocrisy, all because of a new invention called a G-Reader, which can read genome structures and genetic code on any individual. For Spider he can read where this Senator has been, based on what he left behind on a number of prostitutes. But the G-Reader is also used by a gang of thugs to read the genetic make-up of someone who they then beat to death (because Lockwood, the victim, had modified his genome in a way that is considered ‘perverse’. It’s hard to explain in full here so just think of it as a hate crime). The same machine used in two totally different ways, the ups and downs of technology. Spider, Channon, and Yelena decide to take on the story of Lockwood, and why the police are being so cagey about it.

And what happens next is yet again an example of me completely forgetting parts of this series that are now blowing me away.

Ellis does a great job of portraying a corrupt system from top to bottom, from the White House to the precinct house. Because when Spider, Channon, and Yelena find themselves the targets of a dangerous plot (which I won’t spoil here), and hope to expose just how far it goes….. they are stymied by the White House, who makes Spider’s paper crush the story. Up until this point, Spider has always had the Truth to rely on, and his ability to move that truth from his screen to the masses of the public. Even under The Beast such truths were not suppressed, making Spider an enemy, yes, but an enemy with a voice. Now, however, he doesn’t even have that. And once again, we leave this collection on a bit of an “Empire Strikes Back” kind of moment. A moment that, after certain news outlets have been shut out of White House Press briefings in retaliation for the stories they run with, feels all too resonant and really hit me in the gut as I turned the last page.

Spider’s character is slowly evolving as well. He still has that cocky and manic swagger about him, confident in his role as truth teller and remaining both a Greek Chorus and Shakespearean Fool to the story. But he’s also starting to crack. The Smiler has a very tiny role in this one, but even if he makes no appearance his power and influence is everywhere. This world that Spider lives in is changing, and it’s changing for the absolute worse. And he’s finding himself more and more powerless to fight against it.

I also wanted to note, just for funsies, that the introduction to this volume (at least the copy I have) was written by Patrick Stewart! Apparently he’s a “Transmetropolitan” fan, which really made me smile. But he also completely sums up exactly what it is about this series that I love.

“I know this City, I have read The Word, I have listened to these politicians, I have smelt the stink of greed, I have thrown things at the TV, I have wondered what future there is for Truth and Beauty. I have wanted to go and live on the top of a Yorkshire moor… Warren, tell Spider to stay healthy and keep writing the column.”

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(source)

“Transmetropolitan” continues to strive for that truth and beauty, even when it gets super dark. That’s what I love about this series.

Rating 8: This definitely has it’s moments of fun and humor, but also has some good and chilling commentary on the importance of the free press in a corrupt society. “Transmetropolitan” continues to feel all too familiar and real in today’s political climate!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” can be found on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Books That Make You Vomit With Joy”(?).

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”.

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #5 “The Predator”

125337Animorphs #5: “The Predator”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Marco never wanted to be an Animorph. He never wanted the ability to change into any animal he touches. He just wants to chill. Whatever happens, happens.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: This book is a perfect example of something that I knew I was going to eventually stoop to discussing, and that is the awful individual names of each of these books. If anyone else noticed, by this point it might have become clear that there is ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION between the supposed name of the book and anything obvious in the plot. I read somewhere that the publishers, not Applegate, chose the names for these books, but I feel like they should have known there was going to be a problem when, in what turns into a 50+ book series, they were already having a hard time matching this “The____” format with the actual plot of the books themselves by only book #5. Who is the “predator” in this?? Anyways, this is going to be an ongoing issue, but I’ll try to restrain myself to commenting on it for only the most egregious examples. On to the plot!

