Just reading the back jacket of this book caused chills when I was younger. Like Goosebumps, Animorphs was another series I adored when I was younger.
I read all the way to the ending of the series, as well as all the extra side stories and stories that were from different points of view from major players in the series. *Warning this is an in depth and non spoiler free breakdown of the first book. Spoilers *
I remember the feeling of excitement itself. It was the first time that I had seen a series writer go so far into a world, granted later in my childhood I would discover another such writer who would give me the world of Narnia but that in itself is another article for another day.
For this series review, we will stay in the world of the Animorphs, created by K.A. Applegate. Katherine Alice Applegate is an American young adult and children’s fiction writer, best known as the author of the Animorphs, Remnants, Everworld, and other book series.
She has quite the number of other series, but most tend to stay in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of the genre. So let’s begin where she did, with book one The Invasion, where we join Jake, Marco, Cassie, Rachel and Tobias as they are about to have their peaceful worlds smashed to pieces.
The Controllers Are Everywhere
The series starts with a boy named Jake talking to us. He sets the stage quite well with advising he cannot give any specific information out about just who and where he is. For his safety as well as the readers. He brings to the forefront beings known as Controllers and how it is vital no one who is one ever find out about him, or his friends. Also brought out is the Andalites, a race who might be able to help humans if they can survive.
The beginning of the book reads like a journal and expands to tell us just what the Animorphs are and what makes them so unique. So I will break it down into two categories for you as we go along. So you know this will not be a wholly spoiler-free book. You have been warned.
We get a rundown of a few of the main characters we will follow. Jake is your average kid who looks up to his older brother Tom, so much so that he is trying to live up to his basketball legacy in middle school. Tom has moved on to High School, and Jake didn’t do so well at the tryouts. Marco is Jake’s best friend, and as we meet him, they are on their way to an arcade. Marco is the comic of his friends and always has a quip ready.
They are on their way home when they run in Tobias, a fellow student. Tobias to be sincere was the character that drew me most into these books; he was very well developed and entirely relatable as a character. Jake describes him as the outcast at school, easily singled out and picked on. The way Jake knows him is that Jake stood up to the bullies picking on Tobias. Not the closest of friends but a bond. Tobias offers to walk with them and as they leave we meet our final two main cast, Cassie and Rachel.
Rachel is Jake’s cousin, and through his eyes, we see a pretty, fashionable girl who enjoys gymnastics even though she is seen as too tall to go professional. She has a temper and is hard headed as a character, nothing she can’t do. Cassie, however, is the complete opposite of her friend. She prefers plaid shirts and jeans to the more dressed up version of her friend portray. She is more calm and peaceful about situations.
Jake offers to let them walk with the boys, which Rachel mocks him for and Cassie stops the argument by accepting on the girl’s behalf. The tone switches for the tale because now that all players are accounted for and have base introductions Jake warns that this moment in time is the last that any of them will be normal.
Meeting an Andalite
Now yes, this first review is wordy, but it has to be to understand the whole of the world being set up. On the walk home, the kids decide to go through the ghost town that is the mall being rebuilt. Abandoned and used as a squatting ground, Jake is almost in an immediate state of regret. It becomes worse when Tobias points out a light in the sky and Cassie, being the only one brave enough to say out loud what it is, states that they are looking at a flying saucer. As Rachel agrees, Jake tries to get a good look at, and the first thing he notices is the tail-like appendage on the hind on the ship.
They all are debating, both internally and externally whether to run or stay, when the ship lands in front of them. Tobias being the bravest speak out in hopes of communication. He defiantly gets it in the form of what the reader can understand as telepathic. The answering voice echoes in all of their minds and as the door opens they are introduced to their first Andalite, a mix of a deer, human, and alien components all in a lovely shade of blue with four eyes. Two main ones and two others on stalks that can swivel.
To skip the shock and awe, after a few moments of discussion our group learns the alien is dying. He has a fatal wound that cannot be helped and has come with disturbing news. Other aliens are unlike him in the way that they have come to destroy the humans.
It is at this moment that we begin to learn of the villains that will haunt many kids’ nightmares and forever rock our group’s world — the Yeerks. The alien goes on to describe a parasite that cannot live on its own, that must live dependent on another species, and he projects an image for the kids to see the grey, slimy, slug looking creatures for themselves. Once they have a host they are known as Controllers for that is what they do, they enter and absorb to a hosts brain trying to get them to submit to their control willingly. The Andalite goes on explaining that his race had tried to stop them and had failed.
He urges the kids to get a blue box from his ship knowing his time is short. Jake conquers his fear and does this when he brings out the box the Andalite explains that he wishes to impart the kids with a gift. He gives them a chance to resist the Yeerks by giving them a technology that the Yeerks do not have, the ability to morph. To touch an animal, any animal, and gain its DNA strain to become it.
He advises of the dangers as the Yeerk ships on closing in on him to finish him off, never stay in an animal form for more than two hours. Otherwise, they will be trapped in that form forever. With that information being all he can give, fear comes into the scene as the only Yeerk who can morph touches down. While it is true that no other Yeerk can morph, Vissar Three is unique in the way that he has gained this ability. As the ship empties of terrifying looking alien species that have been enslaved by the Yeerks, we meet ones with blades on their wrists and elbows known as Hork-Bajir and Centipede looking ones called Taxxons. They pale in comparison to Vissar Three who as he steps off the ship immediately shocks the kids. The reason he can morph is that he has enslaved an Andalite.
