The Great Animorphs Re-Read #32: “The Separation”

Animorphs #32: “The Separation”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel is falling apart. Literally. Her newest morph the ability to regenerate its limbs, but when Rachel demorphs there’s a lot more Rachel than when she started out. One more Rachel, to be exact. Rachel is an okay person to have around. But two could be considered overkill. Especially two Rachels with completely opposite personalities: one is pathetically weak; one is super strong and super nasty.Now the Animorphs have to figure out a way to put Rachel back together again. Because if it’s up to the “twins, ” Rachel the weak will surrender to Visser Three. Rachel the super bold will try to single-handedly take him down. And twice the trouble may be twice as much as the other Animorphs and Ax can handle….

Narrator: Rachel

Plot:

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Can that be my plot description? Just not continue? No? Ugh.

Rachel is out on a field trip when she drops a piece of jewelry into the ocean. Of course, this means she must morph the starfish she spots. On her way back out, some rude little kid cuts her in half with a shovel (that kid needs to be hunted down, just like Mean!Rachel thought, but mostly it’s due to the fact that he’s the reason we had to be exposed to this book). From there the chapters alternate between Mean!Rachel and Nice!Rachel. Mean!Rachel meets up with Tobias to go flying, as she had planned. Tobias immediately thinks something is up when she hunts and eats some prey on their trip. Cassie, too, notices that something is up with Nice!Rachel on their trip to the mall. For one, she admits to having skipped out on Tobias, and for two, after getting into a bit of a spat with another customer, she flees the mall crying.

Back in the barn, Cassie lets the group know that something is up and Rachel isn’t acting normal. This is confirmed when Mean!Rachel strides in the door wanting to kick Yeerk butt. Both Rachels are horrified by the other, but through their pieced together story, the group realizes that happens. The starfish DNA somehow allowed Rachel to demorph into two separate people, splitting her personality between them. Before they can figure out what to do next, Erek shows up and announces that the Yeerks are testing a new Anti-Morphing Ray gun. Jake tells the two Rachels to go home and sit this one out.

At home, Mean!Rachel is having none of this and immediately sets off after the Animorphs. Once she finds them, she barrels into the situation with a truck, ramming through walls and getting in fights with Hork Bajir. In the madness, the group manages to escape, but the plan to get destroy the gun is ruined. Back home, Wimpy!Rachel doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she decides to call her dad for comfort. After a very confusing conversation, she arranges to meet with him at the airport the next day and confess everything to him. Mean!Rachel shows back up rather put-out by how “unappreciative” the team had been to her escapades and promptly kicks Wimpy!Rachel onto the floor to sleep.

The next day, Wimpy!Rachel goes to school where both Marco and Cassie test her to see if they can figure out more about what aspects of the original Rachel is in each half of her. Mean!Rachel, of course, doesn’t go to school, but does decide to morph fly and spy on the group when they meet up in the barn at the end of the day. Ax says that he may have a plan to put her together again, but that it could also kill her. Cassie is vehemently against this. But Marco points out that the current situation won’t work either, that Mean!Rachel is too psychotic to left running around. Mean!Rachel flies into a rage, demorphs, grabs Tobias and threatens to strangle him if the team doesn’t agree that she should now be the leader. Jake sidles up and punches her in the face followed by a quick smack from Ax’s tail blade that knocks her out. Wimpy!Rachel shows up in the midst of this and flies into crying hysterics.

After Mean!Rachel wakes up, she heads home. But she’s begun to realize strangeness in her own ability to think, that she can’t figure out what to do next or plan. In her room, she sees the note that Wimpy!Rachel left to remind herself to meet her dad at the airport. With a new mission, Mean!Rachel takes off after her. At the airport restaurant, Wimpy!Rachel tries to suss out whether her father is a Controller, but before she can tell him the whole truth, Mean!Rachel shows up and forces her to leave. Mean!Rachel takes her place and is quite rude the her dad and the staff. She starts a food fight to prevent Wimpy!Rachel from showing up to ruin things and her dad finally has to leave for his next flight.

Back in the barn, the team meets up once again. They still need to deal with the Anti-Morphing Ray. The Yeerks are now up on the game that the Animorphs know of their plans (what with Mean!Rachel’s display the other day), so they have arranged for three trucks to transport the ray which means the team needs to split up. Cassie tells Wimpy!Rachel that they need her to come. Mean!Rachel demorphs and insists on coming along. During these exchanges, it’s made clear that the team doesn’t trust either of them and had been following them when they went to the airport. Ax once again knocks out Mean!Rachel to stop her from coming. And Jake invokes Wimpy!Rachel’s sense of duty to get her to come along, pairing her with himself so he can keep an eye on her.

During the mission, Jake has to continuously threaten and bride Wimpy!Rachel through every morph she has to make since she’s too scared to do most anything. After an “exciting” car chase, Jake and Rachel morph roaches as the truck they’re riding enters a building. They are quickly gassed, however, and knocked out. It turns out that Mean!Rachel woke quite quickly and morphed owl. She then followed the group, specifically her twin and Jake, and ends up in the same building.

Wimpy!Rachel and Jake end up captured. While Jake tries valiantly to keep Wimpy!Rachel calm, she ends up breaking and calling out to the Yeerks that she’ll do anything to be let go. In the mean time, Mean!Rachel had morphed Hork Bajir and casually marched into the room where Jake and her twin were being held. She attacks the Hork Bajir around her, but as she takes them down, the wall slides open and she sees even more Hork Bajir outside the room and Visser Three among them. After the remaining Controllers retreat, Visser Three orders the door to slam and turns on a machine that begins moving the walls and ceiling slowly down, taunting them that they must give themselves up or be crushed.

The boxes that Wimpy!Rachel and Jake had been in were crushed during the madness, so once free, she quickly demorphs. She doesn’t see Jake and Mean!Rachel casually comments that she may have stepped on him during the fight. Wimpy!Rachel can see a plan for escape, but she needs Mean!Rachel to carry it out with her bravery.

Wimpy!Rachel morphs Hork Bajir and calls out to Visser Three, threatening to cut her own throat rather than be infested. The door quickly opens and fly!Mean!Rachel swoops towards Visser Three. From within his ear, fly!Mean!Rachel calls out to Visser Three saying that he must give them their freedom or she will begin to demorph in his head, killing them both. Visser Three flies into a rage but quickly agrees and walks them both out. He leaves in a huff, saying that next time he’ll just kill them.

Jake demorphs next to them. It turns out he had been stepped on, but had been able to crawl his way to Wimpy!Rachel and hide out on her for the journey out. He says that this experience was necessary for both Rachels to realize that they need each other. That Wimpy!Rachel has the ability to think ahead and plan, but Mean!Rachel has the bravery to act. Back in the barn they go forward with the process to merge the two back together. Standing with the hands on each others shoulders, they begin acquiring each other and then morphing one another while Erek jolts them with electricity. It works and the newly reformed but shaken Rachel looks to Tobias to move forward with the knowledge that she is made up of two extremes.

Xena, Warrior Princess: I hate almost everything about this book. The entire plot is ridiculous, but my main frustration comes down to the way that this book mangles Rachel’s character. What always made her one of my favorites was the complexity of her character. In her we have a beautiful blonde who both loves gymnastics and shopping but is also the strongest and most fierce of this entire team. And she is never shamed for her “girly” pursuits. Those aspects of herself are never portrayed as silly or worth nothing when held up against her more heroic aspects. She’s an excellent example of how to write a strong, female character without feeling the need to throw traditionally female aspects out the window.

But here, both parts of Rachel are portrayed in truly despicable ways. For Mean!Rachel, this side should have had her bravery, her recklessness, and yes, her ruthlessness, all tempered with a high sense of practicality. She is willing to make the tough calls when the tough calls are also the most practical call. She’ll set aside emotional moralizing for this, yes. But here, she’s simply violent and there is no direction to her violence. She is just as likely to want to kill her friends as the Yeerks. As we’ve seen in book after book, Rachel is the character who is the first one to jump to the aid of her friends at risk to herself. She would never, NEVER want to kill her friends, not matter how ruthless she becomes. And for all of this, the reasons she wants to kill her friends are for stupid, petty reasons. Again, two more traits that we never see driving the real Rachel.

And then Wimpy!Rachel. For some reason, throughout this entire cluster of a book, we have to listen to Wimpy!Rachel insert the word “like” into every sentence. Real Rachel never spoke like this, so what aspect of herself is this, other than just a poor attempt to make this version of Rachel sound stupid? Her love of shopping and the mall are also reduced to the most basic stereotypes. In past books, we’ve seen Rachel approach shopping as a challenge to be accepted and conquered. Here, there’s none of that, just silliness. Further, her boy-craziness is based in nothing more than even more horrible stereotypes about “girly girls.” Real Rachel never gave even the slightest hint at having boy craziness in any part of her.

Both versions of Rachel are terrible and neither reflects most of the parts of the real Rachel that makes her such an excellent, complicated character. This book does a terrible disservice to all of the character building that has gone into Rachel for the last 30  books and basically it can die in fire for that.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake is clearly at his wits end with both Rachels by the end of the book. He pretty much says they have to agree to try to join back together or he’ll turn them over to Visser Three (a pretty empty threat, however, given their knowledge of the group). He also implies that part of the final mission was to convince both Rachels that they needed the other to help them to agree to the process. I’m not so sure about this, as it seemed pretty hap-hazard that they ended up in a situation that conveniently forced them to rely on each others’ skill sets. It’s not like Jake really engineered that situation. Sure, it worked out well, but I’m sure it wasn’t part of the plan since, in the end, dealing with the Anti-Morphing Ray was a bigger priority, and they failed at that.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. In the very beginning, Wimpy!Rachel just ditches him for shopping and then Mean!Rachel hunts and kill some animal in front of him. And then tries to strangle him later in the book! But it was interesting to see that Mean!Rachel continually referenced having respect for Tobias because he was also a predator. To analyze that more than it probably deserves, it’s an interesting clue into part of the reason these two are drawn to each other. They each recognize the need for violence and have to reconcile it with their more peaceful other halves. And, unlike Cassie or even Jake sometimes, both are a bit more at peace with this balance overall. It’s also nice that in the end, once Rachel is back to being herself, she immediately looks to Tobias for support and he immediately picks up on the reason: that he too is made up of two very distinct selves.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has some good stuff in this book. She’s one of the first ones to notice that something is up with the version of Rachel she’s hanging out with. And then she’s the one to correctly analyze what portions of original!Rachel is in each version, giving Jake the hint that Wimpy!Rachel could be manipulated using her sense of duty. In the end of the book, she immediately asks Rachel is she’s ok and whether she wants to talk about her experience, another example of the solid friendship that these two have.

The Comic Relief: Marco is the other one who is sent to test Wimpy!Rachel to see what’s what. I think he was a bit more subtle about it than Cassie and was able to get some useful information out of Wimpy!Rachel regarding her inability to think quickly in the moment or have much short term memory. He also has quite a few good lines in this book.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax has very, very little in this. I hardly remember if he even spoke. He was the one to come up with the plan for getting the two Rachels back into one, but, again, Erek was the one who really pulled it off, leaving not much for Ax to do. Was he even in this book??

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the whole concept of the book really? Being split in half and morphing two of herself? It does bring up some interesting ideas about just how much of one’s body can be lobbed off before demoprhing is a problem. So far, it seems that as long as you’re living, the demorphing process naturally regenerates any lost limbs/body parts. So I’m not sure how the starfish part lines up with this. Best not to think about it too much.

Couples Watch!: This is like adding insult to injury. I always love the Rachel or Tobias books because of the two couples, they often have the most in their books and I prefer their romance to the wishy-washy version that Jake and Cassie have. But what do I get here?!?! Mean!Rachel literally trying to strangle Tobias to death! Great. Just what I want to see. It was interesting to see that Mean!Rachel was much more into Tobias than Wimpy!Rachel.

Adding fuel to my secondary ship, Wimpy!Rachel admitted to Cassie that she could be into Marco. Marco, of course, took full advantage of this, saying at one point that Mean!Rachel could go with Tobias, leaving Wimpy!Rachel to give it a go with him.

But then she has to go too far…

Jake was there. He’s my cousin. He’s cute. Kind of big. I mean, if we weren’t cousins. . ..