Ax is feeling the effects of being stranded on a strange planet far from home and wants to establish contact. So the action starts off in a very “E.T. phone home” sort of way. Turns out, shockingly, that Earth tech isn’t quite up to the loft standards of the Andalites, so the first third is essentially a caper around the mall looking for adequate substitutes at Radioshack (oh, the 90s). This adventure doesn’t go as well as one would hope due to Ax’s inability to reign in his joy at the discovery of taste buds (Andalites have no mouths, as we must remember). The end results is an inordinate amount of time spent hiding as lobsters before being taken to some poor woman’s kitchen where the nightmare of her life takes place: three lobsters turning into two human boys and a bizarre alien. So she’s definitely scarred for life.

The second third consists of their next brilliant plan: sneaking back into Chapman’s house, this time as ants. What could possibly go wrong! Lots, as it turns out. Ants are by far the worst morph they have ever chosen so far, as I will go into more later.  They do manage to get the super specific, high tech communication chip that Chapman uses to communicate with Visser Three on the Yeerk home ship, however. So on a purely practical (but not ongoing mental health) sense, they are successful.

The third part is where it all really goes wrong. The plan is to call down one of the Yeerk Bug Fighter ships and use their technology to reach across space to the Andalite home world. Turns out the Yeerks aren’t complete chumps and see through this ploy from a mile away. They show up in force and things aren’t looking good for our gang. The group, all disguised in battle morphs, are corralled onto a ship and transported into space. They’re all pretty resigned to their fate, at this point, as not only would they now need to overcome a massive force of Yeerks, but they’d also need to find a ship, learn to fly it, and survive a return journey.

But, as always, they hit a stroke of luck. Visser One, the most powerful Yeerk on the Yeerk high council is visiting to see how things are going on “Project: Take Over Earth.” Visser One is Visser Three’s superior, and they don’t get along. This internal, political feud pays off for the Animorphs in a big way as it turns out that Visser One is more interested in embarrassing Visser Three and highlighting his incompetence by having him lose a bunch of Andalite warriors off his own main ship than in actually capturing said Andalite warriors. Thus the Animorphs are provided with a clear path out and a pre-programmed ship to return them home. But…the most major revelation of it all, Visser One isn’t just any old Yeerk Controller. She is Marco’s mother, not dead at all. This obviously changes Marco’s entire outlook on the fight going forward.

The Comic Relief: Marco has been the most reluctant Animorph from the very beginning, but he also has the best reason for this. Of them all (except for Tobias), Marco’s life already kind of sucked before this whole alien war started. His mother died suddenly in a boating accident a few years ago, and his dad has spiraled completely, losing his job and their home and essentially withdrawing from life and Marco. At this point in the story, Marco is coming up on the two year anniversary of his mom’s death, and looking at the state of his dad, he decides that this is his last mission. His dad can’t survive another loss if Marco doesn’t make it, and after the close call as a dolphin in the last book… In respect for the sacrifice that Ax’s brother, Elfangor, made on their behalf, he’ll help with Ax’s project to reach home, but after that he’s out.

Marco is the most reserved of the narrator’s we’ve seen so far. Not only have we seen Marco putting on a brave/snarky front in the other books to the other characters, but as a narrator himself, he feels more withdrawn and less open with the readers, still playing it close to home with his true feelings. As his book continues, these barriers come slowly down, most dramatically when he discovers the truth about his Mom. But I found this to be an interesting and very true take on the Marco, that something that is so central and has been so well established to Marco’s character (his unwillingness to easily lower emotional walls) would still be present, even in his first person narrative.

As a narrator, Marco is, of course, a good time. He’s witty, while also probably being the most insightful into the true character of each of his friends. And really, it’s a lucky thing he has all of this going for him considering the more weighty aspects of his tale. Other than Tobias, who has definitely locked in on the award for “Most Tragic Animorph,” Marco’s life has been rough for a while and though he discovers his mom’s still alive, the fact that she is controlled by the most powerful (and thus most well protected) Yeerk in the galaxy is a small joy. Though, this does give Marco his reason to finally truly commit to the war against the Yeerks.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake and Marco’s friendship is great. We have some lighter moments that shed some insight onto how these two became friends, with Marco’s wit to balance Jake’s more serious take on life. But Jake also is the one person who truly understands Marco’s reluctance to join this battle. When Marco says he’s out,  Jake doesn’t pressure him or judge him for this decision. Jake is also the only Animorph who had met Marco’s mother before, and thus the only one to realize who Visser One truly is. At the end of the story, Marco makes it clear that this is a secret he is not willing to share right now, and Jake respects this decision as well.

