The Great Animorphs Re-Read #35: “The Proposal”

363393Animorphs #35: “The Proposal”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are stepping up their invasion tactics. And Marco has problems of his own. His dad is starting to date. But Marco knows his mother might still be alive.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I mean, look at that cover? You know it’s going to be bad when that’s the cover. I didn’t have a whole lot of memories from this book, other than the fact that Marco’s dad wants to get married to a woman who owns the featured “evil poodle.” I had successfully blocked out the rest of the story. Or, more likely, merged it with Rachel’s crocodile-allergy story from which this book LIFTED ITS ENTIRE PLOT LINE! But I will vent about that in my small review section at the end. In the mean time…

Marco and Dean are right: those small dogs are evil!

Marco and his dad’s night of video game playing is interrupted by a phone call from Marco’s math teacher, a woman whom is dad is now dating. To drown out the mushy gushing the two are exchanging via the phone, Marco begins channel surfing. He gets caught up on a self-help talk show where an uber chill man named Tennant is famous for giving his calm, collected advice to callers to the show. Marco recognizes the self-help guru as fairly famous and sits back to watch, only to be bolted out of his seat when he hears Tennant suggest to one caller that the best place to help her loneliness is the perfectly lovely organization called “The Sharing.”

Marco immediately calls Jake and arranges to meet with the group at Cassie’s barn. He begins to morph his usual osprey, but halfway through, things go terribly wrong: he ends up as a half osprey/half lobster monstrosity. Marco manages to morph out, but is too shaken to morph again and instead rides his bike to the barn. There, the others rib him for taking so long, but he quickly distracts them with news of Tennant. Surveillance is called for.

Over the next three days, the team takes turns watching Tennant and establish that he has a very fixed routine involving jogging, working from home while cuddling his pet birds, and airing his show in the evenings. Another pair had already caught him sneaking in through a known Yeerk pool entrance, so his status as a Controller is confirmed. While Marco and Cassie are on watch, Cassie asks how Marco is doing, having caught on to his being shaken recently. He ends up venting about his dad’s dating life and the struggles of knowing that his mom could still be alive.

The next day, they decide to take their scouting to a new level and infiltrate his house. Tennant’s pet birds roam free throughout the house, so Marco and Rachel sneak in to acquire and morph two of them. The others wait to provide back-up should anything go around. Parakeet!Marco and Rachel head into Tennant’s office. There, they see him writing an email to a CEO of the television company that runs his current show. It appears that he is going to be offered an award in the next week followed by a promotion to prime time where he will have an even larger audience to promote The Sharing to.

He gets a phone call from Visser Three, and while he talks to him, discussing plans, Marco feels himself beginning to lose control of his morph. He begins squawking and poops on Tennant’s desk. After Tennant gets off the phone, he explodes into a manic rage, screaming about how he hates all of these animals and he’ll be happy when he’s free to kill them all. He grabs parakeet!Marco and begins crushing him in his hands. He’s only stopped by his host body that begins to fight back. He lets Marco go, but then decides to play the little game his host plays with his pets: getting the birds to say their own names. Of course, Marco doesn’t know the name of the parakeet he morphed.

Tennant quickly realizes that he is an Andalite in morph and hits him with a book, breaking his small bird body. The other Animorphs barge in in battle morphs and Tennant calls for Hork Bajir back-ups who seemingly appear out from….somewhere? Marco manages to de-morph, but when he tries to morph his gorilla battle morph, he again splices two morphs together, this time a fish and the gorilla. Barely making it back to human, he manages to shut the office door in Tennant’s face while he and the other Animorphs make a break for it out of the window.

Back in the barn, the others are furious with Marco for not revealing his morphing problem. Ax suggests that he may be struggling due to some type of stress factor in his life. Jake immediately benches Marco until he gets things under control. Marco heads home, frustrated. But he doesn’t find any relief there, since his dad’s girlfriend is visiting, and what’s worse, she has her evil toy poodle with her. The dog starts barking and biting at Marco, and he ends up acquiring it to get it to settle down, before hiding out in his room.

Marco’s ban doesn’t last long, however, since their new mission is coming up and the team needs him. They decide that the best course of action is to expose Tennant as the wacko he is. Even by Yeerk standards, it is clear that the Yeerk in Tennant is barely clinging to sanity, and if he was to explode like he did at his home, but in a public place, his future as a TV personality would be ruined. To do this, they decide to crash the awards ceremony later that week.

The team sneaks into the banquet halls as cockroaches and make their way to the kitchen. Their plan is to crawl onto Tennant’s salad plate with spider!Marco directing them to the right plate. Once in the kitchen, Marco demorphs in a bathroom and tries to morph the spider. Instead, he ends up as a mixture of spider and poodle. A bunch of kitchen workers spot him and chase him. The others ask what is going on, but Marco puts them off, saying everything is fine. Using thought-speak, he is finally able to scare off the kitchen workers. He then demorphs, grabs a kitchen uniform, and tries to pass himself off as a busboy. He gets the rest of the Animorphs onto one of the plate and tells the cook to set it aside specifically for Tennant. He then gets caught up in other kitchen chores by a tyrannical chef. Once he gets a chance to breath, he sees that all of the plates have been mixed up again and are heading out. Instead of being placed in front of Tennant, the plate ends up in front of of Zac Hanson (cuz of course a teen pop group is also at this B-level TV event). Much screaming ensues, but Tennant is unmoved. The Animorphs manage to scurry away.

They come up with Plan B. Ax morphs his human morph and the others morph flea. Jake instructs Ax and Marco to deliver the fleas to Tennant, but Marco gets trapped outside, leaving Ax to do this. Predictably, whenever Ax is near food, things to not go well. Marco gets inside just in time to see Ax licking the plates clean from Tennant’s table. However, he does manage to transfer the fleas to Tennant. Marco convinces the outraged people that he and Ax are just really big fans and they escape to the back of the room to watch Tennant’s speech. The Animorph!fleas make their way beneath Tennant’s wig (which they discovered when parakeet!Rachel accidentally nabbed it while trying to dive bomb Tennant the other day) and begin biting. Tennant twitches and squirms but manages to get through his speech without blowing up. Defeated, the team returns home.

The next day, Marco’s week gets even worse when his dad tells him that he is thinking of marrying the teacher girlfriend. He wants to make sure it’s ok with Marco. Marco simply bolts. Later, Cassie shows up at his house asking if he wants to talk. She says that there’s really no one outside of the group who can listen, but she’s willing to do it. And she knows that he had another failed morph while in the kitchen; she could tell from the sound of his voice. Marco vents that his stress isn’t special, they all have burdens they’re carrying, some of them (like Tobias) have much worse going on than him. Cassie shares a story about her anger when she sees hurt animals that have been harmed by cruel people. She says that her dad said to focus on what is: the hurt animal and how to help it. So in this case, is his dad happy now?

Running out of time, the team comes up with another plan. Poodle!Marco begins stalking Tennant. Whenever he is out in public, and unable to respond, the terror that is the poodle shows up and begins biting him, but Tennat’s animal-loving persona can’t respond. All week this goes on, with Marco succeeding in controlling his morphs the entire time.