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Ah, cousins in love.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: You’d think by now Visser Three would have finally, FINALLY, learned his lesson about trying to trap the Animorphs rather than just killing them when he gets a chance. But no, still too egotistical for all that, wanting to bring in more valuable hosts. I’ve said it before though, this plan also makes no sense for a Yeerk who revels in being the only one with a morph-capable body. He is selfish and self-centered enough to want to keep a distinction like that for himself. So why he’s still hesitating to take them out when he has the chance is beyond me. He makes a comment towards the end about next time just killing them. But sure, Visser Three, whatever you say. Empty words and all of that.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, another book during which I wept to remember the good books that came before and how far we have fallen to reach this point. There might have been some good stuff in there about Rachel’s seeming estrangement from her mother and need for her father, but there was too much other stupidness going on to even focus  on that.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:  Their last plan to go forward with tracking down the Anti-Morphing Machine in the midst of the Rachel crisis was just a bad idea. Not only did they leave Mean!Rachel behind, knowing full well that she’d simply follow them and they’d have no idea what type of damage she could do (I mean, at this point she was out-right threatening the lives of several of the group, so it’s not out of the realms of imagination to think she could have taken a few of them out, especially when they were all split up covering different trucks). But beyond this, manipulating Wimpy!Rachel to do what was necessary was also a risky choice. We saw several times that Jake barely managed to get her to do what was needed as they went along and he was spending by far more time watching out for her than on the mission itself. All told, they were way too vulnerable and weakened to be attempting a mission like this, and in the end, they failed anyways. And it was STILL probably the most lucky outcome they could have hoped for.

Favorite Quote:

Rachel loses yet another arm in her grizzly morph:

“So you know what I do? I reach down, pick it up, and use it like a club to beat him over the head.” [Mean!Rachel said]

As they’re holding shoulders to start the merge process, finally a moment that sounds like the real Rachel either way:

“Do you, Dr. Jekyll, take Ms. Hyde, to have and to hold -”

“Shut up, Marco, you’re already on my list!” Mean Rachel snapped.

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 12

I’m going to give this one to the Yeerks. In all the Rachel craziness, the Animorphs failed to destroy the Anti-Morphing Machine, so that’s a pretty big hit. Plus, I feel bitter about this book and will unfairly take it out on my scoring.

Rating: The lowest of all ratings. Not only does nothing in this plot make sense with regards to how the starfish thing worked, or, worse, how getting put back together worked, but the character assassination that is done to Rachel is unforgivable. I always look forward to Rachel’s books, and in my mind, this doesn’t even count as a one since neither version of her that we’re given is even remotely familiar to the character we’ve spent 30+ books getting to know. I really have nothing good to say about this book. I had a very clear memory of hating it the first go around and reading it a second time has not changed things.

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 #31: “The Conspiracy”

363424Animorphs #31: “The Conspiracy”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake’s dad and brother Tom have left for a meeting of The Sharing, where Tom may force their dad into involuntary Yeerk infestation. Jake must save his father, but for the first time, his quick-thinking tactical mind freezes up … with everything at stake.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Another one where I only had vague memories of the entire plot. I knew that it was a big Tom book and that Jake’s leadership came under question. And then the entire read through I was wondering why they didn’t just break Tom’s leg, and then they do in the end, so that entire thought must have just been an extremely vague memory of that specific plot point. And now after reading it, my main take away is:

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Jake and Marco nooooo!!!

Jake arrives home to see his mother getting in a taxi crying. It turns out that Jake’s Grandpa G has died, and the entire family is going up to his remote cabin in the woods to prepare for the funeral. Jake, Tom, and their Dad will come up in a few days and stay for four days. Four days, one day past the three day limit that will lead to starvation for the Yeerk in Tom’s head. This presents a problem, especially when Jake’s Dad refuses to budge on insisting that Tom come on this trip. (We’ll give Jake a break for emotional distraction, but he doesn’t realize that this four day limit will be a problem until he runs into Marco and after telling him the whole story suddenly realizes ah, that’s why Tom as so upset.) What’s worse, Marco points out that Jake shouldn’t have left Tom alone with Jake’s dad, surmising that he might do something desperate to get out of this trip.

When the two get back to the house, Tom and his dad are gone, but there is a crumpled note in the trash (Tom through it away to cover their tracks) from his dad saying that he and Tom are going to the Sharing so he can explain why Tom will need to be away. Jake and Marco know the truth: they’re going to try and infest his dad with a Yeerk. Still panicking, Jake thinks to have the Chee track his father down. Marco steps in saying they need to be careful and use a pay phone so they’re not tracked. The Chee have Jake call his dad’s cell phone so they can track its location, but to make sure to stay quiet so the Yeerks won’t get suspicious. When Tom answers it, Jake almost speaks and Marco has to lunge to get the phone away from him before he reveals them. The Chee narrow the location down to a few blocks and Jake and Marco morph birds to check it out.

They arrive at a mini mall where Jake spots his dad’s car in the lot. He starts to morph tiger and once again Marco has to pull him back, pointing out that they can’t barge in and make it known that the “Andalite bandits” have any interest in this. Instead, gorilla!Marco begins setting off car alarms, punching Jake’s dad’s car and Chapman’s car for extra fun. Tom, his dad, Chapman and few other Controllers come out. Jake is able to confirm that his dad is still free when Tom tries to convince him to leave the car and come back inside. But Jake’s dad refuses, saying he needs to take care of his car now.

The group meets back up in the barn and discuss the general crappiness of the entire situation. Rachel is mad that Marco and Jake went in alone, Tobias is confused by family dynamics having had a terrible aunt and uncle his entire childhood, and the group as a whole recognizes that there is no larger fight going on here, but that it’s a terrible position for Jake. They all come to the conclusion that there is a good chance that Tom will simply try to kill his dad as a way out of this situation and that they will all need to go on surveillance to try and prevent it.

The next day, roach!Jake follows his dad to work, hitching a ride on his dad’s pants leg. At the doctors office, Tobias spots an angry looking guy lurking around the entrance. But throughout the rest of the day, nothing of note happens. On the way back out, the angry looking guy is still there. Tobias and Ax ask Jake what they should do, and Jake freezes. Deciding to go with the “gross out” method, roach!Jake runs up the angry man’s body and perches on his hair. Just then, Tobias swoops down and tries to rake his hair, but instead ends up with the toupee and Jake caught in his talons. Jake realizes that because of his freeze, Tobias and Ax made the wrong call, exposing weird animal behavior that could have been spotted by Yeerks. And all for nothing, as the angry man just had a beef about parking spots.

Back home, Jake tells Tobias and Ax to head out and no need to send reinforcements, he’ll cover it. After dinner, Jake notices that Tobias is outside, clearly having ignored his instructions to go home. Jake decides to join him for a bit and morphs falcon. From the air, the two of them spot Chapman and another man with a gun in a car heading their direction. Jake frantically swoops down and starts to demorph on his own roof, in plain sight of anyone who would be looking. As he demorphs, he slides down the roof and is dangling in front of a window. Tom is facing the other direction on the phone, the only reason Jake isn’t spotted. Jake overhears Tom telling someone on the phone that his dad is outside, take the shot. Finally demorphed, Jake drops to the ground and rushes around to volunteer to finish watering the lawn for his dad. As the car drives by he “accidentally” sprays it with the hose, and they continue on.

Again in the barn, Tobias relates everything that happened that day (Rachel and Ax are away watching Jake’s house). No one is too impressed with Jake, not only for freezing up in the parking lot but for demorphing in plain sight. Even Cassie doesn’t come to his defense. But Marco is the most harsh.

I glared at him. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? This is payback for when I doubted you over your mother.”

“I was ready to do what had to be done,” Marco said.

“So am I!”

“No. You’re not. You endangered all of us. You demorphed on your roof! On your roof! In daylight. With your brother in the house! If Tom had seen you do that you’d be head down in the Yeerk pool right now, and the rest of us would be standing in line behind you!”

Marco insists they take a vote on what to do next, saying that Jake’s not in a position to make a good call. Cassie, through silence, sides with Marco, surprisingly. They assume that Ax will take himself out of the vote and Rachel will side with Jake. Tobias essentially defuses the situation by saying they need to come up with a plan that isn’t just reacting to what’s going on. Jake bursts out that he has such a plan: capture Chapman and use him as a distraction so the Yeerks won’t have the time/energy/resources to focus on Tom’s problem.

To pull this off, they go for the very unsubtle route. Rhino!Jake, grizzly!Rachel, gorilla!Marco and partially human morphed Ax (to make his human more unrecognizable) all barge into Chapman’s house under the pretense that Ax is a friend of Melissa’s. There they bring down destruction (with a near miss of Marco being shot and just being able to demorph/remorph), but manage to nab Chapman in the end and smuggle him to a nearby house where they tie him up and begin the charade. Ax is tasked with convincing Chapman that the Andalite bandits have captured him to torture information out of him.

The next morning Jake checks in on Ax who has had enough with this entire plan. He tells Jake that this was a dishonorable plan, to be threatening torture. Then, after deliberately leaving behind some broken glass, they leave Chapman behind for him to “escape.” Back home, Jake tells the others that his family is leaving at noon, but really they leave in the next two hours. After all of the missteps on his own part, Jake has decided that this is his problem to solve on his own.

After a tense ride, they find themselves at the cabin and reunited with Jake’s mom and other members of his family. Jake’s grandpa had fought in WWII, and while discussing this, Tom makes a few insensitive comments about wars and sacrifice. He and Jake go up to the attic to look through some of their grandpa’s things. There, Jake tries to get through to his brother Tom one last time, hoping to get a glimpse of him beyond the Yeerk’s control. They again discuss war and what parts honor and courage play in it. They discover some medals of honor and an old Nazi dagger that their grandpa must have retrieved from a fallen soldier. Jake insists that Tom not take it, knowing that the Yeerk would like to use it to kill Jake’s dad.

Later that night, Jake has disturbing dreams about being in a war, freezing in the trenches and wishing for the fighting to be done. He wakes up and sees that Tom’s bed is empty next to him. He goes downstairs and sees that his father is no longer asleep on the couch with his mother. Outside, he sees his father and Tom sitting together on the dock on the lake. Peaking out of the back of Tom’s pants is the Nazi dagger.

Jake starts to morph tiger, knowing that this is what it has finally come down to, him having to kill Tom. But before he can even finish the morph, he hears a loud crash and watches the dock collapse into the water. Both Tom and his father go under. Even more strange, his father, who is a good swimmer, is bobbing up and down in the water, being pulled somehow away from the dock and Tom. While Tom tries to keep his eyes on his dad, a dolphin fin appears in the water and rams him in the back, leaving him to float face down in the lake. Jake hears one of the Animorphs thought speaking to him to demorph, that he is out in the open in a partial form.

He is unable to get to Tom whom he is sure must be drowning with his face in the water. But suddenly Tom’s body begins skimming across the water being pushed from below. Jake grabs him and he coughs, coming to. His leg has been broken  badly, however.

In the end, Tom is taken on a medical helicopter all the way back to their hometown. The next day, Jake goes out in the woods and meets up with his friends who explain how they did it. Tobias watched the house and notified them when Tom and his father left. Whale!Cassie managed to drag herself through the shallows and ram the dock, crashing it into the water. Rachel and Ax as dolphins broke Tom’s leg and dragged his father to safety. Looking around, Jake asks where Marco is. Cassie says that he’s hanging back, unsure how happy Jake would be to see him. He finally comes out and Jake notes that this all had to have been his plan, which he admits. Marco adds that the Chee helped: they were the ones who showed up in the helicopter and insisted that Tom be flown all the way back to their home town.

Jake admits that he was too close to everything, that he should have seen this solution of injuring Tom sooner. Jake takes Marco aside and thanks him for what he’s done. Jake hesitates, and then asks what the plan was going to be if Tom hadn’t made himself vulnerable by coming outside late at night with his father. Marco is silent, but Jake pushes, saying that Marco had to preserve the safety of the group and keep Jake alive. Marco finally agrees and coolly lays out his reasoning: If Tom killed Jake’s dad, Jake would kill Tom, and Jake and the others would be exposed. The expendable piece was Tom. He doesn’t finish saying what they would have done had Tom not come out before Jake stops him, saying he doesn’t want to know.

Back home, Jake looks at his Grandpa G’s medals and reflects on the fact that they had been stored away in a box in the attic and not on display. As a soldier himself, Jake understands this, that living it once is enough without being reminded constantly. He decides that if he is ever awarded any medals for the war with the Yeerks, he too will need to find a box for his attic.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s been a while since we’ve had a big Tom-related moment, let alone an entire book. It’s easy to forget that Tom was the reason that Jake signed on to this war to begin with. And here he is presented with the terrible decision to essentially choose between his brother and his father. It’s no wonder that he breaks down.