Xena, Warriar Princess: We get another example of why as badass as Rachel’s elephant morph is, it’s really not the best battle morph she could have picked. Size issues are always posing a problem for her, and we’ve had one too many overly graphic scenes of her trying to frantically demorph while fleeing from the Yeerks, this time in cramped alien spaceship hallways. I know that she gets an even more awesome morph soon, and I can’t wait until then! Rachel also still clearly remembers her experiences in the Chapman house from book two and is very adamant that however the Animorphs choose to infiltrate the basement this time, there can be no chance that they will be caught and risk Melissa’s life again. It’s a nice little callback to Rachel’s story and to the fact that loyalty is such a strong motivator for her character.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias actually ends up in the action for the last bit of this story which is a nice change. In the last book he was largely absent due to the obvious fact that hawks don’t do water. But here he gets to join in all the kidnapping fun and even take a few swipes at Yeerks during their escape on the home ship.

Peace, Love, and Animals: I feel like Cassie came up with the ant plan. And right there, Cassie has failed in her one and only duty! Knowing the animal facts! Come on, Cassie, you had to know this was a terrible idea!!

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is comedy gold, guys. I have very clear memories of reading and cracking up at this  mall scene (and I’m sure others) where Ax goes nuts for Cinnabons. And it was just as hilarious now. There’s some bit where I’m pretty sure that it is established that Ax is so far gone in his love of taste that not only is he licking other people’s used plates, but even eating cigarette butts. It’s all very humorous. On a more serious note, Ax provides a lens that highlights just how far the Animorphs have already come. They’re kids, yes, but at this point they’ve seen many battles, and when compared to Ax, they’re pros. He’s much quicker to give in to Yeerk goading and has a bad tendency to want to rush to his death for the sake of “honor.” At this point, the Animorphs know that a good retreat is never in conflict with honor when the other option is a pointless death. Ax also serves as good mouthpiece for the group with the Yeerks, as he is the only true Andalite among them and adds credence to their disguise as an entire group of Andalite warriors.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The whole ant scene. All of it. You’ve got the initial existential horror when Marco and Co. completely lose themselves in the ant mind. He describes it as literally forgetting that Marco exists at all. He just wasn’t there. So that’s horrifying. And then, even worse, they get into a fight with another ant colony and start getting eaten/torn apart alive, and they only escape by demorphing out of the ground. Marco mentions finding a severed ant head still attached to his waist when he showers later. Which….just….no.

Couples Watch!: Marco comments that Jake and Cassie are sort of together…or something…He notices them giving each other sappy looks, and such. As the one Animorph (not including Ax, which…obviously) not involved in a romantic pair, it was fun reading his narrative eye-rolls at the whole thing.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I really liked the introduction of all the Yeerk politics. It adds depths to them both as villains and as a unique civilization that has its own problems outside of taking over the universe. Also, the fact that Visser One openly mocks Visser Three to his face on his massive ignorance of the planet he is charged with conquering is everything.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scenes of Marco’s dad, just sitting in a dark living room staring at the TV. And then the whole revelation at the end about his Mom. And not just the obvious, that she’s a Controller. But now Marco has to question all of his memories. When did she become a Controller? A month before she disappeared? A year? When was the last time his true mother was even part of his life?? All the cries.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, kind of the whole thing, right? But I have to say, the idea to hide as lobsters in a lobster tank from the Controllers chasing them (they spotted Ax trying to demorph in a state of panic in the mall, another example of Ax being new to this fight and cracking under pressure) seems particularly flawed. I’m not sure what the better option was, but when you find yourself having to demorph in someone’s boiling pot of water in their kitchen, you know something went very wrong somewhere along the line.