Finally, the night of the first prime time airing of the show arrives. The team stake out the studio in various morphs, ready for Marco to make the grand scene once the program begins airing. But as he begins to morph poodle, his ailment strikes again and he ends up as a mix of a poodle and a polar bear. He loses control of the morph and goes after Tennant, only barely able stop from killing him. Cassie wants him to talk about his feelings to help him stable himself. Jake tells her that he loves her and cares for her, but shut it. The two bicker a bit, but Jake shuts her down saying now is not the time for her approach, and Marco just needs to suck it up and deal with his crap. Jake finally breaks through by bringing up Marco’s own philosophy (that he, in turn got from his mom), that you can either laugh or cry at the struggles of the world. Marco gets it together and finishes his morph to poodle. Seeing that “the Andalite” is now fully helpless as a small dog, Tennant grabs poodle!Marco and begins strangling him. Just then the cameras go on. Everyone is horrified and Tennant immediately releases Marco and tries to say it was a mistake. The Animorphs all bail

The clip goes viral and soon enough Tennant’s future as a TV star is over. The book ends at the very slap-dash wedding between his Dad and the teacher who get married two weeks later. Marco is still struggling with it all, but has come to accept it. But never that dog.

One evening the phone rings. The answering machine picks it up, and it’s Marco’s mother, asking for him. Dun dun dun.

The Comic Relief: The unfortunate bit of this whole thing is that after the very real, very serious events of the book before it, this one just seems…beneath him. Like, I get that this book is trying to fill a niche of dealing with a real-life issues that reader kids may be dealing with, a widowed parent re-marrying. But in the world of these books, Marco’s character specifically has had to deal with so many traumatizing things with his parents, that the fact that he would break down to the point of failing his morphing over this particular issue is just hard to believe. Let’s go through it. In the first few books, he’s dealing with the death of a parent. On top of that, he’s had to parent himself as his dad has completely lost it and hasn’t been parenting him at all. This has been going on for who knows how long. Then he finds out his mother is alive, but the leader of the Yeerk invasion. Then he thinks she dies, several books later. Then he rediscovers her, but has to plan her death himself. And now, again, he’s unsure whether she’s alive. So yes, I understand the quandary he is in with his father re-marrying, and I would have been completely on board for that being a through-line in the story that he is dealing with. But to make it the crux of the story by having it impact his morphing…nah, not buying it. That’s not the Marco we’ve come to know through all of these books. Cold, calculating, brutal Marco isn’t going to break down over just this. Even Marco thinks it’s out of character:

I was going insane. Hard to believe that after all the craziness I’d been through since this war started, a simple, everyday, domestic problem would be the thing to push me over the edge.

And then, on top of that, Marco’s usual bits, even in books that aren’t his, weren’t up to snuff. The author of this book pretty much recycled Marco jokes from the past (the back-and-forth between Marco and Ax about Ax’s use of “your minutes” could almost have been directly lifted from another book. Not only wasn’t it funny, but it’s boring to read the same joke over and over, especially without any new twist), and also re-used Marco’s philosophy from book 5. Didn’t expand on it. Didn’t bring anything new to the table, pretty much AGAIN lifted it directly from there and plopped it down here to serve the exact same purpose. It was incredibly frustrating, especially since Marco books are some of my favorites.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake tries to bench Marco when he realizes that he’s struggling with his morphing. But, unlike Rachel and her crocodile experience, Marco’s breakdowns are further apart. He goes several days and many morphs without any issue, so it’s easy to understand why Jake would let him back on missions. Not only is Marco’s gorilla morph one of their best battle morphs, but we know that Jake recognizes Marco’s smarts as the best planner of the group. So benching him is a big loss. In the end, when Marco’s struggling once again, Jake comes down on him hard. He tells Marco to get it together, no excuses. Fix it. That’s an order. Cassie tries to argue that Marco just needs to talk about it. But Jake shuts her down firmly. They’re in the middle of a mission and Marco just needs to deal with his crap. Period. Jake also must have talked with Marco about Marco’s life approach, since he knows Marco’s whole bit about looking at life with a sense of humor. We, as readers, know this because Marco shared it with us in an internal narrative back in book 5. But we never hear him tell it to Jake. Instead, it’s a nice reference to how close these two are and that they must have talked about stuff like this at some point.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel tries to give Marco a lecture about hiding his morphing issues from the group. He rightly calls her out on the hypocrisy of this given her crocodile-lying incident. She agrees that someone else should take over lecturing Marco from this point. She’s also paired up with Marco on the parakeet mission, of course furthering my secondary Marco/Rachel focus. She also dive bombs Tennant while morphed as a parakeet, proving that the morph itself has very little affect on Rachel’s general plan of action. She will attack with whatever she has available.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias gets very, very little to do in this book. I mean, even adding up his lines of dialogue, it’s pretty sad. If anything, he mostly serves as a point to fuel Marco’s self-disgust. In the very beginning, after Marco’s first failed morph, he comes down hard on Tobias and ends up feeling guilty about it. And later, when he’s talking to Cassie, he says all of the other Animorphs have stressers and aren’t freaking out. He particularly emphasizes Tobias’s situation. Other than that, Tobias mostly just serves as the eyes in the air and joins in on the group activities, like being a flea biting Tennant’s head.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has quite a lot in this book, mostly utilizing her super power as the group counselor. She is quick to understand why Marco is stressed and suggest that he needs someone to talk to. Right away, on the first scouting trip, she manages to get Marco to open up and vent his frustrations. She’s also the only one to pick up on the fact that he had another morph melt-down while in the kitchen at the banquet. And she then takes it upon herself to come to his house and offer supporting, knowing that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to about all of this. She shares some nice philosophies and ways of thinking about the situation with his dad that do seem to help, though Jake’s method, in the end, is the one to break through.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: You’d think they’d learn about Ax and food! I mean, yes, I get the fact that Ax has the only human form that doesn’t put them all at risk, but man, he’s got to win the award for having the least control over any given morph. Any other animal, any other morph, sure they all might struggle here and there, but they usually get the hang of it, especially with morphs they’ve used more often. But man, Ax has zero self-control in that morph. Is it worth the risk having him go in? I mean, I’m finding it hard to believe that had Marco even been there when Ax was clearing tables that it would have made any difference.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: It’s a hard toss between all of the gross morph combinations that Marco experiences and the fleas biting Tennant’s head. I mean, I think I’ve got to go with the second. Sure, they’ve “accidentally” bitten other people as fleas, but the whole goal of this mission was to crawl under some skeevy Controller’s wig and bite away. Even Cassie calls it out:

<This is the grossest thing we have ever done,> Cassie complained.