As readers, we’ve seen the inside of Jake’s head several times before and know that the confusion and fear that he feels pretty much constantly about his own abilities to lead this group effectively. He’s constantly asked to make split second decisions, many of which put his friends in mortal danger. In the very last book we saw him pretty coldly agree that Marco’s plan to kill his own mother was the best route to go. But what the other members of the group see is simply his effectiveness and sure handedness. So you have to imagine that witnessing him break down like this had to be a shock for the group. Again, as a reader, it didn’t strike as hard because we’ve seen Jake have these same moments of panic in the past. But here they really start affecting his outward behavior and choices.

Some of the strongest moments came outside of the Animorphs action and instead focused on Jake inner thoughts about war, honor, and what the choices that are asked of soldiers really mean in the larger scale of things. Particularly, he discussions with Tom about these things. Through Tom, the Yeerk is essentially presenting the case for the entire Yeerk forces’ view on war: there is only room for honor when the war is finished, while Jake is arguing the other side, that right and wrong always exist.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel does very little in this book. She’s along for a few missions, but she’s also absent during one of the biggest debates when Marco brings up voting on Jake’s leadership abilities. Jake immediately says that Rachel would side with him, and no one questions this. I’m not really sure why this was so assumed. Looking at almost all of the previous book in which there is some type of vote, Rachel almost always sides with Marco. So much so, that when she doesn’t in the vote to make David an Animorph, Marco remarks on it as a surprising divergence from their usual like-minded way of thinking. She’s also proven herself to be more than willing to step into a leadership role if Jake is out of it for some reason, like we saw when he was sick and they were all eels in the pipes. So it’s not like she is unwilling to consider alternatives to Jake making the calls. I mean, for plot reasons Marco’s vote had to go against him. But I think it’s a mischaracterization to present it as if Rachel would have voted this way.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is present both times that Jake errs in his leadership abilities, first freezing up in the parking lot and then demorphing in broad daylight on the roof. He is able to cooling tell the group what happened and Jake notes that he does it without judgement. But when Jake starts pushing back against Marco’s harsher view of things, Tobias, still calmly, tells Jake that Marco is right: Jake’s been out of it and he isn’t putting the group and their larger war first and it could be disastrous. But when it comes down to a vote, Tobias is also the one to essentially diffuse what was becoming a pretty heated moment by redirecting the conversation away from the vote and onto the fact that they should be on the offensive rather the defensive with this situation. This allows Jake another opportunity to come up with his own plan, to capture Chapman.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Like Rachel, I’m not sure whether Cassie’s characterization in the vote scene is spot on. I get that the fact that her not  immediately siding with Jake is meant to highlight just how out of it he is, if even Cassie is questioning his decisions. But the fact remains that this book is coming directly after Marco’s book, and it just doesn’t make sense for Cassie to switch positions on this, especially when the person in question is Jake. If anything, the same concerns she had in Marco’s book should be present here, and even more strongly. But beyond that, she’s always had complete faith in Jake’s abilities, and I’m not sure either of his mistakes up to this point would be enough for her to question that. Unlike Rachel, for instance. I think the swap of their votes was done more for the “shock factor” than as a true portrayal of how these two characters would have acted in this situation.

The Comic Relief: Marco was by far the MVP of this book. Everything with him was great and I loved how it built off the fact that this was happening immediately after his own nightmare situation with his mother. It’s hard to count how many great moments there were from him. We had the parallel situation with him and Jake as we saw with him and David when it came to calling up Jake’s dad (reminding them both to use a pay phone rather than a trackable phone, stepping in when both Jake/David were about to slip up and give up crucial information). We had him calling out Jake on his bad decision making (though perhaps it was a bit much to be coming down on him about the public morphing given the, ahem, elevator scene from the previous book).

In many ways, I think the last book was a turning point in Marco’s character. Up to that point, he knew that he was probably one of the more clear-minded members of the group as far as completing an objective in the most direct manner, regardless of collateral. But after that book, he seems to admit his own ruthlessness. He knows that he is capable of doing the unthinkable, killing his own mother (he would have if Jake hadn’t knocked him out of the way) and that he is also the most capable of putting together a clear plan because of this ruthlessness. Not only does he not pull any punches when noting Jake’s priorities being out out of whack, but he early on sees the clear reality of the situation: Tom is the expendable piece. And he comes up with the plan to take Tom out, preferably by injuring him. But in the last conversation between him and Jake, we know that Marco had another plan for the more dire outcome, if that became necessary.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a very strong reaction to his role as faux interrogator/torturer of Chapman. This is probably one of the biggest moments for Jake to realize just how completely off the reservation his thinking has become. Ax is typically a “yes” man, and here we see him push back strongly against his Prince saying that this was the wrong thing to do, it was dishonorable, and while he’ll complete this mission, he will not do something like this again. That last bit in particular stands out as very rarely does Ax make statements like that, especially to and against Jake.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I can’t remember any real gross out moments from this. I mean, Jake morphs a cockroach and that’s never pleasant, but we’ve also read that one so many times that the shock factor is kind of lessened. He does effectively use the grossness of the roach itself to freak out both his dad (unintentionally as he tries to hitch a ride) and the angry parking lot guy (intentionally, in case he was a Controller).

Couples Watch!: Early in the book when Jake first finds out about his grandpa’s death, he has a moment where he wishes he could talk to Cassie about everything. Instead, he runs into Marco. Probably for the best, given the events that followed, but it’s still notable that Cassie is more and more who he turns to for support. Marco, while still his best friend, is also something more now, and Jake seems to recognize that the tactician in Marco can never quite turn off now.

Another moment is when they are first discussing Tom’s situation. Tobias is confused and asks why Tom doesn’t just say he’s not going and be done with it. Tobias genuinely doesn’t understand family dynamics in this matter, as he slowly realizes that his aunt and uncle only didn’t push back against his own refusals to do things because they didn’t care about him.

Rachel, of course, is having none of this:

“Your relatives are jerks and they didn’t deserve you,” Rachel snapped.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Another rare book where Visser Three doesn’t even make an entrance!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: I mean, like Marco’s book, the whole thing is fairly tragic, with Jake’s slow realization that his father’s and Tom’s lives don’t really matter in the larger scheme of things. Especially when he stops Marco from telling him what the plan was in the end to take Tom out of the equation. He doesn’t even berate Marco for this anymore, some part of him recognizing that Marco was right.

But I think one moment that really stood out was about Tom himself. After Jake manages to break up the attempted shooting of his father in the front yard, he turns around and sees Tom watching from the window, hatred in his eyes. But Jake knows that his real brother is still there and that he had to helplessly watch as the Yeerk set up his father to be gunned down in his own yard and couldn’t do anything about it but watch from a window as his younger brother “luckily” steps in and stops it. It’s another reminder of just how awful the life of the host of a Yeerk must be.

We also get another rough Melissa moment, when Jake and Ax discuss the fact that Melissa has been wandering the streets crying and calling for her dad while they have him tied to a chair and are threatening to torture him.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, a lot of this book is centered around the idea of Jake coming up with terrible plans due to being emotionally compromised. I guess three really stand out to me, though.

One, I get that the “capture Chapman” plan was meant to distract the Yeerks from Tom’s situation. And we have to assume it worked as nothing happens to Jake’s dad. But from a reader perspective, we have nothing really to base this on. We don’t see any Yeerk plans fall apart, and it ends up largely feeling unnecessary. Even a small thing, like seeing cars with Controllers who had been staking out Jake’s house pull away after hearing about Chapman would have been enough of a nod that something had changed because of this. But as it was, we never knew what/if the Yeerks had any plans for that night, so we can’t see any change when nothing happens.

Two, Marco’s plan in the end is good. Just injure Tom enough that he had to go back. So good in fact that it is kind of questionable that they didn’t think of this before. In the days leading up to them leaving, I feel like there had to have been a way they could have done something similar that would have forced Tom to stay home in the first place.

Lastly, why oh why is Tom still trying to kill Jake’s dad once they get to the cabin? I don’t quite get how murder is going to get him to a Yeerk pool any faster, and if it has to be murder, why it is so specifically the dad, when, as far as the Yeerk is concerned, anyone would do. Frankly, Tom is sharing a room with Jake. Easier to just murder your sleeping brother than anyone, if that’s really the plan. But again, why is this the plan at all? Even the Yeerk should have come up with the “break my own leg” way out of this.

Favorite Quote:

A good moment from Marco:

“You need to back off on this,” Marco said quietly. “You can’t make this call. Not about your dad and your brother.”

“You made it when it was your mom,” I said.

Marco shrugged.”Yeah, well, that’s me. If it’s any comfort to you, I’d like myself more if I was like you. But the question here is, how far do we go to protect your father?”

Also, a lighter moment, just after human!Ax has asked Mr. Chapman to go get Melissa about a homework assignment:

“Good,” Ax said. “She is my close friend and also classmate and thus this is a perfectly normal thing for me to do.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 7, Animorphs 12

No change! I think someone even notes that this had no effect on the larger war at hand. It was just a personal crisis for Jake himself.

Rating: I really liked this one. It was great to have another Tom-focused book, and this one really capitalized on the events of the previous book, playing with the differences between Marco and Jake in these similar situations. We see the aftermath for Marco’s character in going to the dark depths he did in his book, and Jake, too, has to confront the harsh realities of the situation with his brother. We know that his whole reason for joining this war was to save Tom, and for those of us who know the end, we know where that leads. This book is almost perfectly positioned in the middle of the series, and it’s an interesting point for the the story and Jake to come back around to Tom’s place in this war and what his life means in the scale of things and how that is changing as the war continues.

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 #30: “The Reunion”

363402Animorphs #30: “The Reunion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Marco is faced with a difficult decision when his mother threatens to seize control over Visser One.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: Didn’t remember much about this one either, other than the obvious fact that the “reunion” that drives the title was between Marco and his mother, Visser One. And then I started reading…and became very concerned. And kept reading…and was a bit less concerned. And then it actually kind of turned into a good book?

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But the beginning…man, it’s bad.

Marco decides to skip school and go downtown (for plot reasons cuz we’re literally given no other explanation.) He then just so conveniently happens to literally bump into his mother, Visser One, in the busy streets. What follows is a ridiculous series of events that in any other book would have never happened for so many reasons. At one point Marco morphs to a fly in the MIDDLE OF A FULL ELEVATOR but somehow we’re to believe that this is fine because he….puts a newspaper over his head? And then, after locating the office where his mother goes, fly!Marco gets sucked into an AC vent and ends up having to MORPH A HUMAN (whom he had conveniently acquired earlier to get into the building, somehow using the morphing trance to get through the door with him, claiming it was a “take your kid to work” day or something.) Again, there is zero reason for him to be morphing human when he could easily go back to bug. Not to mention the fact that when this happens, he’s alone in an office hiding behind a desk. A notably MUCH MORE HIDDEN spot than in the damn elevator where he just did this before. Whatever. He ends up back in the barn with the others and tells them that he found Visser One, and we can all pretend that this is the real start of the book since there’s almost a complete turn around in quality of the story after this point.

Jake quickly decides that they need to investigate this further, however he, Rachel, and Cassie are all out for a mission that night. This leaves Tobias, Marco, and Ax. Jake makes it clear that Marco is too close to this, and that because of this, Tobias has last say on what goes down. Later that night, the infiltrate the building in roach morph. After a wild ride down a stair banister, the small group make their way to the office. There, they see the horrifying image of a small Yeerk pool, portable Kandrona ray, and Marco’s mother, locked on her side with her ear in the pool. She’s free for a brief minute and Marco struggles not to go to her. They also notice satellite images of the free Hork Bajir in their valley. Before they can investigate further, the Yeerk reinfests Marco’s mother and the door is knocked down by Visser Three’s goons coming after Visser One.

Marco is not about to let his mother die at the hands of Visser Three, and he is able to spin it to Tobias that saving her could benefit them as well. Gorilla!Marco, Tobias, and Ax rush in and fight off the invading Hork Bajir. They manage to corner Visser One and get her talking. She reveals that she planned to find the free Hork Bajir and use that information as leverage to discredit Visser Three and regain her place on the Council of Thirteen. Visser One wants to strike a bargain: she will help them kill Visser Three, and the Animorphs will lead her to the free Hork Bajir. They agree, but Marco has a plan that will take out both Vissers and leave the Hork Bajir safe. They arrange to meet Visser One the next day.

As they fly away, Marco reflects on what it means to be ruthless and the fact that others have thought that of him in the past. Instead, he says that he is simply practical and sees a bright line between point A and point B. Through all the mess of worries & fears, the line is what drives his decisions. And that right now he sees a clear line, but one that will result in the death of his mother.