Favorite Quote:

This one cuz I love Rachel and this seems true:

“I swear that, if she could, Rachel would be wearing a suit of armor and swinging a sword. And it would be a fashionable suit of armor, and she would look great in it.” ~ Marco

This one cuz it highlights Ax’s newbie issues:

“The higher the danger, the higher the honor.” ~ Ax

And this one because it quintessential Marco:

“We’re mostly against the idea of getting killed.” ~ Marco,

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

The scorecard goes unchanged in this one. Yeerk political infighting was all that saved this from being a “Game Over” for our favorite morphing teens. But the Yeerks didn’t exactly show off their best face either. Though it does prove that sticking it to Visser Three really IS the best thing ever. Even better than potentially kidnapping the supposed Andalite warriors who are the only thing keeping the Yeerks from fully conquering Earth. So…there’s that.

Rating: Marco is great fun, though his sads are for real, folks.

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:#4 “The Message”

366784Animorphs #4: “The Message”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It all started with the dreams. But Cassie didn’t pay much attention to them. She and her friends had all been having weird dreams since they’d first learned to morph. Maybe it was just some crazy side effect.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Cassie and Tobias have been having strange dreams of the ocean. And when the Animorphs begin to see signs that the Yeerks, too, are showing interest in a specific part of the ocean, they decide they’d better check it out. They morph dolphins, and with the help of their whale friend, they discover a piece of the Andalite home ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And even more importantly, there’s an Andalite on board, but not the adult warrior who could lead their team that they’d been hoping for, but a kid, Elfangor’s little brother, Ax. Many ocean hi-jinks ensue including another desperate escape from Visser Three. This book is important because it introduces Ax for the first time, a main character who will be part of the Animorphs team going forward. I always forget how much he brings to the tone of the books and how much is missing in the first three with his absence. But he’s finally arrived! Yay!

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is our first book from Cassie’s perspective. And while Cassie isn’t one of my favorite characters in the series (in all honesty, usually her books are my least favorite), she does get one of the best books of the series. I liked this book so much that as a kid I picked it for a bookclub book (we had a family bookclub with another family and everyone got to pick a book, and I picked this one!)

As Cassie’s little section title implies, most of what we get from her in other books has to do with her pacifist take on the war and her role as the one with the animal connection. Diving into her viewpoint, we get a lot on both of these aspects of her personality. She struggles when she finds herself in a decision maker/leadership role in this book as one of only two Animorphs dreaming of Andalites; she’s clearly much more comfortable as the supporter of the group. But she does rise to the occasion which speaks well of her ability to do what needs to be done to save her friends and other creatures, even if it goes against her own nature.

Secondly, because the morph they use in this book is dolphins, we hear a lot about Cassie’s perspectives on animals. Specifically, here she is concerned that the Animorphs are not any better than the Yeerks in that a large portion of morphing has to do with taming the wild mind of the animal they become, so is it the same, especially when the animal is very intelligent, like dolphins? While I’m impressed that this short little book in this ridiculous sci fi series is tackling deeper issues like this, this same dilemma of Cassie’s is what makes her frustrating for me as a character. There seem to be large holes in her reasoning here, in that they are not taking over the minds of animals that exist independently of the Animorphs themselves. The morphed body is her own body and it does not exist on its own.