Couples Watch!: In the very beginning, Rachel is angry at Marco for calling the meeting in the barn because he interrupted her and Tobias watching “Felicity.” Awwww, cute dates! Jake does tell Cassie he loves her….just before he tells her to shut up. So….romantic? They also have a nice little spat after this about how to handle Marco’s ongoing morphing issues. This is one of those small moments that kind of highlights why this relationship was always doomed. They really don’t have that much in common in the way they look at the world and how they make decisions. It’s clear why Jake is attracted to and relies on Cassie, she provides much-needed emotional support and insight into others. And Cassie…thinks Jake’s good looking? But when you get down to it, they have very different philosophies, so while I can see why they end up together throughout the series, you can also see the tension between them, more so than Tobias and Rachel who have some more obvious similarities and mutual supports.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is taking an extended absence! This is how many books in a row now that he hasn’t made an in-person appearance? The phone call doesn’t even include any dialogue from him, though we hear a bit of Tennant’s side of things and apparently part of the discussion is Visser Three ranting about how he looks forward to the day when the Yeerks can wipe out any unnecessary life forms on Earth. Obviously not the cats, though. Visser Three loves cats.

As for Tennant himself, we see yet another crazed Yeerk. It’s kind of hard to believe that this many crazed Yeerks ended up in positions of power. I mean, you have Tobias’s experiences several books ago and now this. You’d think with all the Yeerks available, they’d be able to assign more stable Yeerks to these crucial roles. Maybe it’s supposed to be yet another reflection on Visser Three’s own questionable psyche. That maybe, somehow, he gravitates towards Yeerks who are a bit unbalanced, just like himself. Chapman’s Yeerk, for example, seems perfectly steady and unlikely to have been caught up in the nonsense the Animorphs were pulling here. Especially because with all of the poodle-attacking lead-up, trying to catch him on TV was a pretty predictable move by the “Andalite bandits.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Really, nothing. Marco books usually have some good stuff with reflections on his situation with his mother, but there really isn’t much here. From the very sophisticated, cold Marco that we saw only a few books ago, in a lot of ways this doesn’t even feel like the same character. It’s hard to believe that this situation is what would cause the breakdown in stress, and I could just never really buy it. From the big tragedies presented in the past of a son setting up his mother to die, it’s hard to feel much about the struggles of his Dad marrying a lady with a poodle.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, Ax with the food. And along those lines, the whole business at the banquet. With everything that went wrong in the kitchen, it’s hard to understand what exactly their plan had been to ensure that Tennant ended up with the correct plate. It doesn’t seem surprising that this would fail. And then when they morph fleas…there’s literally a line that says “somehow we managed to morph fleas.” Really? “Somehow we managed…” It’s the most cop-out explanation of all cop-out explanations. They would have all had to go through human morphs and Ax had to go through Andalite to get to his human. And there is ZERO explanation for how they manage this in a crowded room. It’s incredibly stupid.

Favorite Quote:

<I am confused,> Ax said. <Are you saying that your father is considering taking this woman as a new mate?>

“You could put it that way,” Cassie said.

“But I’d rather you didn’t,” I added. “He’s just -”

<Ah. Perhaps your father is Young and Restless. Those who are Young and Restless frequently change mates.>

And I couldn’t have put my feelings for this book any better myself:

<Someday when this is all over people will ask us about the war against the Yeerks,> Tobias said. <Let’s leave this part out>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

No score! Sure, the Animorphs technically succeed. But I’m mad at having to read a repeated book essentially, so this is what happens, I take it out on my score sheet.

Rating: I really disliked this book. Not because it’s the dumbest one out there (pretty hard to top the horse!Controllers/Andalite toilet book or the split Rachels), but because I’ve already read this freaking book!!! Whomever was the ghost writer for this thing has to be, up to this point, the laziest of the bunch (just looked it up, this guy also wrote the polar bear!Marco book which I also didn’t love, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised). Others have come up with some pretty wacky and questionable bits, but at least those were original. This book is essentially the exact same book as Rachel’s crocodile story. Not only do you have the same morphing problem (though at least Rachel’s allergy made more sense, as Marco’s issue, here, just comes out of nowhere conveniently for plot purposes and then disappears again, also, conveniently for plot purposes), but the Yeerk plot was the same: some famous guy getting on TV and telling people to join The Sharing and the Animorphs breaking it up by crazy shenanigans on a TV studio! I mean, c’mon, at least mix and match your plot points!! Re-use one or the other, but both together just highlights the lack of creative thought in this book. On top of the two major plot points being directly lifted, you have the re-use of jokes (the “minutes” thing) and repetition of Marco’s major philosophy, with nothing added. By the end of the book, I was just mad. The stupidity of other books is frustrating enough, but again, at least those were original. A bit thumbs down for this one. All the more upsetting coming off the rare good Cassie book, only to have the usually good Marco book turn out to be a hot mess. The only good thing about this book, really, is the last paragraph or two that sets up “Visser.”

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 #34: “The Prophecy”

366782Animorphs #34: “The Prophecy”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Cassie’s losing her mind. But she’s gaining the mind of another. Aldrea — daughter of Seerow, Andalite Prince. Aldrea’s persona, her memory, and a valuable bit of information now belong to Cassie.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Another book where I only had vague memories! Most notable, perhaps, was my lack of memories at being frustrated by a Cassie book, which had been the standard for the last few. And there’s a reason! I think this, so far, is the best Cassie book in the series! I always want to give book #4 credit for introducing Ax, but, really, it’s not that great what with the magical whale nonsense and some of Cassie’s “ponderings” on the morality of morphing dolphins. Is the fact that this is only half a “Cassie book” since she shares the narrative with Aldrea part of the reason I enjoyed it?

But I also think it’s legitimately one of the better ones for Cassie herself. Let’s dive in!

We start with the required mini-adventure that seems to lead off all the books now. This time it’s cat!Rachel and rat!Cassie invading a teacher’s house to retrieve a piece of paper with an “I love Jake” doodle that Cassie accidentally turned in with her homework. Teasing happens, but they manage to retrieve it.

Back at the barn, Cassie is surprised to find Jara Hamee waiting for her. He’s come to fetch the Animorphs to the Hork Bajir valley where something shocking as occurred: an Arn, the alien species that created the Hork Bajir long ago, has arrived and has a request.

The Animorphs all fly to the valley. Once there, Toby, the Hork Bajir seer, explains that the Arn arrived out of nowhere in a stolen Yeerk ship and wants the Hork Bajirs’ help, but she wanted the Animorphs’ insight before making any decisions. The Arn claims to be the last of his species. But he doesn’t want to go quietly into the night and has come up with a way to try to reclaim his, and the Hork Bajirs’, home world. Before Aldrea and Dak died, they had managed to capture a Yeerk ship that was loaded with weapons. With these, the Arn proposes to gather some Hork Bajir DNA and create another guerilla warfare combatant group on the home world that can fight the Yeerks who remain there. The Hork Bajir are all willing to contribute DNA. But the hold up becomes clear: the Arn doesn’t know where the cache of weapons was hidden, only Aldrea herself knew this. But, luckily (?) for everyone, before she died, Aldrea had her personality/memories transferred into this jar thing that can be used to bring her back, sharing the mind and body of a host. Once she locates the weapons, she can be returned to the jar. The danger is that Aldrea herself will need to choose to leave her host body, making it quite a risk.