But for his plan to work, they need a specific morph. They fly to Cassie’s house and wake her up, asking where they can acquire goats morphs. She says there is a new mountain goat section at the Gardens, so the three make their way there and acquire the goats (not with out some knocks, of course).

The next day he begins to explain his plan and how it will result in them taking out both Visser Three and Visser one, while also convincing the Yeerks that they have destroyed the Hork Bajir colony. They will also need the help of Erek.

Using their best arrogant Andalite voice (Tobias is the best, having spent so much time with Ax), they instruct Visser One to go to the mall and buy mountain climbing gear. Various Animorphs keep an eye on her the entire time. They also assume that Visser Three will eventually spot her and send Controllers to follower her as well. Plus, they’re sure she has her own reinforcements.

As they head out, in the midst of a parlay between Visser One and Cassie, Visser One notes that there are significantly more Hork Bajir and Taxxon deaths in the casualty lists in the Yeerks’ fights with the “Andalites.” It is clear that she stumbles upon the truth, which only increases the stakes. No one can live who knows the truth.

In bug morphs, Marco, Jake, Cassie and Rachel stash themselves in her car, Tobias and Ax are waiting at the destination. Once they reach the mountain, they tell Visser One to start climbing. Jake tells everyone to go to bird morph. Rachel and Marco make it out of the car, but Jake and Cassie are still in the car morphing when Visser Three shows up in his limo and casually blows it up with a Dracon beam. Marco is the only one who sees it, and when he frantically calls for them, they don’t answer.

Sure that his friends are dead, Marco has no choice but to continue the mission, flying up the hill where he spots Tobias and Rachel in Hork Bajir morph meeting up with Visser One to “lead her to their valley.” As Marco continues to fly, he notes empty camp sites that look recently vacated. Ax has been successful at scaring away other innocents. When asked, he has to reveal to Tobias and Rachel the likely fate of Jake and Cassie.

The climb takes hours, with Tobias and Rachel having to slip away to re-morph every once in awhile. Far behind, osprey!Marco sees Visser Three and his Controllers making their way up after her, willing to let her live until she reveals where the free Hork Bajir have been hiding. On the way up, Visser Three morphs a new alien, one that is quite capable of climbing, and worse, has the ability to camouflage itself with its surroundings.

Marco demorphs and remorphs as a goat, and Ax meets back up with him in bird morph. Ax notes that the numbers are now not in their favor, with Visser Three having many more Controllers than they had anticipated. Marco snaps at him about not seeing any reinforcements anywhere. Ax then takes off. Goat!Marco zips up the mountain, quickly passing Visser One and arriving at the top near a cliff side with a sheer drop on three sides. When Visser one arrives, Marco “shows” her the Hork Bajir colony: Erek puts up a hologram of the Hork Bajir valley that has been “concealed” using another hologram in the mountainside. In a slip of tongue, Marco cracks a joke, even further confirming to Visser One that they are not Andalite warriors. What’s worse, Visser One is suspicious that she recognizes his voice and type of joke.

Visser Three is next to arrive. They both order their cloaked ships to attack. Visser Three with his Bug fighters and Blade ship and Visser One with a massive ship that Visser Three looks at with awe, calling it a Nova class Empire ship. He and Visser One go at it as well, each striking a hit on the other. Goat!Marco can’t stand it, and attacks Visser Three who shoots him in the leg. Visser One orders her ships to destroy the Hork Bajir colony and Erek  displays the valley’s destruction. However, the guns are still hitting a mountainside that in reality is much closer than a valley floor. A fissure cracks the ground, leaving Visser Three, his troops, and Hork Bajir!Rachel & Tobias on one side, and Visser One and Marco on the other.

Marco whispers that he loves her and Visser One instantly recognizes him as “the boy.” Goat!Marco charges her, but at the last minute a tiger!Jake knocks him aside and osprey!Cassie scrapes Visser One upside the head, preventing her from shooting Marco with the Dracon beam. Visser One overbalances and falls backwards off the cliff. The free Hork Bajir show up, lead by Ax, and the battle between the ships rages above. Marco is only dimly aware of any of it.

He stays in bed for the next week, watching TV and trying not to think. Jake shows up and explains that once Visser Three saw the free Hork Bajir arrive, he and his Controllers skedaddled, but five free Hork Bajir were lost in the battle. He also explains that when he and Cassie saw the limo arrive, they went straight to roach morph, assuming that nothing can kill a roach. Cassie made it all the way, but Jake was midmorph when the car blew up and was knocked unconscious. Cassie stayed by his side and was only able to wake him up a few minutes before the two hour time limit was up.

A few days later, Rachel visits. She says she didn’t see Visser One’s body. Marco says the Yeerks would have cleaned up after themselves. She says that there were scorch marks where they burned other dead Controllers, but there was nothing where Visser One fell. Marco remembers a Bug fighter roaring past. Maybe it was able to catch her? Marco snaps that he doesn’t want her pity, but Rachel notes that telling him she may still be alive is worse. If Visser One was dead, Marco’s already being going through the stages of hate and sadness. If she’s alive, he’ll have to confront the same decision all over again. With some hope, they sit in silence and watch TV.

The Comic Relief: Like I said earlier, this book is very weird in the way it is written. The first 25% of the book is frankly awful, probably the worst I’ve read so far. There are no explanations for Marco’s choices and the plot convenience factor is out of control. He makes stupid decision after stupid decision, two that are against the most cardinal rules that Animorphs have: don’t reveal yourself by morphing public & don’t morph human. And his reasons for doing each are incredibly poor.

But when the story actually gets into it, there’s some really good stuff here. Whenever teh story focuses on Marco’s situation with his mother as Visser One we’re going to see some pretty heart wrenching stuff. What makes it worse and different than Jake’s situation with Tom is both down to who is Controlling Marco’s mother and who Marco is himself. Obviously, Visser One is a much more dangerous and well-protected Yeerk than whomever is currently infesting Tom. This makes the equation of saving her vs taking her out very different. Tom’s loss would have zero impact on the Yeerk war at this point. However, taking out Visser One is worth almost any cost, including the life of Marco’s mother.

And Marco himself knows this. Jake, though we’ve seen him hardening himself more and more through each book, is still hopeful for Tom (again partially due to his unimportance all told). But one of Marco’s defining characteristics is his all-consuming practicality of thought. He himself identifies it as ruthlessness. His metaphor of the bright line and how it drives everything he does, is spot on not only for how we see him in this book, but for the decisions and reactions to situations that we’ve seen from him in the past. Rachel is ruthless in a reckless, sometimes mindless, way. Marco is ruthless in a cold, conniving way. He knows what he is doing and he chooses to do it over and over again. At one point in this book, he thinks about what the history books will say if the Animorphs manage to win this war. That this Marco guy was cold. So cold that he took out his own mother. And while Marco hates this idea, he never wavers from following his plan. Of course, he hesitates at the last minute on the mountain, even intervening when Visser Three attacks her. But at the last, when he’s in goat morph, he chooses to go through with it. Had tiger!Jake not hit him, he would have succeeded in knocking her off that cliff. Everyone questioned his ability to make the tough calls throughout this book, but this one act really proves that the cold, calculating Marco will follow that line no matter what.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a few really good moments in this. They’re small, but notable. One, when he first sends them to check out Visser One in the office building. He can sense Marco’s reckless energy and wisely puts Tobias in charge (yet more evidence for my “Tobias should be second in charge” theory.) Then, when Marco is explaining his plan to take out both Visser One and Visser Three, Jake doesn’t question him. When Cassie explodes, saying that they can’t let this happen, that this is Marco’s mother, Jake silences her. Not only does he recognize that this is Marco’s decision, but the leader in him knows that this is the right call, and that the sacrifice of his best friend’s psyche or ability not to self-loathe himself is a price that needs to be paid. But again, in the end, Jake takes it out of Marco’s hands, knocking her out of the way. Had Visser One not fallen herself, one wonders if Jake would have been the one to actually push her.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel comes down hard on Marco a few times in this book, about whether or not he’ll be able to take out his own mother. Most especially after she’s heard that Jake and Cassie are dead. Marco almost suspects that she will take out Visser One right then and there and is relieved when she doesn’t.

But, like in the last book with Visser One, it’s Rachel that takes the time to follow up on Visser One and give Marco hope. She checked out the mountain side in detail and tells Marco his mother might still be alive. There’s no mention that any of the others thought to do this. She also notes that she doesn’t fell that telling him this is a kindness, but that it’s just a fact. As she and Marco are often the two most prone to relying on facts over kindness, this makes a lot of sense. She also stays with him, not hugging but sitting with him. It’s a very sweet moment and speaks to a unique connection that the two of them have, for all of their  bickering in other stories.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias also has a lot of action in this book. Not only does he end up as the leader in the late-night office raid, but he also does much of the talking to Visser One since he talks to Ax the most and is most capable of mimicking his patterns of speech. His dialogue for all of this is pretty spot on. When he feels that Marco’s plans are going sideways, we get another fun look at sarcastic Tobias which is, of course, the best Tobias.  Then, of course, he’s with Rachel as one of the Hork Bajir that leads Visser One up the mountain.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie comes up with the mountain goat morph idea, and the fact that she is able to morph all the way to cockroach, unlike Jake, before the car is blown up is another example of her proficiency at morphing. It does seem like since she was in roach morph, she should have been able to let osprey!Marco know what happened instead of leaving him to think they were dead, so that’s strange.

When Marco first explains his plan to take out Visser One and Visser Three, she has this to say:

“She’s your mother!” Cassie exploded. “She’s not ‘Visser One.’ She’s your mother! Is everyone just going to let this happen?”

Jake sent her a cold look. “This is not the time, Cassie.”

It seems pretty inline with what we know of Cassie that she would be the one protesting this. After this bit, she goes on to say that they should be concerned about what state Marco will be in if they let this happen. And, as I mentioned in Jake’s section, he ignores her. It is a sign of her strong sense of friendship and concern for others, but on the other hand, she does make an already almost unbearable situation for Marco worse by having this outburst.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some funny moments being offended by the others’ versions of how arrogant Andalites talk, but it does seem pretty spot on. Throughout the book, it’s made clear that he’s on board for Marco’s plan mostly because of his ongoing mission to take out Visser Three, the killer of his brother, at any cost. While he feels bad for Marco, he’s also pretty cold about his priorities, regularly suggesting that they just take her out now.

He’s also the one to think to get the free Hork Bajir as backup when it becomes clear that they are outnumbered.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco mentions that Tobias’s morph from bird to cockroach is particularly horrifying, noting that roach wings begin to form out of the top of his bird head.

Mother Nature didn’t come up with a birdbug on her own for good reason.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot of couple action in this one, as per typical for Marco or Ax books. But there is a pretty interesting moment between Rachel and Tobias. After Marco has told them about Jake and Cassie, Rachel is pretty hard on Marco. She continues to pick at him throughout the trip up the mountain, until at one point Tobias quietly interrupts her and says “That’s enough” and she immediately stops. Marco notes that he is surprised that Tobias stood up to her as he doesn’t do it very often. I think it’s another nice example of how Rachel and Tobias work well together. He mostly respects and values Rachel for the bad-ass she is, but he is also not intimidated or scared of her, and feels comfortable enough to speak up when he thinks she’s crossed a line. And Rachel respects him enough to listen when he does.

Also, when the three wake up Cassie to get the goat morph, her first words are “Jake?” Marco has some fun teasing her about this.

I’ve already briefly noted my feelings on the secondary Marco/Rachel thing that seems to go on. And like I said in her section, it’s important I think that she was the only one to follow up on the fate of Visser One and the one to sit with Marco and provide hope and comfort in the end.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Man, Visser One is so much smarter than Visser Three. It takes her all of what, maybe a few hours total, talking to and interacting with the Animorphs to figure out their secret. And it wasn’t even first down to any slip up on their part. She’s done her research and noted the oddness of the casualty lists, information that is equally available to Visser Three. And then when Marco slips up, she’s quick to zero in on a familiar pattern to his voice, meaning she’s spent the time to learn and distinguish between individual humans. All told, the Animorphs are super lucky they ended up with a fool like Visser Three instead of her.

We also got another example of Visser Three losing his shit at one of his own Controllers.

Evidently encouraged by Visser Three’s seemingly tolerant mood, another human-Controller made the mistake of offering an opinion.