Further, we’ve been getting into each Animorph’s personal reason for fighting in each of their books. And here she finds her motivation after learning from Ax that the Yeerks not only arrive on a planet to take over the minds of the primary sentient species, but that they also terraform each planet to resemble their barren home world, destroying the natural flora and fauna. Yes, it’s horrifying what the Yeerks have planned for Earth itself, but it makes me question Cassie that her tipping point was its destruction not, say, the human race being killed and enslaved.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a nice little scene with Cassie that reminds us all why he’s such a great leader. She’s in the midst of a mini crisis about having to make decisions for the group, and we get some lovely thoughts from Jake about the way he handles this same pressure constantly. While he is not the decision maker behind this adventure, he is a leader all the same, providing the support needed for a teammate who is struggling. It’s these behind-the-scenes moments of strength and support that really show why Jake is such a natural leader.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s not up to much, though it is interesting hearing about Rachel and Cassie’s friendship from Cassie’s perspective. They’re such oddball best friends, but it is clear how they balance each other out. Rachel has the confidence to challenge Cassie and get her moving when she could get stuck over-thinking every decision. But Cassie also brings reserve and caution to Rachel’s impulsiveness.

A Hawk’s Life: While we learn that the Animorph’s believe that Cassie is having these dreams due to her morphing powers (that she is so much better at it and thus more closely connected to Andalites in general), Tobias’s connection seems to only be that he had a deeper connection with Elfangor before he died (foreshadowing!!) Poor Tobias once again gets left out of much of the action due to the obvious: hawks don’t do water.

The Comic Relief: Poor Marco has a rough time, but we’ll get to that in “Body Horror”…But the fact that he can’t swim is a big problem in a book that involves the ocean. His close calls in this book only further cement his wariness about his future involvement in Animorphs missions. He’s still worried about leaving his father alone. But he does concede that after watching Elfangor heroically die trying to distract Visser Three from them, if there is an Andalite in need, he’ll be there. 

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Yay, Ax is here! We only get a bit of him when he shows up in the final third of the book. But his introduction does bring in a bunch of recurring things that will show up in later books. First, the running gag that he calls Jake “Prince Jake” since that is how Andalites address their war leaders. Second, his wealth of information on the Yeerks and space history. And third, the fact that he creates a new morph by combining the DNA of all of the Animorphs. It’s super wacky. It’s like his morph is their group-child or something.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco gets bit in half by a shark! Marco gets bit in half by a shark! It’s as gross as it sounds. As dolphins, the group sees a whale being attacked by sharks and get into a scrap saving it that results in the horrifying image of Marco floating in the ocean with his dolphin tale only hanging on by a few threads of skin. But it does present an important concept about morphing going forward: any wounds that they get while in morph are healed when they de-morph/re-morph since it is all dependent on DNA which isn’t affected by this type of physical damage. Also, the Animorphs discover that the whales can sort of kind of speak? And the whale saves Marco here and the whole group later on.

Couples Watch!: Man, I really forgot how blatant she makes these couples right off the bat! While Cassie and Jake aren’t my favorite couple, they do have several very sweet moments together, including the scene I described earlier where Jake is boosting up Cassie’s confidence. They also have some nice “shared looks” and all of that.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There’s a scene that’s described here that we never see but I want it now! Apparently, due to his Andalite host body, Visser Three is also having these weird dreams and they’re making him grumpy. So much so that at one point he shoves a Hork-Bajir out of an airlock when he disturbs him. So essentially he’s like Darth Vadar, and you’re going to get Force strangled or shoved out airlocks at any moment if you catch him at the wrong moment.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Poor Ax! The guy’s been stuck at the bottom of the ocean for a month or so now and then when people finally show up to save him he learns that his brother is dead. Stuck on a lonely planet as the only one of his kind, forced into a war he’s not prepared for with a bunch of kids who he doesn’t know and are a different species. Sad times.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It turns out that the Andalite ship is wrecked out in the ocean quite a ways from the shore. So far, in fact, that one 2-hour dolphin morph won’t get them there. So they decide to first morph seagulls (this is a hilarious morph, by the way, in that they all become food obsessed while in it).