Rachel, of course, volunteers, as does Toby. After some debate, they all agree it’s for the best, and the ritual begins. But it is Cassie who is chosen. Caught completely by surprise, Cassie still knows that the only choice she really has is to accept. From this point onward, the story breaks into alternating chapters between Cassie and Aldrea.

Sharing minds and bodies, Cassie and Aldrea struggle to find a balance. Aldrea is shocked, confused, and scared by this sudden turn of events. From her perspective, she was just alive, with Dak and their child Seerow on the Hork Bajir homeworld. She’s now awoken to find herself in the mind of an alien girl, years later, and that both her son and husband are long dead. Her, too. There is also a lot of tension and mistrust between Ax and Aldrea. But eventually, they explain what they need from her. Aldrea is able to keep some of her thoughts private and realizes that she doesn’t know where the cache is, it was hidden after she had transferred her memories. But still wanting to travel back to her home, she agrees to the mission anyways.

The Arn, Toby, and the Animorphs all take off in the Yeerk ship on their way to the Hork Bajir world. The Chee remain behind to pose as the Animorphs while they’re away. Days later, when they arrive, they get in a brief battle with an Andalite ship that is patrolling near the Hork Bajir home world (the Andalite only sees the Yeerk ship). They manage to escape by using Aldrea’s skills as a pilot and markswoman. This gains her further trust with the group. She also begins to appreciate Jake’s leadership skills as he makes calls.

On the home world, Aldrea is shocked and saddened to see the destruction the Yeerks have brought to her planet. Many of the trees have been razed and the land is barren in many places. The Arn leads the group down into one of the deep trenches where his civilization used to exist. As they discuss next steps, the mental barrier between Aldrea and Cassie slips for a second and Cassie realizes that Aldrea lied, and doesn’t know where the cache is. The other are furious and say that Aldrea has lost their trust.

There is nothing to be done, however, but to move forward with Aldrea’s best guess as to where she might have hidden it. They all morph Hork-Bajir and swing through the massive forest. Aldrea leads them to the valley that used to be her home with Dak and Seerow. But the Yeerks have destroyed it, razing the trees and damming up a portion of the valley to now serve as a Yeerk pool. Aldrea is crushed, the reality of her situation finally hitting home. However, she is able to spot one tree that is part of the dam that has a marking that she and Dak had put on it. That’s where the cache would be. The problem is that the entrance to the hollowed out tree is on the other side, submerged in the Yeerk pool itself.

Jake and the others come up with a crazy plan. Aldrea calls it crazy and is horrified when they decide to move forward. Cassie tells her that they been pulling off crazy missions for quite a while now, and that she trusts Jake’s leadership skills. The team sets up to put the plan in action. Of course, it all relies on Cassie and her unique morphing skills.

All of the Animorphs morph bugs and climb into osprey!Cassie’s mouth. She then flies as high as she can above the Yeerk pool and then begins to let herself fall. As she falls, she slowly begins demorphing, saving her wings for last. At one point, she manages to completely demorph her lower half and begin the whale morph, all while still retaining her wings. As they fall, Aldrea is in awe of what Cassie is managing, never having heard of anyone being able to control their morphing like this. But as Cassie draws things out (to avoid being spotted as a human girl somehow on the Hork Bajir planet), Aldrea begins to panic and tries to take control of Cassie’s body. Cassie manages to not only continue her complicated morph but shut down Aldrea’s attempts as well. Finally, fully whale, Cassie lands in the Yeerk pool. In her huge mouth, the other Animorphs begin their next morphs. She surfaces and Ax, Andalite!Tobias, and Hork Bajir!Marco leap out onto the dam and start fighting off the Yeerks. Shark!Jake and shark!Rachel take care of the Taxxons powering towards them in the water. Lastly, Aldrea/Cassie demorph from whale and morph back to Hork Bajir. In this form, they are able to open the secret door into the tree and they all escape into it. There they find the Yeerk shop and the cache of weapons.

There is only one way out, however. They all load into the ship and blast their way out, creating a massive sink hole into which thousands of Yeerks are sucked down to their deaths. Cassie mourns this and Aldrea, again, wonders at these humans. When they get back to the Arn’s home, Aldrea knows that it is time. After seeing her home destroyed and realizing there is nothing for her in this life (and that she cannot wrestle control away from Cassie), she agrees to return to the jar. She also insists that Toby, her remaining kin, not stay on the Hork Bajir home world. She wants one family member, at least, to not get caught up in a guerrilla war. With the Animorphs’ help, she puts on a scene saying she is trying to take over Cassie. Ax grabs Toby and tells Aldrea that they are keeping her as a hostage if Aldrea doesn’t leave. Aldrea leaves Cassie and slowly fades away. The other return, knowing that Toby will realize it was a trick, but that by then it would be too late.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is actually a really good book for Cassie. The personal arcs/plot points fall directly into her wheelhouse. And the action itself is of the kind that could be accomplished only by her.

In the beginning, she is sure that Aldrea’s spirit won’t choose her. Aldrea was known as an independent, fierce woman. Naturally, they all assume she’ll gravitate towards Rachel or Toby. After being chosen, Cassie then spends most of the rest of the book wondering why she was chosen. As Aldrea begins to push the boundaries on controlling Cassie’s body, Cassie begins to suspect that Aldrea must have sensed some sort of weakness in her, one that she could exploit to remain in the living world. But it is only in the end when Cassie asks Aldrea that she finds out the truth: Aldrea can’t know for sure, as she wasn’t consciously choosing, but she suspects that she knew she would be tempted to stay and that she needed to be with someone who could remind her of her own “humanity” essentially and strong enough to show her that. I think this fits very well with Cassie as a character.

Also, Aldrea really struggles throughout this book, as would be expected for someone who just woke up years later and finds out they have lost everything. Cassie’s simple sorrows for her and empathy are comforting to Aldrea. Lord knows Rachel wouldn’t have pulled that off. And Toby would also have had some self-interest involved in a way that Cassie’s simple focus on supporting Aldrea’s emotions didn’t.

The morphing scene at the end was also awesome. We’ve seen Cassie pull off some amazing stunts before (all seemingly involving morphing whale while falling from the sky), but what she manages here takes it to a new level. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen her (or obviously, anyone) pull off morphing two different animals at once, getting her legs fully human and started up on whale while her arms are still osprey and waiting to go through the human stage. It’s pretty incredible and Aldrea’s own shock and awe is a nice cipher for readers to understand how truly extraordinary what Cassie is pulling off is. Throughout the book, Cassie also notes to herself that even while she has a particular talent, the Animorphs in general are all probably morphing experts, as compared to the Andalites who rarely actually use the ability, including Aldrea.

Aldrea: It’s great having another book with Aldrea in it. Through her memories, we get more insight into what her and Dak’s life was like with their baby before the end of everything. Obviously, we know it ended tragically, but there are some sweet moments between the two that we get to see through her memories and dreams.