The end result is a missing arm. Probably should count himself lucky for that.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the entire last half? As I discussed in Marco’s section, his books that deal with his mother are always going to be rough. And here, unlike the last time, from the very beginning the plan is for her not to make it out of this, and it’s Marco’s plan on top of that. Throughout the entire story he struggles with what this says about him and about whether he’ll be able to pull it off in the end. And while he is able to, he is not able to stop himself from trying to give his Controlled mother one last bit of peace. He’s been reflecting this entire time on what he would say to his father when/if he found out, and what his mother would think if she knew what he planned. So, before charges, he tells her that he loves her. Not only does this confirm that the Animorphs are humans, but now Visser One knows WHO one of them is as well. And as we’ve heard about ad nauseum, once one is outed, it’s a quick step to the rest. But with all of the inner torment we’ve read for the entire book, it’s hard to fault Marco for this small moment of weakness right when he is making the worst decision anyone could be forced to make.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: With all that goes wrong, it’s hard to actually see what the original plan was. Just let Visser Three and Visser One duke it out? But this seems like a pretty bad plan, knowing they’ll both be bringing reinforcements, including massive space ships. It seems like a given that the Animrophs would get caught in the middle and be overwhelmed. Maybe they were just going to take off in bug morph and avoid the whole thing. Who knows.

The one part I really don’t get is the goat morph. It seems like a pretty blatant shoe-in for some editor being like “But they don’t get any new morphs in this! Add one!!” Not only is the goat morph not really necessary (Marco could have just flew to the top of the mountain and morphed something with power there), but it’s completely bizarre that they decided to go acquire these morphs in the middle of the night after returning from the city. There’s no real reason for the urgency, and it’s even stranger that then that leaves only the three of them with this morph. I mean, as I’ve said, it doesn’t seem like any of them really needed it. Ax and Tobias don’t even use it and there’s no clear point in the plan where it seems like they would have. And why wouldn’t they all get it and not just those three if there even was a purpose in having more than one goat. It’s pretty dumb.

Favorite Quote:

Oh, delusional Ax:

<It will certainly require good acting skills to imbue the fundamentally humble and dispassionate Andalite character with a taint of arrogance,> he said.

“Yeah. Humble is the very first word that comes to mind when I think ‘Andalite,'” Rachel said with a drawl.

Also, when Marco first realizes that his joke may have alerted Visser One to his identity and he starts panicking:

<It’s okay, Marco,> a gentle voice said. But not my mom. Rachel. <It’s okay, man. It’s okay.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 7, Animorphs 12

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks, specifically Visser One. By exposing themselves for longer periods and through talking to her, the Animorphs gave up their biggest secret to the most wily Yeerk they’ve run across. And what did they get for it? Nothing! Not a good day for our team.

Rating: If I was actually rating these books, I’d have a really hard time with this one. The Marco and Visser One stuff is excellent, just top notch. And the whole last half was action- packed and dramatic. But that first bit. It was so awful that I actually caught myself wondering if I had really forgotten this book and that this was another Ellimist/Crayak weird thing. Like, the Ellimist was somehow triggering Marco to do these things, because in any regular world, his actions were not only completely out of character but just stupid to read about. He successfully morphed a fly in an elevator full of people…really? REALLY?! We’ve been told it takes 2-3 minutes to morph and no one noticed a kid weirdly ducking down behind them and turning into a bug. Sure. Suuuurre. And then the blatant abuse of human morphing, again for no reason. I really can’t express how terrible I thought these opening chapters were.  But, like I said, the book turned a huge corner and by the end I was really enjoying it. I just have to not think about the beginning or the rage takes over again.

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!

Serena’s Review: “Honor Among Thieves”

30129657Book: “Honor Among Thieves” by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it

Book Description: Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.

Review: It’s been way too long since I’ve reviewed a sci fi novel on this blog. While I love the fact that YA fantasy fiction is booming, it does make me sad that sci fi fiction seems to have been left on the sidelines for the most part. I mean, you can have just as much fun in space as you can riding around on a horse with a sword! Arguably, more. I’ve also read a few of Rachel Caine’s books in the past, and the book description for this one, of a teenage girl forming a connection with a sentient ship/alien, sounded right up my alley!

So this book was a bit of a roller coaster for me. There were things that I really enjoyed. Things that I wasn’t expecting at all that I quite liked. And other things that kind of knocked me out of the story with too many questions about plausibility and the pacing of the plot.

To start with the things I really liked: the characters. Zara is a great leading lady and the authors walk the line fairly well in keeping with the hardness that has made up her life on the street, the trauma that still exists from her childhood, while also making her sympathetic, and more importantly, believable. Her harshness is well-grounded in past events, and as the story progresses and she forms a connection with Nadim and her fellow shipmate Beatriz, we see her not only begin to open up to those around her but begin to question her own understanding of friendship and loyalty and how damaged some of her past relationships really were.

Nadim was everything I could have wanted from a sentient ship/alien. He was sufficiently “other,” with his own biological quirks and distance from human concepts of gender and other social norms. As the story unfolds, we begin to unravel the mysteries of his species and see in what ways Nadim stands out from the other Leviathan. While his relationship with Zara and Beatriz are at the core of the story, we also see glimpses into the role he plays among his own people and social hierarchies that exist there. I particularly enjoyed the parallels between the Leviathan and whales, especially their unique relationship to sound and music.

Beatriz took me completely by surprise. As you can see in the book description, there is no indication that this isn’t just a Zara/Nadim story. Instead, the Honors program is set up to send two cadets into space with their own Leviathan, and Beatriz is Zara’s crew mate. We all know how much I love sisterhood/girl friendship stories, so I was thrilled when I realized that’s what was being set up here. What’s more, Beatriz is an excellent contrast to Zara. Originally, she struggles much more with the vastness of space and the otherness of Nadim. But she also brings unique strengths to the crew with her abilities as a pilot and masterful singing voice. What made this all the more interesting was the idea that while Zara and Nadim have a special connection, it is by no means the only connection that matters. Beatriz, too, is just as much a needed and valued member of this team. It really is more of a three-way relationship than a traditional romance, with each pairing having their own specific connections to each other.

My struggles with this book had a lot to do with the first third of the story. The pacing seemed off for much of the beginning, with Zara rushing through several different set pieces and action scenes before finally landing herself with Nadim. We have her on the streets! Then she’s caught! Now she’s in a facility! Now she’s famous! Finally out to space! It all zips by in only a few chapters. I get that the authors wanted to get to the good stuff, but the story might have been served better had these things been told in flash backs. As it stands, I felt off balance for the entire first third and had a hard time really connecting to the characters and the story because it was too busy jumping from one thing to another.

My other criticism also comes from this first bit and it’s a straight out plausibility issue. Again, I get that the authors wanted to get Zara to the ship as fast as possible and for her to go through most of her character growth through her experiences there. However, the way it is set up, we’re supposed to believe that all training and preparation for the Honors takes place over a single week. And that somehow, after that, they’re ready to go out on a year-long mission and manage complicated scientific and mathematical equations during their work. The way the Honors are chosen makes this even worse. It’s not like they’re coming from a pool of candidates who have all had rigorous training up to this point and could theoretically be made ready with a short turn around. No, this is just a random draw from the entire population and Zara herself has been living on the streets for years, with no education to speak of.

I would always have a problem with this set up, and it’s just made worse by the story its serving. I LIKED the science and action in this book. It’s a true science fiction story with discussions of the equations needed to pilot in space, the knowledge of natural science needed to explore new planets, and the machinery skills necessary to maintain a ship. But with each moment when these skills were necessary for their survival or the completion of a task, I was reminded of how impossible it would be for Zara and Beatriz to have learned any of this in only one week. So each time it came up, I was thrown out of the book. Again, maybe flashbacks to a longer training time period would have helped this. All I really needed was something saying that, say, even 6 months went by with blah blah boring training blah. Great! Now I can buy it! But as it stands, I had a real problem with it.

But those things aside, I still very much enjoyed this book. It reminded me of how awesome books in space can be, and it fully capitalized on the concept of a living spaceship forming a connection to its pilots. The action was suspenseful and varied, and the mysteries about the Leviathan that were answered and that still remain are enough to keep me reading. Plus, one can hope that now that we’re through the first book, in a second outing, I’d have less problems with their skill sets since maybe they just picked things up what with their time on the ship. If you like science fiction and are able to turn your brain off a bit, this is definitely one worth checking out!

Rating 7: Plausibility issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of teenagers in space with a living ship!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Honor Among Thieves” is a newer title, so isn’t on many relevant Goodrads lists, but it is on  “Teenagers . . . IN SPACE!”

Find “Honor Among Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-read: Megamorphs #3 “Elfangor’s Secret”

363419Megamorphs #3: “Elfangor’s Secret”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs are given the power to pursue eighteen-year-old Henry– a human Controller who has discovered Elfangor’s Time Matrix–through time, but one Animorph must pay for this power with his life.

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: What I remembered from this book:

  1. Tobias/Rachel kiss
  2. buc1lidogce01

The story starts out in the barn with our favorite team. But wait, is it our favorite team? Rachel’s not there, and instead Melissa is a member of the team. Jake is a burgeoning sociopath who is a hair’s breath away from turning in Cassie for being sympathetic towards her…slaves? And Ax’s opinion’s don’t matter. He’s just some dirty alien, anyways. The entire unpleasant scene is suddenly interrupted by the Drode. Everyone is back to themselves, and Rachel is once again there (turns out that in the other timeline she had been sent to some type of reform camp for being too aggressive for a woman). The Drode informs them that what they just experienced was the result of a Controller, specifically Visser Four, getting his hands on the Time Matrix that was discovered at the old construction site where they all met Elfangor. Crayak and Elfangor have once again struck a sort of deal with the Animorphs at the heart of it. They will be given a special connection to the Time Matrix that will allow them to time jump with Visser Four to try and re-capture it from him and undo his changes to history. But there’s a price: the life of one of the Animorphs.

Cassie and Marco know who the most likely casualty will be: Jake, with whom Crayak has a particular beef. But, at the same time, letting the future they so briefly experienced go forward is unacceptable. They vow to protect Jake, and the team agrees to the mission and terms. And so the time jumping commences!

Agincourt: The team find themselves in what seems like the middle ages, between two armies (French and English) that are about to go at it with horses, spears, and bows and arrows. Rachel and Cassie almost get taken out by an errant knight before they all manage to reconvene. From there, they begin looking for Visser Four. They realize that the best way to spot him will be to look for someone who is NOT covered in fleas and has terrible teeth. They finally do, just as the two armies collide. He’s in a tree aiming an arrow at the English king. Tobias manages to snag it out of the air. Rachel, Marco, and Cassie almost gets trampled in the fighting, but horse!Jake and HorkBajir!Tobias rescue them in the nick of time. Ax almost catches Visser Four and the Time Matrix in a local bell tower, but he manages to jump at the last minute.

Delaware River: It’s night, it’s cold, and it’s raining. And George Washington and co. are about to cross the Delaware. In human form, Marco and Jake end up on a boat alongside him when it all goes wrong. Visser Four had already warned the Hessians on the other side that they were coming, and a volley of bullets sprays across the boats. Jake falls, a bullet hole in his head. The team panics. Marco tries to hold onto Jake, but he falls into the river. Dolphin!Cassie tries to collect his body. Rachel insists that Ax attack the Hessians for killing Jake.  In the chaos, they all jump again.

Battle of Trafalgar: The team is on a ship. They’re all still reeling from the loss of Jake and trying to find their way. Dolphin!Cassie gives up hope and heads out to sea. Marco and Ax fight their way up from the brig. Up above, Tobias and Rachel spot Visser Four. Chimp!Rachel follows him up onto the crow’s next, but just then canons begin firing. Rachel falls, blown in half by a canon ball. Back below decks, Marco and Ax almost nab the Time Matrix again, but just miss as Visser Four sets an explosion that blows up the ship. Another jump.

Princeton: Cassie and Tobias find themselves on what appears to be the campus of Princeton. But the American flag is not flying. Washington was killed crossing the Delaware, and America doesn’t exist. Cassie is done with all the death, morphs polar bear, and lays the smack down on a passing college student when he expresses some racist opinions. Suddenly, Marco and Rachel (!) show up. The team realize that the rules of this mission were that one, and only one, of the Animorphs would die. Are they all now invulnerable? They wring more news out of the terrified student and realize that Visser Four was likely here to kill Einstein. But history has already changed so much that he miscalculated. Einstein isn’t even here. The team realizes that their plans  need to change.  History has already been too damaged by Visser Four. They need to get back the Time Matrix for themselves, change history back, maybe even get back Jake. Time jump!