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Then they scout out a ship heading in the general direction they want to go and hop on board, de-moprhing to human and hiding out. Then when they get nearer, they jump off the side (forgetting somehow that Marco can’t swim, so he has to half morph a dolphin then get tossed over). Then swim the rest of the way as dolphins. Which…already this is a bad plan. But the biggest problem is HOW ARE THEY PLANNING ON GETTING BACK?? There’s no discussion of this and as it turns out, they end up needing to be rescued by the whale who carries them a large portion of the way back. Pure luck.

Favorite Quote:

Rachel: “First we morph into something like a seagull.”
Marco: “I hate plans that begin with the words ‘first we morph.'”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

Another win for the Animorphs! Managing to swipe Ax out from under the Yeerks’ noses counts as a major win for the team. While they didn’t hurt the Yeerks directly, they gained a friend, comrade, and a team member who knows a whole heck of a lot more about the Yeerks and space history than any of them do! Currently the Animorphs are winning the scorecard, let’s see how long this lasts!

Rating: One of my favorite books that introduces our last main character, Ax!

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: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”

6941759Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2000

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

Review: The more I revisit “Transmetropolitan”, the more I see and deeply feel parallels to our current legal situation, and in turn the more I mourn the lack of a Spider Jerusalem to jump in and start speaking ten kinds of truth. This re-read is both cathartic and upsetting, but the good news is that at least I’m finding myself laughing hysterically at many points of these comics. Because Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all so perfect and filled with snark.

We pick up where Volume 3 left off. Spider (and the world, really) is mourning the assassination of Vita Severn. She’s become a martyr and a symbol for the Callahan campaign. Spider, however, isn’t convinced that Callahan (aka The Smiler) is actually in mourning for Vita. In fact, he has a pretty good hunch that murdering Vita was a political move on the Callahan’s part. And with the election coming up, Spider wants to get the truth out in the only way he knows how. The problem is, there’s no way to win. Because the choices are The Beast, or The Smiler. And either way, Spider, and the country, is screwed….

And along with that we get a Christmas story and a story about the joys of Winter!

Ellis continues his masterful and deft political satire that continues to feel just as relevant today as it felt back when it was first written. While this collection does have a few off shoots and off story vignettes (more on that in a bit), the meat of it is about The Campaign, and Spider’s not so slow realization that there is no good solution. You either get stuck with The Beast, who has driven the country into the ground with oppressive and totalitarian policies, or you end up with The Smiler… Who has managed to prove himself far, far deadlier and menacing than his opponent behind closed doors. There are two moments in this book where Spider confronts both candidates. We get a swift reminder that The Beast is still basically the worst (and he even kind of looks like a certain presidential advisor), but at the same time you see the portrait of a man who is less beastly, and more pathetic and complacent. It was a truly unsettling moment for me as a reader, because it shows that what’s coming is going to somehow be WORSE than the worst. It was a very interesting and kind of pathos ridden final confrontation between Spider and President Beast.

And then there’s The Smiler. It is here that we get full confirmation that he is a full blown psychopath who just kind of wants to watch the world burn. So while The Beast may look like that certain Presidential Advisor, The Smiler shares ethos with him. And it is in this volume that we see Spider, wily, truth pursuing and clever Spider, is bested. Spider had an enemy in The Beast, for sure. But The Smiler is full on intent of annihilating him and wiping him from the Earth. “The New Scum” kind of feels like an “Empire Strikes Back” moment, where almost all hope has been lost and the Empire has won (even more so than Vol. 3, which ended with Vita being assassinated on live TV, and THAT was pretty dismal). Finishing that arc before the next left me feeling drained and in need of chocolate cake.