She is also, understandably, dealing with a lot of anger, confusion and denial throughout this book. She’s never even heard of humans and now suddenly she’s on their planet inside the body of one. She’s rightly skeptical of the Arn’s motivations for his whole plot, and sees the Animorphs as children and finds it difficult to trust and follow their lead. Further, she and Ax have an ongoing conflict, each looking on the other with a sense of distaste.

The space fight scene is a good moment to highlight her skills as a combatant, and while they are all in Hork Bajir morph on the planet, we see just how comfortable she is in that form, having truly adopted it as her own.

We also see her struggle with the idea of returning to her unconscious state. She never outright plots to take over Cassie, but when, in a moment of panic, she tries to take over while they’re falling through the air, the realization that she actually can’t is a helpful push for her to realize just how wrong what she had been considering was.

It’s also a nice touch, in the end, for her to feel so strongly about Toby returning to Earth, not wanting the same life for Toby as the one Aldrea lead.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake really highlights his strength by repeatedly standing up to Aldrea. It’s mentioned several times that she’s essentially a war hero straight out of history. So it’s natural that there might be tension regarding who makes the calls. Jake never wavers, however, and as the story progresses, Aldrea begins to see why he has been so successful for as long as he has and why the other Animorphs trust his judgement with some of their more crazy plans.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel, of course, volunteers immediately and is very confused when she isn’t chosen. She outright asks Aldrea about it early in the book, but Aldrea doesn’t really know at that point. Along with Jake, Rachel is also the most on the alert for signs that Aldrea may be trying to take over Cassie or not give her up. There were a few instances when Aldrea talked from Cassie’s mouth and Rachel was immediately angry and upset, insisting that she let Cassie back.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have much in this book, other than it being recognized that he is the closest to the Hork Bajir and the one who had heard Aldrea’s story from Jara Hamee originally. When they’re all on the Hork Bajir planet, he stays in hawk morph and struggles to navigate around the massive trees.

The Comic Relief: Marco also doesn’t have much. He has a few good one-liners here and there. His usually commentary on how insane all of their plans are. And there is a moment when Jake is in the middle of a big “leader” speech where he interrupts him to make a joke. Cassie notes this as a good service that Marco provides his best friend when he thinks Jake is getting too serious or caught up in things.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax struggles the most with the appearance of Aldrea. His normal Andalite arrogance is amped up when presented with the daughter of the Andalite who essentially created the Yeerk threat. Not only does he have the usual Andalite disdain for Seerow, and through him, his daughter, but his own prejudices regarding Andalite superiority are on display. He cannot understand why an Andalite would choose to live as a  Hork Bajir. Aldrea does a good job calling him out on both of these fronts, noting that Elfangor did the same by giving the Animorphs their powers and naming his prejudice for what it is with regards to her decision to become a Hork Bajir. By the end of the book, both have come to an understanding and appreciation for the other, but it’s rough there at the start.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Cassie has one of her biggest moments of panic and horror when Aldrea takes over the morphing process when they morph wolf back on Earth as a practice run. For the first time, the morphing process is described as being painful, likely largely due to the psychological strain of having one’s body go through that but not to be in control of it. Probably especially for Cassie, as she is used to having more control over the process in general than any of the rest of them, so to have it completely out of her hands…

Couples Watch!: Obviously there’s the bit in the beginning when they’re fetching the love note. Maybe aware that Tobias/Rachel jumped the “using the ‘L'” word hurdle in the last book, it is noted here that Cassie and Jake have kissed other times (though usually just after battles) and, while they haven’t told each other, they both know they love each other.

Unfortunately, what should have been big miles stones for these two (but AGAIN, all of that supposed kissing happened off screen, so I’m still calling these two the wet blanket couple of the bunch) are over-shadowed by the much-more compelling and adult-feeling relationship between Aldrea and Dak. Not only do they have a whole book of backstory for the two of them together, but Aldrea’s emotions and memories of Dak just feel deeper and more meaningful.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Another book without Visser Three! Really, this is one of the few books that had no main villain. Like we saw in the last book, sometimes other Controllers step in for the villain role, but here we don’t have much other than the generic Hork Bajir and Taxxon Controllers they all fight in the end. And even there, Cassie/Aldrea are never really in that battle. But the Arn is viewed with quite a lot of suspicion from everyone. He says he is the only one left, and they all question his motivations for wanting to start up another guerilla war with the Hork Bajir serving as warriors. What’s in it for him? It’s not like the Arn have a great history about caring for anyone other than themselves, especially not the Hork Bajir. He also has an unfortunate habit of referring to the planet as only his own. Though, to be fair, they were there before the Hork Bajir. So while it’s the Hork Bajirs’ home, too, they can’t really deny the Arn some ownership of it. But, in the end, there doesn’t appear to be anything to all of this suspicion, and while the Arn is still arrogant and a bit off-putting, his claims seemed to be true.

An example of his sliminess, when they are discussing who needs to make the trip to the Hork Bajir planet:

“But she is just a vessel,” Quafijinivon [the Arn] said with a sort of greasy smile. “Why would you humans need to come?”

<Because you think she’s nothing but a vessel, that’s why,>  Tobias said.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Aldrea first sees what used to be her, Dak, and Seerow’s home, now converted to a Yeerk pool of all things. It’s pretty crushing. Especially because up to this point, some small part of Aldrea has been in denial about her situation. Seeing it really makes it hit home what she’s lost and how far removed she is from everything she knew. It’s really tragic when you think about it. To her, she had just minutes ago been alive and well, transferring her memories. And now it’s all gone. Her husband is dead. Her son went on to be taken by the Yeerks and die in captivity. Her home is a freaking YEERK POOL. The tree in which she and Dak essentially carved “A hearts D” is part of the dam itself!! It’s rough. And then, in the end, she has to choose to return to oblivion, not knowing if she’ll ever wake again.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The plan with Cassie’s morphing feats was really awesome. The plan to trick Toby was…really not. It all happens in about two pages and it just doesn’t make sense. I feel like Toby knows that Ax threatening her is an empty threat, so it’s hard to believe she’d fall for it. Beyond that, I have to think she’d be more open to an honest conversation with Aldrea and none of it might have been necessary. Beyond that, once she does learn the truth, I’d think the fallout would be massive. That’s a HUGE betrayal by the Animorphs. And it’s only made worse by the general way that Hork Bajir have been mistreated in the past, manipulated by “smarter” species “for their own good.” I have to believe that Toby would see it as such and have a hard time forgiving them all for taking away her agency.

Favorite Quote:

Aldrea notes with some confusion the Animorphs’, and Cassie in particular, sadness over the death of all the helpless Yeerks in their pool. It’s over this concept that Ax and Aldrea begin to understand each other:

<Let  us agree,  then,  that all  civilized  species must share a  hatred of war,> Aximili said.

Funny AND super dated moment. Marco expresses an opinion that does not hold up well!

<He [the Arn] had to come. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace isn’t coming out on DVD there for, like, two years. He buys up a bunch of copies here, takes ’em home, makes a fortune.>

<Good grief, Marco, you live science fiction, why do you want to watch science fiction?>

<Don’t be dissing TPM,> Marco said. <Cool is cool.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

This is a big win for the Animorphs. Like huge. Having another battlefront break out on the Hork Bajir home world will be a huge help in dividing the Yeerk’s attention and assets. Plus, as sad as they all are about it, they took out a good number of Yeerks in the process.