D-Day: Several of the Animorphs experience the unique horror of charging the beaches and seeing hundreds of soldiers gunned down. Ax is particularly horrified by the violence. In small morphs, they are able to escape the rain of bullets. As birds from above, they see a line of tanks making their way towards the beaches. They realize that the French are on the side of the Germans, yet more proof that the timeline has been changed in crazy ways. In an attempt to get at Visser Four, HorkBajir!Tobias gets shot in the chest, but miraculously just stands right back up, confirming their theory that they can’t die. Eagle!Rachel takes out a tank with a hand grenade, but afterwards, realizing that so much is different, has a panic attack after realizing that it is no longer clear who the bad guys are. In this timeline, Hitler is just an old man driving a truck. They manage to finally nab Visser Four and the Time Matrix, but the host body is too injured to survive for long. The Yeerk makes a break for it, but Marco manages to grab it. None of them want to be the one to kill it, so Marco takes one for the team and throws the Yeerk into the fire that was the tank. With the Time Matrix now in their hands, they debate what to do. Cassie is the one to come up with the solution: she asks the man whom Visser Four had Controlled where his parents met.

The 60s: They then time travel to that point to break up the meeting, figuring that if his parents never met, then he would never exist and Visser Four would never Control him and discover the Time Matrix. While they are waiting, they discuss the horrors that they saw and that at every point in history they visited, people were senselessly killing each other. They debate whether or not they could do more to change the world, making it a more peaceful place. While they are talking, several hippies wander by and are impressed by the Time Matrix itself. Suddenly, they are back in the barn.

They realize that one of the hippies admiring the Time Matrix had been the would-be mother and that her distraction had resulted in her missing meeting the would-be father. What’s more, Jake is back, alive and well, not remembering anything after their attempted crossing of the Delaware. The world may not be better, but it seems that at least things are back to the way they were.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake gets the short straw as he is out of the story fairly early on and misses much of the action. We have some good leadership moments from him, particularly during their first time jump when Cassie, Rachel, and Marco are in the middle of the battlefield about to be trampled at any moment. Tobias is going crazy with worry about Rachel, not wanting to focus on Visser Four at all, and just go in after her. Jake reminds him that Cassie is down there too, but that just wildly going after them will not get them anywhere. His calm, even in the midst of crisis, is really highlighted.

While I like the tie-in to Jake and Crayak’s particular beef when it comes to the likelihood that Jake will be the one to die, it also lowers the stakes quite a bit. There are a few of the Animorphs who, theoretically, we might have bought as actually being killed off in this book. Rachel or Tobias are probably the most likely candidates. But with Jake, there’s never any question that he’ll be back somehow.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is at her reckless/brave best (worst?) in this book. In their very first jump, she and Cassie end up in a tight spot with a few knights when Rachel’s go-to response of morphing elephant doesn’t turn out so well. Though I did, as always, love the Cassie/Rachel scene!

<See, Ax? Told you it was Rachel. Any time you hear a bunch of screaming and see people running, you’re going to find our girl Rachel somewhere close by.> [Tobias]
“Very funny,” Rachel said. ” They started it. Cassie: Tell them who started it!”

Later, she has a really cool scene taking out the tank with the hand grenade, though it is questionable later whether this was necessary. Mostly, she was just gungho to take out Nazis. But once she realizes that the French were teamed up with Germany in this timeline, she begins to understand that she doesn’t know whether they were the enemy or not in this scenario. It’s a really small scene, but it does highlight Rachel’s own knowledge and fear of her recklessness. She’s scared by herself in this way.

But, as I’ve pointed out in the past, she’s also, again, the first one to go into danger to try to save one of the others. This time, she’s the first to try to save Marco when he gets stuck in the middle of the battlefield in the first jump.

A Hawk’s Life: This whole book is a perfect example of why Tobias should use his Hork Bajir morph more often. He uses it to great success multiple times within this book. It doesn’t hurt that the clearly alien morph is sure to freak out any nearby people, thus clearly the way quite effectively without having to even do anything.

He also has another impressive hawk moment when he catches the arrow that Visser Four is shooting straight out of midair.

Tobias is also particularly vehement about taking out Hitler in the D-Day jump. Cassie tries to talk him down, pointing out that they don’t know who he has become in this new version of reality, but through a series of events, HorkBajir!Tobias does end up killing him, rather accidentally. As everything gets undone, it doesn’t matter one way or the other, but now Tobias can brag that he did in fact kill Hitler at one point.

tumblr_inline_oh0uyq9du11s7x432_500
Tobias and Dean Winchester, getting it done.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie gets a lot of chapters in this book. As I discuss in Marco’s section, she and Marco have a unspoken plan to protect Jake. When they don’t succeed, Cassie succumbs to a moment of weakness and tries to flee out into the ocean in dolphin morph. Obviously this doesn’t work out, and she finds herself tugged along in the next jump anyways. It’s also nice to see her get mad and take things into her own hands when it comes to dealing with the racist guy in the Princeton jump.

She’s also the one to come up with the plan for out to set things right in the end. She’s not outright “killing” anyone, but her plan does result in the end, or more like, lack of existence, of a man’s life.

The Comic Relief: This is one of the first books where we’ve really seen a strong connection between Cassie and Marco. In the very beginning, when the Drode is laying out the situation, Marco is resistant to agreeing. It doesn’t take long for Cassie to realize why and for the two of them to come to an unspoken agreement about not letting Crayak take Jake. It’s nice seeing them both recognize the special relationship they each have with Jake. Rachel, too, has a close connection with him, but, as we’ve seen, she and Jake have a bit more of a fraught relationship than the BFF relationship that Marco has or the quasi-dating relationship of Cassie.

It’s also worth highlighting that Marco is the one to ultimately kill Visser Four. He tries to pass it off as a casual thing, but this is only marginally successful. But it does show that he is also willing to shoulder the burden when it is clear no one else is capable of it. Given their ultimate plan, though, I don’t know why this was so much of a concern. They change the timeline for the man he was Controlling, but it seems as if the Yeerk Visser Four would be alive and well back in their new timeline, so his “death” here is rather meaningless.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: After the Hessians shoot Jake, Rachel orders Ax to take them out. He tries to argue that they are innocent (at least of meaning to take out Jake specifically), but in the end, he goes for it. Throughout the rest of the story, we see this decision continue to haunt him.

On the beaches on D-day, he has a similar moment to Cassie’s where he thinks to just flee. He is horrified by the violence all around him, and struggles again to understand the duplicity of humanity, that people like his friends can exist yet throughout history humans just seem to kill each other. He is even more horrified when he learns the reasons for this particular war and what happened to the Jews.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There’s so much actual action taking place in this one, that we get a lot fewer descriptions of disgusting morphs. That said, this has to be one of the most violent books we’ve seen, made worse that it is drawing from history. Rachel’s death is probably the most gruesome. Her chimp body is literally blown in two and as she falls, she sees the remaining half of her own body still hanging from the ship’s masts. Then we switch perspectives to Tobias and get to have even more lovely descriptions of her blown apart body.

Couples Watch!: As I said, one of my big memories of this one was the Tobias/Rachel kiss. Once again they are blowing Cassie/Jake out of the water as far as relationship goals go. Tobias thought she was dead for like fifteen minutes, but the minute he sees her, he runs to her and kisses her. Cassie thinks Jake is dead for quite a long time, but when he shows back up in the barn, everyone’s kind of like “Oh, hey there!’ and Cassie casually kisses him on the cheek while talking about the philosophy of time and humanity. Romantic it is not. Seriously, what is with these two??

“Whoa,   Cassie!   That   is   so   Rachel,”   Marco   said. [Cassie in polar bear morph threatening the Princeton guy].   I   recognized   the   voice immediately. He’d come up behind us.

“Really,” Rachel said. “What are you doing? Stealing my act?”

“Rachel!”  Tobias  yelped.  And  a  millisecond  later  he  had  spun  around, grabbed her, and kissed her. Then he held her back at arm’s length.”You’re dead!”

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Four is obviously the big bad in this. But we never really get to know much about him. Throughout the book he’s seen more as a distant figure that they are chasing, and the few interactions they have with him are pretty typical Yeerk boasting.

“So. The Andalites pursue me still,” he sneered. “I was careless. I did not expect to be pursued. But I’ll be careful now. Yes. And you know what? It’s better this way. I have the power now! I have the POWER!”

More telling, when John Barryman is finally freed from the Yeerk, he is astonished and amazed that they are all just kids. He mentions how much the Animorphs are driving the Yeerks, and especially Visser Three, absolutely crazy trying to catch them. He tells them they’re heroes. Probably something they needed to hear about now.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Ax’s complete bewilderment and horror at the violence throughout human history really struck home. There’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene on the beaches when he witness a man get shot, and then sees a army doctor run up to try and help him and the doctor is shot too. All while trying to help a solder whose injuries were to dire to begin with.

Jake’s death, while not really worrying as something that will stick, is made more poignant because of Cassie and Marco’s silent agreement to protect him and how suddenly and completely they failed. In many of the other books, we see them get horrific injuries and then slowly start dying but have the time still to morph out to save themselves. Here, Jake is shot in the head. He’s dies in a second and there was absolutely nothing Cassie or Marco could have done about it. It really hits home how dangerous the war with the Yeerks is. This same thing could happen at any moment in their ongoing war, and the others would be equally helpless to stop it, and wouldn’t have a convenient time loop hole to get them out of it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Really, the fact that they were even for a second discussing messing around with the Time Matrix more than just trying to set things right. They’ve already seen how even the smallest changes have had huge repercussions on the world. How could they ever think they could figure out this impossible puzzle in a way that wouldn’t be disastrous somehow? And it’s not like this is even their first experience with time travel! In the last megamorphs book with the dinosaurs, they saw how fragile the balance was for things to need to happen in a very specific way to get to the world they knew. Plus, you have to assume that any further messing around with time would have been put to a quick stop by either (or both!) Crayak or the Ellimist.

Favorite Quote:

There’s quite a bit of dark stuff and deep, timey-wimey musings, but, as always, Marco quips win the day:

“Oh, man, the colors, man!” A “hippie” had come up to admire the Time Matrix’s shimmering globe.

“Right, the colors, whoa! Cool! Go away. We’re trying to figure out the space-time continuum here,” Marco snapped.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

I’m not going to change the score for this one. Like the other megamorphs books, this one kind of exists on the sidelines of the main plot, so there aren’t any long-lasting repercussions from their success here.

Rating: I still really enjoyed this one. I forgot about Marco and Cassie’s mini alliance, and all the details of the historical time periods they visited. I had completely forgotten how this book started out, just dropping readers into the other timeline. I was pretty confused at first since I know the last megamorphs deals with an alternate reality and I started questioning whether I had somehow gotten the order mixed up and that was this one. And, of course, I’m going to love any book with good Tobias/Rachel moments!

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 #29: “The Sickness”

8036147Animorphs #29: “The Sickness” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs’ alien friend Ax is in trouble. He’s come down with a virus called “yamphut”, and it’s making him very sick. The Animorphs discover the virus could be deadly–but they can’t take an “alien” to the hospital. They need to come up with a plan–or lose their friend forever.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot:

Reading the plot description, I remembered that this was the one where everyone got sick and somehow Aftran, the Yeerk Cassie has a soul-search with back in book #19 (“Serena’s RAGE book,” as I’ve come to think of it), was somehow involved. But I am happy to report…

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You know, Cassie books/T-rex attacks…the same! But no, this one was legitimately not as bad as others. (source)

The story starts out with actually a fairly long portion of the kids in real life doing real kid things. Like Cassie and Jake continuing to be ridiculous with their burgeoning relationship when it comes to school and dances. With some kicks to the butt offered by Rachel, the team all end up at the dance with the various couples all pairing up. As they dance, Rachel and Cassie notice Ax growing a sudden protuberance on his head: a stalk eye! The group rush him out of the gym, all while frantically trying to cover up his emerging Andalite bits. Ax is also delirious and mumbling incoherently.  In the hall, Ax makes a wild bolt for it just as Chapman and a teacher, Mr. Tidwell, come around the corner. Mr. Tidwell takes one look at Ax and quickly tells Chapman that Ax must have been drinking, and crab-walks Ax back towards the group. The others grab Ax away as Marco and Rachel try to convince Tidwell that Ax is just sick and they need to take him home. But as they try to get past him to the door, Ax’s tail shoots out and whacks Tidwell on the head.