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But along with these painful and ‘oh no it’s far too true to life’ moments, there were small moments of pure hope and joy in this collection. In one of our offshoot stories, Spider finds himself meeting up with Mary, his friend who was frozen from the 20th Century and woke up in a scary and completely different future. As she talks about how different it all is, there are still the little joys that make her happy, even if the world is overwhelming and sometimes scares the crap out of her (and then Spider gives her a camera, as she was a photographer in her old life, and that just made my heart sing). In this same story Spider meets a little girl whose Mom had to pawn her favorite doll…. So Spider buys it back for her. Because he recognizes that “… all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.” And the other story that really affected me is Spider’s rumination on Winter. Winter means change. Winter means a rebirth is coming. Winter means that we can always look forward to the next one, and maybe next Winter will be better. It was a poignant and stunning one off that, true, feels a little harder to swallow these days. I don’t feel like I’m better off this Winter than I was last Winter. But the point is that Ellis knows that even when there’s all this garbage and terribleness, you can always depend on a couple things: the small joys and kindnesses that you will encounter, and that hope for change and rebirth is always there. In these moments, I was able to feel at least a little calmer.

Thanks for the hope, Spider. And thanks for staying inspirational when it comes to truth and journalism.

Rating 9: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” is one of the most hopeless and hopeful collections of this series yet. Definitely hard to read, but impossible to put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”.

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #3 “The Encounter”

125333Animorphs #3: “The Encounter”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: When Tobias, Jake, Rachel, Marco, and Cassie were given the ability to morph, they were also given one very important warning: Never stay in a morph for more than two hours. It seemed a small price to pay, since the kids know that humans everywhere are being forced to let slimy, spineless creatures creep into their brains. And the only way the kids can fight back is not to be human.

But Tobias stayed in his morph too long. And now he’s a hawk — with a boy’s mind — forever. Tobias knows they can’t give up. That they all made a promise. So now it’s four kids and a hawk against a force that’s determined to destroy them. Or die trying…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: In which the Animorphs discover that even Yeerks need basic resources like water and they have decided that the best way to get it is to fly massive tanker ships through the mountains and drain remote lakes using straws. So, a totally normal premises to start out with! What’s even better is that Tobias discovers this while flying along and seeing a flock of geese ram straight into an invisible wall (the ship has a cloaking device ala Klingons) and comments that while geese are terrible creatures (I agree), even they don’t deserve this terrible fate. I mean, Cassie should be on board right there! Save the geese! Save the geese! This plot takes up much of the book with the Animorphs all acquiring two new morphs wolves (fun!) and trout (not fun!) to try and sabotage the Yeerk tanker ship. But much of the story is also focused on the actual hell that is Tobias’s life now as a hawk. It’s pretty much one long existential crisis for our main character. Let’s be honest, the “Adult Ugly Crying” section below is only one of many, many options.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is another of my favorite characters and honestly this probably had much to do with the facts that A.) he pairs up with Rachel, my absolute favorite and B.) I had a middle grade crush on him from this book cover. That hair style was so in back in the 90s guys! Anyways! We had small hints in Rachel’s book about how Tobias is adapting (or not adapting) to his life as a hawk. And here we really see it. The reality of what his life is actually going to be is starting to settle in. It was particularly interesting learning about how he is dealing with the hawk’s personality. In the other books, we’ve seen the Animorphs struggle with the animal minds of their morphs, but it was easy to forget that this would be a constant thing for Tobias. He’s not just a boy in a hawk’s body. The hawk’s instincts are still right there with him every day. But these struggles aside, there were a lot of good moments that highlight how Tobias has always been the most courageous and dedicated to fight against the Yeerks of the whole group. He had a more deep connection with Elfangor in the first book (something that I think comes up again later), and while he does find renewed vigor in his reason to fight, it’s also never been up for debate for him. His struggle is more focused on this new existence that has been forced upon him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake once again highlights how he’s a great guy, but maybe not the most “with it” as far as being perceptive goes. There’s this really sad scene where we see that Jake has set up a drawer with blankets in his attic for Tobias to sleep in and leaves out canned food for him. But he doesn’t ever think about how these things might not work for a bird vs. a boy. There’s also some fun bits when Jake morphs a wolf and as the alpha of the pack gets rather distracted with..ahem..marking his territory. It left open a rather interesting (?) idea about morphing different gendered animals than their human counterparts.