Rating: I actually really enjoyed this book! All of Cassie’s strengths were utilized in excellent ways, and of course, it was great having the character of Aldrea back, if only briefly. I’m not sure why I forgot this one as much as I did, given how much I liked it this go around. But I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

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 #33: “The Illusion”

302871Animorphs #33: “The Illusion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks possess a weapon that could be the biggest threat to the Animorphs yet. The anti-morphing ray transforms a person in morph back to natural form. Unless they find and destroy the top-secret ray, the Animorphs could be exposed for good.

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: What made getting through the last book so terrible (beyond the fact that it was god awful all on its own) was that I knew this one was coming up next. And this was one of my favorites as a kid growing up. Other than the first few and the David trilogy, this was by far the book I re-read the most and thus one of the rare later series stories that I have clear memories of. And yet, even I didn’t remember just how sob-worthy this story was!!

Actual footage of me while trying to read this book in public.

Tobias is at a school dance and feeling awkward. While many of us realize this is how ALL teenagers feel at school dances, Tobias attributes it to his discomfort being human again after spending so much time as a hawk. What’s more, he’s pretty sure Rachel wants to dance. Halfway through their dance, however, Tobias sees the clock on the gym wall and realizes he only has a few minutes left before he would be trapped in his human morph and out of the Yeerk war altogether. As he bolts for the outdoors, Rachel catches up with him and finally opens up about some of the challenges of their relationship. Notably, that with all of the craziness in her life, she needs something normal and would it really be that bad if Tobias were human once again? Unnerved, Tobias still makes a break for it and manages to escape outside and regain his hawk form. Jake, who also noticed the mad dash, comments that he is glad Tobias made it back to hawk as the team needs him for his eyes in the air. Tobias suspects that while this may be true, Jake has also become the type of leader to use his assets wisely and say what needs to be said to keep people in line.

The next day the team meets in the barn. Erek had caught up with Jake earlier and had some news to share about the Anit-Morphing Ray that the group had failed to destroy in their last mission. The problem is that they have no idea where the Yeerks are keeping the ray, but they do know that the Sharing is hosting a big unveiling for their new community center. Through this they come up with a plan: the Yeerks are likely looking to trap a “Andalite bandit” at this event to test their ray on. Instead, the Animorphs will purposely walk into said trap and then through capture figure out where the ray is located so they can destroy it. It’s clear to Tobias that Jake has more in mind than this, and he quickly understands that Jake means for Tobias to volunteer, reasoning that if Tobias is captured, the Yeerks will assume he in morph, use the ray gun on him, and then think that it doesn’t work when Tobias fails to “demorph.” Tobias will also need to acquire Ax so he can pretend to attempt “demorphing” to further convince the Yeerks that they do in fact have an Andalite in morph. Of course, there is no guarantee that the ray gun is even safe and won’t just kill its target, so this is a very high risk mission for Tobias. But the whole group recognizes it as the only option, and Tobias moves forward with acquiring Ax.

Back in their forest, Tobias and Ax bond over Tobias’s experiences as an Andalite, especially given their familial relationship with Ax essentially being Tobias’s uncle. Ax teaches him a few tail blade moves and walks him through the evening ritual.

The next day, the team goes into action at the Sharing event. Jake sits with his family as Tom is given an award. Tobias flies above. Ax is in human morph and is meant to guide the remaining team who are all in fly morph. Hi-jinks ensue as Ax inevitably gets distracted by food and causes a minor scene. Eventually, he and Tobias manage to sneak into the back of the community center and discover the location of the Yeerk’s “trap:” a playground with a tunnel. It’s clear that the Yeerks are trying to set it up to look as if this tunnel is a new entrance to the Yeerk pool so as to temp Andalite bandits into it.

The group all reconvene near the playground. Fly!Rachel hides in Tobias’s feathers and it is her job to report back to the rest of them where the ray gun is so they can attack and rescue him. Ax and Tobias make a break for the tunnel, drawing the attention of the Yeerks. Tobias flies all the way in while Ax “aborts” at the last minute and draws the rest of the Controllers after him. Inside the tunnel in the connected room, hawk!Tobias confronts the Controllers who are in place to spring the “trap.” At their head is a young woman who looks eerily like Rachel. She identifies herself as “Taylor” and she is a sub-visser in the Yeerk ranks. She also happens to have a stun gun of sorts that she shoots at Tobias, not caring if it takes down a few Hork Bajir in the process. Paralyzed, fly!Rachel slips off to land on the floor, vulnerable to be stepped on. Now alone and with the plan already in shambles, Tobias is stuffed in a box and relocated.

When he is let out of the box, he finds himself in a larger clear box with the ray gun pointed directly at him. Visser Three shows up with two Controller scientists in tow. They test the ray gun on Tobias. When it fails, Visser Three is not pleased, feeding the scientists to a pit of Taxxons that is located beneath the floor. He instructs Taylor to torture Tobias into demorphing so he can be infested and give information on the other bandits.

And so begins pages of poor Tobias being tortured. Taylor uses the ray gun to shoot some type of rays at him that trigger pain sensors in his brain.Through it all, we get some great flashbacks to periods in Tobias’s life that highlight why he might be so hesitant to want to return to a human life. We see a bully who persistently comes after him. And a very sad scene where Tobias comes home with an award, only to be told by his lazy uncle that if there’s no money in it, than it’s worthless and Tobias should just get a job (we’re to remember that these kids were like 13 at the beginning of this series and that this scene presumably happened sometime before that even, so….yeah, the uncle is a piece of work). The scene and Taylor’s dialogue within it are a clear reference to the classic “Pit of Despair” scene from “The Princess Bride.” Eventually, Tobias realizes that he can retreat to the mind of the hawk in order to survive the pain. The hawk has no understanding of what is causing this pain or that it has any way of preventing it from happening again; to him it is just another unpleasant part of life now.

Eventually, Taylor figures out what Tobias is up to and introduces a third setting on the ray: the ability to send beams that connect to pleasure sensors in the brain, which brutally yanks Tobias back and forth between pain and pleasure, thus disallowing him from using the hawk for safety. In a few flashbacks here, we see there was once an elderly woman who would take Tobias in after school and feed him treats, one of the few good memories, it seems, from his childhood. He also has memories of showing up at Rachel’s room for what must be regular flying dates they go on.

During a break in the action, Tobias realizes that something strange is up with Taylor. It becomes clear that she has gone insane and Tobias is able to wheedle the story of her past out of her. It turns out that the girl Taylor had once been the homecoming queen of her highschool, but after a house fire she was left badly burned and missing an arm and leg. Having lost her looks, all that was important to her it seemed, she turned to the Yeerks who offered to heal her in exchange for becoming a Controller. Somehow throughout this all, the Yeerk who infested her and Taylor herself somehow merged their personalities, leaving the current Taylor to routinely switch between identifying past Taylor as herself or as a separate being. By this point, Tobias is past the two hour “limit” and Taylor realizes that she has failed to get the “Andalite” to demorph. The knowledge that there is a good chance Visser Three will also feed her to the Taxxons in the pit, she turns up the torture to a new level.