Tidwell grabs Cassie and walks her back down the hall. There, he confesses that he knows Ax is an Andalite. What’s more, Mr. Tidwell is a Controller, but not just any Controller. He and the Yeerk in his head are part of the Yeerk Peace Movement organized by none other than Aftran, the Yeerk Cassie saved way back when. But Aftran has been captured and Visser Three is on his way to interrogate her personally, likely exposing all of the Animorphs in the process. For now, she’s being held in the Yeerk pool, but Tidwell insists that Cassie and her friends have to rescue her, for the sake of themselves and the entire Yeerk Peace Movement.

Cassie rejoins the group and they manage to get Ax back to Cassie’s barn. There, in a moment of clarity, Ax explains that Yamphut, a disease that infects the Tria gland in his brain and can cause it to explode. The only way to save him will be to remove the gland when his temperature goes back down. Yamphut is also contagious to humans, but in them it just presents as a common flu.

Cassie then also explains about Aftran. Marco and Rachel are particularly harsh about reminding her that it was her choice to give them all up to Aftran that lead them to being in this current situation. They decide they need to get into the Yeerk pool tonight, hopefully returning before Ax’s temperature dips to the crisis point. In the meantime, they call in Erek to hang out with Ax in the barn, projecting a hologram of an empty stall so Cassie’s parents don’t discover him.

But to get into the Yeerk pool, they now need to get past the new security system that attacks all biological life that isn’t controlled by a Yeerk. Marco has the idea to use the sewer system, reasoning that the Yeerk pool is like an entire city, so there must be plumbing connecting it to the outside world. Tobias then comes up with the idea of using an eel morph and he retrieves one from a local bait shop that he knows of. With Erek’s map of the city plumbing system in their minds, the team find themselves up in water tower, ready to use the extra force of the water to propel them where they need to go.

In eel morph, the team rush down the pipes. It’s a wild ride with them barely making all of the turns they need to. Suddenly, Jake is sucked into the wrong pipe. Forming a line, the others manage to pull him back out. But they realize that something is wrong with him, that he has come down with the same sickness. After some debate about whether they should split up, they all decide they have to abort the mission. They manage to ride the strongest currents they can find and end up getting shot out of a fire hose and into a burning building. There, they all de-morph and re-morph birds to escape. Jake, now violently sick, heads home with Cassie and Marco to help him.

The next day at school, Rachel is no where to be found. Turns out she came down with the “flu” last night as well. Mr. Tidwell catches up with Cassie in the hall. He explains how dire the situation is becoming, Visser Three has moved up his visit, and that the other Yeerk Peace Movement members can’t do much. Many of them don’t have hosts (since they are committed to finding hosts that want to team up with them) and many of the others, like Tidwell, are in bodies that can’t fight. Desperate, Cassie comes up with a new plan: they can morph Yeerks.

On the way home, Marco, too, gets sick. But he also points out the one flaw: what happens if they do save Aftran? She’ll just die of starvation. Back in the barn, Tobias says that Ax’s temperature continues to drop. He then flies off to check on the other patients, which Cassie reads as him wanting to go check on Rachel. Cassie looks around the barn for tools, mentally preparing herself for the fact that she’s going to have to do brain surgery on Ax eventually. As she gathers things, Tobias swoops back in, but he’s clearly not well and accidentally flies into a rafter, knocking himself out. He’s sick too. Cassie picks him up and puts him in a cage, figuring that her parents will think they just have one more rescued animal.

Cassie bikes to Mr. Tidwell’s house. There she puts her plan in action. Tidwell’s Yeerk comes out, Cassie acquires him, and begins the morph. In Yeerk form, she’s blind and deaf, but does have a sort of sonar. Tidwell picks her up and put her to his ear where she slithers in. She connects to his brain and regains her senses. It takes her a bit to figure out how to move Tidwell, who’s voice she can hear urging her to hurry up. She also can see all of his memories and feels ashamed that she is essentially violating his privacy.

Tidwell!Cassie then makes her way to the local McDonald’s, one of the known Yeerk pool entrances, hiding the original Yeerk on her person. She gains entrance and successfully gets past the security system. The Yeerk pool is as horrifying as ever. At the peer, she releases the Yeerk and slithers out of Tidwell’s ear herself. In the pool she is able to locate Aftran just as Visser Three arrives to collect her. She manages to demorph to human and then remorph as an osprey, the only bird morph she has that dives into water so can handle flying while wet. She grabs Aftran and barely manages to escape the pool. Conveniently, another Controller is entering up in the McDonald’s, so she is able to escape out before the security system fries her.

Back at the barn, Ax has reached his crisis and Cassie must operate. She quickly decides to have Aftran Control Ax so that she can tell Cassie from inside where exactly in Ax’s brain the Tria gland is located. Together, they are able to successfully remove the gland. Ax awakens just as Aftran exits and is horrified that he was infested. But now Cassie has another challenge: what to do with Aftran?

A few days later, the team are all recovered and walking along the beach. Out in the ocean, a humpback whale leaps before heading out to sea. They all agree that they used the blue box the right way this time. They let Aftran gain morphing powers if she agreed to trap herself in a morph. Whale!Aftran is now free.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This book definitely played to some of Cassie’s strengths. More so than most of the other characters, Cassie is probably the best character to describe what their lives are like as ordinary kids. Through her eyes, we’ve seen a lot more scenes of what school is like for the group and the various dynamics that exist between them outside of missions. Here, there were some very nice moments where Cassie was just an ordinary teenage girl, feeling awkward about her quasi-relationship with Jake and the fact that none of the girls at school know they are together (or even believe it could ever be possible!) So small moments, like her pride when they dance together, are just very sweet.

I also like the fact that we finally have circled back around to the aftermath of her decisions in book #19 when she left Aftran infest her and exposed them all. Here, she is much less confident that this was in fact the right choice. She admits that it felt right then, but the situation that they’re in now calls that all into question. There’s a very real possibility that they will all be exposed and killed simply because of that choice. Even with Aftran’s cooperation, here, Cassie sees that she is still a risk point for the group. She never outright regrets her decision in that book, but I like the fact that here she had to confront the reality of that choice a bit more head on. Also, when she is alone right before the mission, she is forced to leave Ax right before it seems like he is going to hit his crisis. She tells him that she has to save the group first, and tells Erek that if things go south, he has to just let Ax die rather than expose them. These are hard choices, but it’s nice to see Cassie confront them. Though, again, this calls into question my ongoing frustration with her character. She is completely inconsistent in her decision making and ability to prioritize individuals and her morals and the entire group/world. Sometimes she’s willing to throw everything away to make a stand on something, like quitting the team and telling Aftran their secrets, or letting the aliens re-direct the asteroid in Megamorphs #2. And at others, she’s willing to make the tough calls. I dunno. It just feels like I never know which Cassie I’m going to get.

But there’s no denying the coolness of her ability to successfully perform brain surgery on Ax. The idea of using Aftran to get a sense of things was great, but it still rested on her ability to pull it off. Without Cassie, Ax definitely would have been done for, as no other member of this group could have done what she did here.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake is out of commission very early in this book, which makes sense. In order to sow the most confusion, you have to take away calm, collected, Jake. Even in the midst of his burgeoning illness, when they’re in the pipes as eels, the others still are relieved when he manages to come to enough to tell them what to do.

Xena, Warrior Princess: It’s always fun to see Cassie and Rachel at school, and here Rachel takes things into her own hands about Cassie/Jake’s secret relationship. It also becomes clear that there is an unspoken hierarchy in leadership within the group. When it first becomes clear that Jake is getting sick, Rachel immediately steps into the leadership role. There’s some snark, but they all seem to kind of agree that this is right. And I know there’s a later book that focuses on this point, too. Other than that, she gets sick second, so doesn’t have too much to do.

A Hawk’s Life: When Ax gets sick at the school, while the others all fret about whether or not Mr. Tillman saw him, Tobias is the one clearly most worried about just Ax, forget everything else. He also gets sick, and I think it’s understood that this is because he is in human morph when Ax first comes down with it, and thus susceptible to infection.

As we’ll see in Marco’s section, he’s third in line for leadership, after Jake and Rachel. So leadership goes Jake, Rachel, Marco…? But honestly, given what we’ve seen from past books, I’d say leadership should go Jake, Tobias, Marco/Rachel, Ax, Cassie. Tobias has proven himself to be the most even-keeled of the group, he’s a good strategist (as proven in his book with the Hork Bajir valley), and he’s willing to make the tough calls (as seen in Megamorphs #2). Marco is probably the only one who would prove a problem, just because they tend to clash with Tobias not really appreciating Marco’s cynical outlook on things. But other than that, I think he’s a strong candidate for the role. I put Marco and Rachel together because, as we see in her book, this is kind of a tough role for her to fill. So Marco might make a bit more sense, simply because he’s a more level-headed player. But, it should be said, a big part of leadership is simply stepping up, unasked. Tobias has done it in the examples I gave above. And Rachel does it here, and will do it later. So it’s a tie.

The Comic Relief: Marco has some good lines in this book, and it is notable that he (along with Rachel) is the most critical about Cassie’s past decision with Aftran that lead to them being in this tough situation. He also comes up with the eel plan, which is clever, if not fully thought out. After Rachel goes down sick, Marco asks Cassie if this means that he’s now in charge.

In a nice reminder to Marco’s particular hatred of David, when they are on the beach in the end discussing their use of the blue box, we get this exchange:

“We made the right decision,” Jake said. “Better than the last time we used the blue box.”

“Would have been hard to do any worse,” Marco said.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax. It’s never really explained how he was exposed to this disease, but it seems kind of like the Andalite version of appendicitis. Some gland becomes painful and if it bursts, bad things follow. Of course, the tension must be raised by placing this gland in his brain. And then, in the midst of fever dreams, he’s the only one who can even marginally explain what is going on. Beyond that, he’s still a kid! Imagine some teenage boy trying to tell a doctor how to operate on him for appendicitis! Ax is also completely horrified when he discovers Aftran in his head immediately after waking up; he even goes so far as to say he wishes Cassie had just let him die. Cassie does a good job slapping some sense in him, but I don’t remember if Ax ever refers to this in future books. But it seems like something I’d want to hear his thoughts on.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Cassie morphing the Yeerk was particularly bad. She describes it as first having a layer of mucus ooze out of her pores until it covers her entire body, and then rest of her just kinds of melts away. But…mucus….all over body…I mean, I guess the process of morphing Yeerks should be one of the worst, and if that was the goal, then well done! Also, the process of infesting Mr. Tillman. Obviously the Yeerk instincts are fine with this, but I imagine there’s a pretty disturbing element to the thought of climbing into another human’s head through their ear, when you’re a human yourself only in morph.

Couples Watch!: Cassie has a very real teenage girl moment when she’s dancing with Jake, reveling in the fact that the other girls will now see that shy, animal-poop-covered Cassie is the one who gets to be with fairly popular Jake. Cassie also acknowledges the fairly official relationship status between Rachel and Tobias, hoping that they can get away to dance, too. And then later, she knows that it is really Rachel, not “the others,” that Tobias wants to check on when he flies off.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three makes his token appearance towards the end, and it has to be one of the shortest cameo’s we’ve gotten from him one of these. He does make a very good point about osprey!Cassie’s escape while being shotat my multiple Controllers at the end:

<Would it be asking too much for one of you to actually hit something?!!> I heard Visser Three roar.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much! We all knew Ax was never in any real danger at this point, so while it was a good motivation for events, it didn’t have a lot of emotional impact. The scene of whale!Aftran was probably the most emotional bit of the book.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There were some clever plans here, mostly Cassie coming up with the idea to use Yeerks as a morph to get into the pool, and then getting Aftran to help with the brain surgery. But man, that eel morph plan was not well thought out. I mean, it’s a cool idea and props to Marco for having the creativity to come up with it, but what was the end game there? How exactly were they going to get out, and with Aftran in toe none the less?? Even Cassie’s plan failed to have an exit strategy, and the fact that she wasn’t shot is pretty unbelievable.

Favorite Quote:

Mandatory Rachel/Marco banter:

“I just had a thought,” Marco said.
“I’ll buy you a card to commemorate the moment.” Rachel, of course.

In the very beginning, when Marco and the others are discussing just going to the dance like regular kids:

“Oh, man,” Marco moaned.

“What?”

“Every time we try to do something nice and normal it ends up turning out nasty and weird,” he said. “Every single time.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change! It’s a big win for the Animorphs to just survive this situation, but as far as actual damage goes, there’s not a big change. The Yeerk Peace Movement is a good thing to now have, and maybe indirectly through Cassie and Aftran, the Animorphs are responsible for it, but not much.