Xena, Warriar Princess: In parallel to Jake, we have Rachel who is much more closely tuned in to Tobias’s struggles. She’s also paired up with him in the mini adventure in the beginning of the book which is basically her stomping across a used car lot as an elephant while Tobias rescues the live hawk that’s been caged and used as a mascot. It’s such a ridiculous image all together, and I loved everything about.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot in this. As usual, she’s the Animorphs “in” for some of their new morphs, like the wolf. And she has a fun moment later on when they’re trying to catch a fish to acquire. Jake’s all “This is great! It’ll take like 2 minutes!” And Cassie’s just side-eyeing him: “…have you ever fished before??”

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up saving the day for Tobias in this book. There’s some good comedic build up about Rachel being involved in a gymnastics show at the mall and Marco sneaking in to watch her (she’s adamantly against this plan, obviously). But what seems like a jokey side note, turns into a serious moment. Margo does sneak in, and it’s a good thing, too, since he’s able to break a glass ceiling with a baseball to save Tobias who is blindly careening towards it in the midst of a panic attack.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The fish morph. There’s a very graphic section where Tobias discusses how even Cassie, the expert morpher of the group, can’t make that look good. At one point there’s much detail about eyes sliding around to the sides of the head…

Couples Watch!: There are a couple of different ones in this book! First, we have the moment where Tobias is starting to forget himself and Rachel just happens to have a picture of him in her dresser to whip out at a moment’s notice. Then Tobias immediately seeks her out at the mall in the midst of his emotional/mental breakdown. And finally, when they’re all trapped in the ship as fish, Rachel and Tobias have a lovely little moment in the midst of the tragic reality that Rachel is surely about to die. Romantic angst everywhere!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: He doesn’t do a whole lot in this book. But he definitely seems to be catching on to the whole “any animal could be an Andalite” train of thought. A perspective that does not bring good things to the local fauna of the little mountain lake. A few deer and birds are laser beam sizzled in the writing of this book.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Yeah, so that part I referenced in the Marco section. Tobias has a moment of weakness to the hawk’s instincts and eats a mouse then freaks out about it and flies into a mall because that’s where Rachel is and all he can think of is getting to her. And, like all bird instincts would tell him, once trapped inside he makes a b-line for open air even if it’s through a glass ceiling. It’s never out right stated that Tobias might have been ok with hitting the glass and putting an end to it, but the implication is definitely there and it’s just terrible and so, so sad.  There’s also the bit towards the end when Rachel, trapped on the ship with the others, blatantly asks Tobias to take down the ship with them in it since they’d rather die than be tortured. So..yeah..this is a middle grade series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: So…their plan to disable the ship. Morph fish on land, flop around not being able to breathe while Tobias ferries them to the lake, swim up the straw to the ship, and then some how take the ship out. But…aren’t they in the ship when it gets taken out? And, as we see here, not having done any recon of the ship might present some problems. Like getting stuck in a tank that didn’t need to incorporate a teen-sized access panel when it was designed. 

Favorite Quote:

The obligatory Marco quote:

“Don’t say the word ‘cage’ around Tobias. He’ll do some guerrilla-commando-Ninja-SWAT-team-hawk-from-hell attack on the Center. And he’ll talk Rachel into stomping your house flat.” – Marco

And the more sweet quote from Rachel, the one person who serves as Tobias’s primary connection to humanity throughout this all.

“What counts is what is in your head and in your heart. A person isn’t his body. A person isn’t what’s on the outside.” – Rachel

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 1

The Animorphs get a point! Though their plan had some major flaws and they mostly got out of it due to sheer luck and bravery on Tobias’s part, they did in fact manage to disable the ship. Though, as they discuss later, it is likely that the Yeerks simply got another ship and found a different lake. But ah well, small wins!

Rating: Very good! The angst is strong in this one, but I loved every minute of it.

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