It is too much. Tobias feels himself dying and right near the end he experiences a vision. An Andalite comes to him and presses his tail blade to his forehead. He then experiences a series of “memories” from his father, Elfangor’s, point of view. At the end, Elfangor says that Tobias has come from a long line of warriors who put others before themselves, and that death to save his friends is a noble way to go. But before the light can finally go out, the other Animorphs arrive. They battle Taylor and the Hork Bajir who come to her defense and manage to destroy the ray gun.

Towards the end, grizzly!Rachel has an opportunity to kill Taylor, one that she is just about to take when Tobias tells her to stop. Throughout it all, he hasn’t been able to avoid drawing comparisons between Rachel and Taylor, two girls who are rarely beautiful. But where Taylor’s strength came from her beauty and without it lead her to do terrible things, Tobias sees the grizzly morph as an outer representation of Rachel’s stronger inner self. He asks her to let Taylor go; to be Rachel, and not Taylor.

The last scene is the Animorphs on the beach, trying to gain a bit of normalcy after all of the craziness. Tobias describes his last vision to Ax who is quite shocked. He says there is an Andalite legend that some memories are passed through the DNA and that they can be triggered in the last moments of life, but he’s been sure those were just tales.

Finally, Rachel joins them on the beach. Tobias runs to her and they hug, Rachel asking how bad it was and Tobias confessing that it was really bad, he almost gave in. But through it all, he comes to the conclusion that for now he knows who he is: the person that Rachel loves. She kisses him, and they go flying.

A Hawk’s Life: This is a great Tobias book. He has a lot to contend with before he even gets tot he torture scene. There’s his ongoing struggle with striking a balance between his hawk form and his human form and his fears that Rachel is becoming more and more unwilling to deal with the limbo that is their relationship as it stands.

The book also leans in heavily on the shortened life span of a hawk, something we haven’t seen before. Not only does Tobias see an inconveniently placed poster on this topic on the highschool walls while he flees to demorph, but there is an eagle that is dying from old age in Cassie’s barn (the team use the eagle as a way to gain entrance to the morphing ray room and save Tobias in the end of the book.) Whenever he looks at the bird, it’s a reminder of the shortened life span and the dangers that wild birds face.

He really gets into his Andalite heritage for the first time, morphing an Andalite and learning more about Andalite history and culture through his moments with Ax. The DNA-memory thing is also a great addition as it finally gives Tobias a more clear connection with his father. In one of the memories, Elfangor spends a moment thinking about how he misses Loren and wishes he was on Earth with her and his son. One has to imagine that this memory is a great comfort to Tobias, knowing Elfangor loved his mother and him and didn’t want to leave them.

All I could hear was “Siiimbaaaa” in my head while I read this scene.

And then, of course, there’s all the stuff in the torture scenes with the dark glimpses into Tobias’s past, as well as some of the more happy memories with Rachel and the woman who used to give him treats. Tobias also wisely catches on to there being something strange going on with Taylor and uses that knowledge to draw her into talking about herself and giving himself a break.

In the end, he confesses to Rachel that he almost broke. But Rachel reassures him that she knows who he is and that he’d never give them up, and Tobias realizes that his sense of self is well cared for him Rachel’s hands.

Our Fearless Leader: Tobias makes some pretty blatant statements about Jake’s transformation as a leader. He suspects immediately that while Jake might truly mean his words about being glad Tobias made it back to his hawk morph because he knows that’s what Tobias wants, Jake is also a leader who will say whatever he thinks will further his mission. He needs Tobias in his hawk form, and Tobias suspects that that is at the heart of anything he says.

Tobias also sees the manipulation at play when they’re all in the barn planning what to do about the ray gun. Jake volunteers at first, but Tobias sees that he isn’t expecting this plan to go forward. And then when Ax volunteers, he’s silent. It’s clear that he had a person in mind and is waiting for that person (Tobias) to volunteer himself, so that Jake doesn’t have to ask/order him to do it. It’s one of the more clear examples we’ve seen of Jake starting to use his friends a chess pieces. It’s cold, but it’s also necessary and Tobias recognizes this.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This book did a great job following up on the awfulness that was the last book. Rachel is clearly shaken from the experience and looking for normalcy in her life, and her romance with Tobias isn’t helping. In the very beginning of the book, she has one of the more honest conversations we’ve seen between the two. It’s clear that it’s not simply selfish, romantic reasons that she wants Tobias to consider staying human, but that her own inner struggles make it even harder for her to deal with the burden that is their romance. Further, she seems to be the only Animorph who is concerned by the way that Tobias is leaning into his life as a hawk and more and more prone to discomfort whenever he’s human. She repeatedly reminds him that his human form isn’t just a “morph,” it’s who he naturally is and that it’s worrisome if he doesn’t remember this.

It’s never made clear whether or not she was actually aware of the time and had been trying to trick Tobias into staying. My interpretation is that she didn’t really know herself what she wanted to happen, and  that a small, secret part of her was both hoping he wouldn’t realize but not actively plotting to trap him.

Early in the barn conversation, she also volunteers for the mission before it becomes clear that Jake has Tobias in mind. We don’t see the scene when she insists on going in with him as a fly, but I feel confident we can assume it wasn’t much of a “discussion” at all. As they’re going in, she tells Tobias not to put the mission first. That if things get too bad, he should forget about the mission and save himself.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie does very little in this book. After they all agree that Tobias is the one to go on this mission, Tobias notes that she gives him a particular sympathetic look that she reserves for only the most series moments. And then in the end when they’re all on the beach, she’s off looking for injured animals on the reef. Because of course she is.

The Comic Relief: Marco is the only other one to quickly realize that Jake has another plan in mind when they’re talking in the barn. He also is one of the quickest to realize what exactly that plan is. In the final battle scene, gorilla!Marco is the one to save Tobias, getting very torn up in the process. It’s a nice scene as often Marco and Tobias don’t have many scenes together and are two of the more disconnected members of the group, both due to differing personalities and a lack of any significant connection on their own. But here is is clear that Marco is unwilling to give up and leave Tobias behind, even if that means putting his own life on the line.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This was a big book for really establishing the connection between Ax, Tobias, and their shared Andalite heritage. The scenes of Ax teaching Tobias about Andalite culture were very well done, and there’s an interesting moment when Tobias first morphs an Andalite when he realizes that the natural state of Andalites is to be optimistic. Ax confirms that they have had to “train” themselves to be warriors, against their natural instincts. Later, when Ax and Tobias are infiltrating the Sharing community center, it is clear that Ax is very worried about Tobias’s role in this mission, again highlighting the strong bond between them.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The scenes of the damage that is done to Tobias during the torture sessions is pretty vivid. Not only is the ray setting of pain sensors in his head, but in his mindless thrashing, he does a lot of physical damage to himself. He breaks a wing, loses feathers, and, yikes, breaks his beak. It’s so bad that when the other Animorphs show up, grizzly!Rachel takes one look at him and knows how bad it must have been, further spurring her anger and wish to kill Taylor at the end.