Rating: For the most part I did enjoy this book. I really liked the follow-up on the Aftran situation and the introduction of the Yeerk Peace Movement. Cassie, too, has some good moments in this story. I do wonder at these choices to continue to give Cassie books where she is isolated from the rest of the team for some reason or another. She simply doesn’t have the strongest voice of the group. Her narration is usually pretty straightforward and not very nuanced. She’s simply not as interesting to read about as say Marco, Ax or Tobias. So it’s strange that she seems to routinely get books where she’s all by herself and much of the story’s appeal (or lack there of) is left to her characterization. Obviously this is a story that had to belong to Cassie, and if it was the only example of her as an isolated character in these books, then fine. But this is like the 3rd book where she’s mostly on her own for a lot of it, and it’s just not the best.

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 #28: “The Experiment”

286582Animorphs #28: “The Experiment” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are ready to control humans where it counts — in their DNA. They’re working on a drug that saps humans of their free will. But the Animorphs show them that human free will runs deeper than any drug can reach.

Narrator: Ax

Plot: I have clear memories of the cow portions of this book, but as I discovered reading this again, that’s only, like, that last third of the whole thing! So let’s get started on all the rest of the book that I had somehow completely forgotten!

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“Supernatural” totally stole this plot line with the whole “poison the burgers to make them susceptible” idea. (source)

Ax has built himself a scoop and also managed to get a TV. He and Tobias now have an afternoon ritual of watching some good, old quality “The Young and the Restless.” One afternoon, Marco shows up, bored, looking for mall trip buddies. On the way, they run in to Erek who has a possible mission. Apparently the Yeerks have been involved in some animal testing facility. The Chee don’t know what they’re doing, but with the Yeerks, it’s always safe to say it’s bad.

The group meets up in the barn and decide that yes, of course they must check it out. They all fly over to scout the place out. The building is highly fortified behind an invisible force shield that has been frying any animal that gets too close. But as they scout, they see a van pull up full of chimpanzees. There’s their in. The next day, Ax and Tobias scout out the route that the van with the chimps takes and note that it goes through a very long tunnel. And thus a very insane plan is sprung!

Together, all of the Animorphs in bird morph dive bomb the truck just as it heads into the tunnel. There, they all demorph and form a human chain, lowering Cassie down to open the back of the truck. They all jump in and quickly acquire the chimps. At a stop light, they release the other chimps (this doesn’t go well for some passing cars), and lock themselves in instead. At the facility, they are all carted into another room that is full of other caged chimps. Cassie demorphs to let them out, but just then they hear none other than Visser Three approaching down the hall. She races back to her cage and begins remorphing. To distract Visser Three and the others, they, of course, throw poo at him. Enraged, he leaves and they overhear him saying to release the Taxxons on the chimps, as that stage of testing is finished anyways. In chimp morph, the Animorphs release the others and fight off the Taxxons, making their way out of the facility. However, the mission is a success and they learn that the “next stage” of whatever is going on is taking place a meat packing plant.

Again, the next day Tobias and Ax scout out the plant. Later, in the barn, they report on what they found. While not covered with a force field, the plant is using the same Gleet BioFilters that now guard the entrances to the Yeerk pool, making it impossible to get in as anything but the poor, doomed cattle. The steer, however, are kept in a field some distance away. Cassie, however, comes up with a solution. Two of them morph steer, and the rest hide up in the steer’s nostrils as flies: organisms within other living creatures don’t trigger the BioFilters. Jake decides that Ax and Tobias will morph the steer, as they can demorph without revealing that they’re all humans if things go south.

That night, Marco, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax head out to acquire the morphs. While there, they have a close run-in with a few drunken cow tippers. Ax tries to disguise himself as a cow, but they spot him, and it’s only with some quick tail blade action that he able to knock them out.

The next day, they all head back to the field. Tobias and Ax aren’t concerned about the morph, as, obviously, cows are pretty docile. That is until they actually do the morph and realize that while they acquired steer, the DNA was that of bulls, so that’s what they become. Cassie is barely able to stop them from charging each other or her. But they now have a problem: any transport unit will definitely notice the fact that their cargo are bulls, and will call in about it. Jake has another brilliant plan: Marco driving, take two! Gorilla!Marco knocks out the two men when they arrive with the truck. Jake, being fairly tall, puts on the uniform of the passenger with the clipboard to confirm their cargo at the checkpoint. And gorilla!Marco, puts on what clothes he can manage (he’s too short to reach the truck petals in his human form).

What follows is yet another example of Marco’s terrible driving. The truck almost goes over on its side at least once, and several fences are damaged in the process of getting to the plant. Once there, the guards are convinced the driver is drunk, but pass off on letting them in. After they park, they morph flies and join Cassie and Rachel in bull!Ax and bull!Tobias’s noses and are able to successfully get through the Gleet Biofilters.

Once in, the others bail to begin scouting and create a diversion. Ax and Tobias are left in the line, slowly making their way towards execution. Ax is in front. They wait as long as they can, but Ax reaches the front of the line. He tries to avoid the man with the gun, but he gets tasered several times. Just before he’s shot, grizzly!Rachel shows up to rescue them. Controllers and Hork Bajir pour into the room, and Tobias and Ax frantically demorph.

The three of them charge off to find the others, who are not doing well, backed into a corner with a locked door. Visser Three shows up and begins his usual threats. Grizzly!Rachel can’t force the door, but Ax manages to quickly hard wire the key pad, and they flee into the next room. Ax rips out the wires behind him, effectively barricading it.

In the room, there are several cages with humans who look to be in some sort of bio-stasis. A computer screen is open and on it they discover what is going on. The computer, with lots of sucking up to Visser Three included, informs them that this is Project Obedience, a biochemical component that can be injected into the food supply and remove the free will of anyone who eats it. The others are horrified and feel defeated, but Cassie scoffs, saying that it is impossible to remove free will. Even Controllers have free will beneath the Yeerk who is forcing them to do things.

They then notice a lab worker who has been hiding in the corner. He quickly breaks down, saying that they might as well kill him since Visser Three soon will anyways, once he learns that the lab worker lied. He confirms what Cassie said, that the whole project was impossible from the start, but that Visser Three wouldn’t accept failure, so the lab worker has been faking it. Just then, the door begins to give behind them.

They quickly wake up the sleeping humans and get them out of their cages. The lab worker would rather make a run for it than confront Visser Three, so he leads the Animorphs and confused humans out of the plant.

The next day they meet back up at the mall. Cassie is feeling smug that she called it on the free will thing, but Marco says that she’s the only one who could look at the last few days as anything other than a giant waste of time: at least they saved some animals! Other than that, the whole project had been a bust from the start, so all of their work was for nothing. But at least they can enjoy some tasty burgers free of concern! Cassie is horrified, but the others all chow down.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For an Ax book, he doesn’t really have a whole lot as far as character moments in this book. There’s the running gag about various TV shows he’s watching, and his general narrating voice is as great as always. We again get to see his morning rituals, and it’s nice to see that he’s finally built himself a scoop.

Towards the middle of the book, he does reflect on the different challenges that humans face living on a world that still has predators that could kill them and by being omnivores. He reflects on the easy balance on the Andalite homeworld, that they have no natural predators and that they are vegetarian. It’s a nice exploration of the balance that has to be struck between being a human capable of moralizing, but also being a type of being that evolved to supplement its diet by eating meat.

More clearly, he is horrified by the treatment of chimpanzees, especially after they all morph them and he realizes how closely related they are to humans. Cassie, of course, has many strong opinions on this, and Ax becomes equally perturbed by whether they crossed a line morphing them. Towards the end of the book, he asks the scientist whether the free will injections worked on chimpanzees, in an attempt to finally answer the question about their sentience. The scientist says it didn’t work on them either, but wasn’t sure whether that’s because they had free will and it was affected, or whether they didn’t have free will to begin with.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t have a lot in this book, other than the HIGHLY questionable decision of putting gorilla!Marco behind the wheel again. He also quickly picks Ax and Tobias to morph the steer, because they can demorph more easily without giving away their secret. I feel like this same reasoning would come into play more often than it seems to, but it’s a solid choice here as well.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel also doesn’t have much in this book. She comes to the rescue as a grizzly just in time at the meat packing plant. Tobias is fairly sarcastic about this, but she handles it well (aren’t they cute??). She also tells Marco to shut up quite a lot, but nothing new there!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias gets a lot of action and page time in this book. Ax spends a good amount of time discussing his close friendship with Tobias, and the fact that, by earth standards, he is Tobias’s uncle as well. It’s nice to read their little friendship moments. Tobias trying to explain TV and that maybe Ax shouldn’t remove power lines to enhance his TV as it caused a power outage in Jake’s neighborhood. Tobias saying that he sometimes wishes he had a ritual similar to Ax’s that could help him prepare on days where they have dangerous missions. He’s also, notably, the other one to go in with the bull morph.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, of course, has a lot of thoughts about the morality of animal testing, as well as the Animorphs’ own code of not morphing sentient species. Aside from these opinions, she also has a good amount of action in this book. She’s the one who is lowered down to open the door on the moving truck. She stands between two bulls (Ax and Tobias) and manages to get them calmed down. And she also immediately call the bluff on Project Obedience’s supposed success.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, has a decent amount in this book. He’s pretty harsh on Cassie as far as some of her double standards go, and she doesn’t really even deny it. He notes that Cassie seems fine with morphing chimps since their mission will also save animals, but had they been doing it for any other reason (to save humans), she would have been very against it. She doesn’t really defend this point, which is kind of unfortunate for her. There’s also the highly entertaining driving sequence.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Ax first morphs human in the very beginning of the book, there are some overly graphic descriptions of his mouth forming first, but without lips to speak of. Also, when they’re all flies up the nose. As we know with some upcoming Marco book, I think, this “in the body” stuff gets much worse before it gets better!

Couples Watch!: Really, nothing at all. Fly!Rachel hangs out in bull!Tobias’s nostril? Super romantic, that. I guess, also, Ax is very confused by the whole process and point of kissing as he’s seen it on his favorite soap opera. Tobias assures him it has a purpose, but awkwardly evades any further questions on the subject.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I’m still never a fan of times when these books fall back on the body humor, like the poo throwing at Visser Three. But it did lead to him cutting off some poor Controller’s hand, and Ax commenting that Visser Three was not the type of leader who thinks it’s important to be popular with his subordinates. Also, when Visser Three shows up at the meat packing plant, he makes some pretty great, campy orders to the Controllers to “butcher” the Andalite bandits. Very clever, Visser Three. The best part was probably the sycophantic manner in which the computer program spoke about the Visser’s role in Project Obedience.

“Project Obedience is the brilliant insight of our great and glorious leader, Visser Three, hero of the Taxxon rebellion, Scourge of the Andalite fleet, Conqueror of Earth.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This was definitely one of the more comedic books, so there wasn’t that much sadness to go around. As they are running out of the animal testing facility, Ax doesn’t describe what he sees, but that’s because he says it’s too terrible to discuss, likening it to torture. He also mentions that though they all tried, they didn’t have much success leading the freed chimps out, as they were still chimps, and not capable of really understanding what was happening.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:

<How come Marco drives?> Rachel demanded.
<He has experience.>
“Oh man, don’t even mention that,” Cassie said. “My dad cried over the twisted remains of that truck.”

Um, Jake? You do remember Marco’s last experience at “driving”? I mean, technically this plan works, but there is definite damage done. It’s a fun scene and call back to that book though!

Favorite Quote:

Good Rachel snark after they get to the meat packing plant:

<These cows are going to be looking forward to a nice, easy death after this ride,> Rachel said.

And, of course, just Ax’s general way of narrating the story:

[Human humor] is inexplicable, and Andalite readers should simply resign themselves to never understanding.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change! Marco says it best (though it was still a fun ride from the reader’s perspective!):

“In the annals of stupid, screwed-up, pointless missions that was the stupidest, most pointless of them all,” Marco said.

Rating: For all that this story does nothing to progress the plot, it’s just a fun ride! Ax is always a great narrator, and his thoughts on TV (and his preference for the show “These Messages”) was a fun running gag throughout the story. There’s also some good action scenes, like the caper getting into the truck through the tunnel, and their various escapes from the facilities. I also enjoyed the trifecta that was Marco, Cassie, and Ax as far as the moral aspects of this story. The three provided a good spectrum of perspectives, and it was particularly interesting seeing much of it through Ax’s point of view, an alien who comes from a world where these challenges don’t exist. So, a pretty solid entry, all told!

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!