Couples Watch!: This is by far the most romance-centric book so far (and from my memory, in the entire series). It starts right out with the challenges that Rachel and Tobias face and the increasing pressure they both feel to make this impossible thing work. Rachel is clearly hitting a wall with her ability to juggle so much craziness in her life and is concerned about Tobias’s well-being, not only his increasing association with his hawk self but the fact that the stark reality is that hawks have much shorter life spans than humans.

Then of course we have all of the concern from Rachel about Tobias going on this mission, though it’s worth noting that even she doesn’t come out against it, knowing it’s the best option. She goes in with him and tells him to put himself first.

While captured, Tobias repeatedly refers to the fact that Taylor looks like Rachel and notes how very different these two beautiful teenage girls are. It’s not only a reflection on his own thoughts on Rachel (and his ongoing concern that something terrible might have happened to her when she fell off him while paralyzed. She even began to cry when this happened, one of the few times we see this), but a good reminder for readers (after the book that shall not be named…) that while Rachel is dangerous, she’s still a good person and nowhere near the type of person who would have fallen in with the Yeerks had she lost her beauty.

Then there’s the end, of course. I think this is the first time either member of either couple has said the “love” word. And not only is he saying it, but Tobias sees this love and his relationship with Rachel as the foundation of his own identity, whether human or bird. They also kiss, rather casually even, further highlighting how much more established their relationship is than Jake and Cassie who are still awkwardly skirting around each other and (like in the last Jake book) barely referencing the thing between them.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When Ax and Tobias sneak in to find out where the “trap/Yeerk pool entrance” is located, they stumble on two Controllers who are discussing the mad idea that Visser Three has had that somehow in an open-air Sharing event they’re supposed to catch any animal that wanders in. But they note that you can’t say this to him or you’ll end up dead, as the two scientists discover when they try to assure Visser Three that they ray can’t possibly not work.

Taylor also makes this comment to Chapman after they’ve caught Tobias, which I’m sure is a direct jab at his learning to speak “villain talk” from Visser Three, though luckily for her, Visser Three’s not there to hear it:

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” he offered, smirking.

“Shut up, Chapman,”the girl said calmly. “You sound like some pun-spouting villain from a Batman movie.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As evident by the gif at the very beginning of this post, this book has by far been the biggest tear jerker of the series. Not only do you have an extended torture scene taking up a large chunk of the book (talk about not pulling your punches for a young audience!), but the thoughts and memories that come with it are rough. The scene with Tobias’s uncle is particularly heart-breaking as we have to imagine that this is just once moment from a long list of moments where a very young Tobias has been completely ignored and beaten down by the only parental figures he has had.

Then there are scenes of animal abuse that Tobias imagines when thinking about the hawk’s approach to pain and fear. Oof. There were legit tears in this section, what with the descriptions of the fear, the pain, and, in my opinion worst of all, the confusion that these animals would feel when being tormented by humans. Some of them were so specific (like the scene of a wild goose being clubbed to death on a golf course by cruel teenagers) that you have to imagine the ghost writer who wrote this book was pulling from some traumatic memory of their own. Yikes, it was a lot.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This is another good plan from the Animorphs. It’s pretty complex, too, with all of the moving pieces, especially in the beginning. They really sell it hard that they are “accidentally” getting caught, even putting Ax at risk by having him run out and away in the open to be chased (and maybe caught) by the Yeerks. It’s not really their fault that they didn’t anticipate the freeze gun as that’s not technology they’ve run into before. I do feel like there is still a pretty big question mark about how exactly fly!Rachel was supposed to get off Tobias and, with very poor eyesight, find a place to demorph and get out to return to the others. But I’m sure this was a risk they felt they had to take (just like sending Tobias in in the first place) to destroy what would have been a game-changing weapon.

The Yeerks’ plan, however, was not that good. The group all comment that the Yeerk “trap” with the playground tunnel was all too easy to spot and that the Yeerks must really think the Andalites are idiots if they fell for it. But then again, the Animorphs were still choosing to go in, so….

Favorite Quote:

There’s a great scene where Jake and human!Visser Three come face to face while at the Sharing event when Visser Three tries to swat fly!Cassie off Jake’s arm. It’s a really cool moment and one of the ones that I can so easily picture as if it were in a movie:

“Such filthy insects. Allow me to . . .” He swung at Jake.

Jake’s hand shot up. He grabbed the Visser’s wrist in his fist. For a long few seconds the two of them glared at each other. Visser Three, leader of the Yeerk forces on Earth. And Jake, his unrecognized foe.

The “Ax goes crazy with food” scene at the Sharing event also provided some much needed levity to an otherwise very serious and sad book:

<Marco,what exactly are you doing in the fondue?> Rachel asked.

<Exactly? Well … I wanted to see if it would still taste good sucked up through a fly mouth.You gonna help me or do you just want to bust me?>

<Let him get eaten,>Rachel advised.

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 13

The Animorphs manage to take out the ray gun and came up with a pretty clever way of tricking the Yeerks into thinking it didn’t work, in the event that they hadn’t been able to destroy it. Plus, bonus, the two scientists who came up with what was actually a brilliant idea, ended up fed to Taxxons by a very short-sighted Visser Three who had a tantrum. So a win/win/win!

Rating: I loved this book. Always did and still do. All of the characters are exactly on point. There are good references to past events, particularly Rachel’s struggle to find normalcy in her life after being so shaken up by her last book. Jake’s ongoing descent into pure leadership mode and his showdown with Visser Three. Marco’s smarts. Cassie’s concern. Ax’s acknowledgement of his and Tobias’s shared Andalite heritage. And all of the confusion and inner strength that make Tobias such an interesting character. We get a lot of extra information on what his life was like before the Animorphs, and I think at this point in the series, it’s very important to get these scenes to fully understand why Tobias is so hesitant to go back to life as a boy.

We also get a very good villain in Taylor. It’s always nice to have another villain other than Visser Three to focus on in these books, and Taylor is given quite a bit of character development herself. Not only does she have an interesting back story that ties into her crazed perspective that we see on display, but her similarities to Rachel lead Tobias to make some poignant and important comparisons and contrasts between the two.

And, of course, as I’m fully on the Tobias/Rachel ship, I like the focus on their relationship in this book. It doesn’t feel silly or immature, but really highlights the challenges faced by these two and why they are so drawn together and serve as much needed support systems to each other.

This is probably one of the better ghost written books in the series, and I feel like that had to have been clear since I’m pretty sure this same writer also wrote a good number towards the end of the series. It does present a weird contrast when placed next to the last book that was somehow written by Applegate herself. Just goes to show that even good authors can make big missteps and that the ghost writers shouldn’t be completely written off either.

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 #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:

giphy6

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. . ..

george-michael-maeby-kiss-arrested-development
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!