What comes next I will admit it scared me a bit as a kid. We have the standoff between good and evil. Between Prince Elfangor and Visser Three, both of whom are well known amongst their compatriots. While Prince Elfangor does get the blood flowing, sadly it isn’t enough. His death is painful. Like a real-life moment from Never Ending Story where the book comes to life in a way that haunts your core you feel the words and the utter despair right along with the kids. So a vast kudos to K.A. Applegate for several of my cry spells and nightmares not only as a kid but rereading the book for this review.
Newfound Responsibilities And Fears
The reason so much detail has gone into this first review is that the above happens in the first fast-paced six chapters of the book. It is essential as this scene and this night are the beginning of what is going to a hard and remarkable journey told by those that are there in those moments. The rest of the chapters deal with the kids getting away safely, and Tobias is the first of them to use this new power. As Jake relays to us how Tobias doesn’t know his Dad and his Mother has taken off leaving him at the mercy of an Uncle and Aunt who could care less, Tobias tells us about how he morphed into Dude, his cat.
Jake is still in utter disbelief until Tobias shows him the truth by turning into the tabby cat right in front of Jake. Pretty hard not to believe it when it is right in front of your eyes right? Tobias and Jake learn that when morphed they can communicate in their minds just like the Andalite did. Along with that, the longer Tobias is in the form, the more the cats DNA tries to take over. For him to still be himself, he has to concentrate on what keeps him human. That and clothing is a bit of an issue at this point.
Tobias helps Jake conquer his fears of what happened and get through his first morph, Homer his dog is the first for Jake and what a joyful morph it is. There is some secret lead up in this book, but I will not spoil that secret until we get there.
As Jake learns the chaos of a dogs mind, he also gets the downfall. His brother Tom comes to his room not knowing thankfully about what is going on and tells Tobias to keep Homer quiet. Jake learns through his newly gained dog nose that there is something not quite right with Tom, but his brain refuses to process fully. Even when he is human again and explains him not making the basketball team, Tom advises him that there are more important things than hoops, knocking Jake for a loop. This is the first time we hear about The Sharing. A cool group that everyone was joining.
All the kids decide to meet up at Cassie’s house since her parents are Vets and are usually not at home, which for now gives them privacy to figure things out. It also gives them access to animals they wouldn’t often have as Cassie’s family has access to all manner of animals with their farm doubling as a rescue.
Marco and Rachel are quick to show Jake and Tobias an article stating what people thought was a flying saucer was in fact teenagers playing with fireworks and that the police are on the lookout and any help given to find the responsible teenagers is appreciated. Marco quite literally loses it, and we learn his reasoning is because he and his Dad are alone. Two years prior he had lost his Mom to a drowning accident that had left nobody to mourn.
The fantastic character development makes even the small details huge once the whole picture is together. I certainly didn’t mean to have this be a detailed and piece by piece review of the first book, but the first book is honestly a proper beginning. It gives us so much information we need to start the story off right and capture attention.
The kids run into a lot real quick, Cassie is almost a natural at morphing, they are split on whether to use the powers or not, a cop randomly shows up asking if they know anything about the kids at the construction site and advises them to all come to The Sharing. The worst is yet to come through as when the kids split up to go home Jake and Marco go to Jake’s house, and his brother Tom breaks in on their video gaming to join them. Tom starts to ask questions about the construction site too, and after he leaves Marco makes the connection, Tom is a controller also.
Poor Jake is getting the full force brunt of what is going on. Losing his cool he and Marco get into a fight until Tobias as a red-tailed hawk shows up splitting the two up. After changing Tobias relays that when he hung back with Prince Elfangor, he showed his vision about the Yeerks and their ways, how the Yeerk pool is where the Yeerks live in their natural state. Every three days a Yeerk has to leave his host body and go into the Yeerk pool to soak up nutrients. Especially Kandrona rays. Kandrona is like a piece of the Yeerks sun. They need the rays to live.
Again nightmare city as a kid. Imagine, you have this slug being absorbed to your brain controlling your body, every action. In front of your friends, your family, even coworkers. Every three days you are free for a short period as the alien replenishes. However, we learn soon enough even then it isn’t the case of being free.
The boys are all together, and Tobias stands up for his choice to use the powers given to him and to fight the Yeerks. He has started to sway Jake when Marco brings forth again a concept Jake would instead not think about, and that is that if Tom is indeed a controller, it will be brother against brother and like Marco says, this is something Jake better be sure he is ready for.
Jake makes his mind up and says he is going to a Sharing meeting to get more information that that is the key to learning just what they are dealing with. Everyone agrees, even Marco since it is only a meeting right? Tom hypes up a bonfire at the beach and how that night is the best to come. Heading out together, the kids walk to the beach. Tobias only part way as he soars above them making his way.
The way Jake describes the party, you would think all is normal, and the kids were crazy. It isn’t until Tom has a discussion with Jake about how this and more is available when you are a full member of The Sharing that even Jake cannot deny the difference in his brother. Because his brother, resisting and fighting the Yeerk, is trying to warn him. What makes it worse is that Marco jokingly takes back the words he has said.
Jake becomes resolute that they need to sneak in on the full members meeting to learn more about just what the Yeerk plan is and what they are up against. The only problem is that things go from bad to worse as Jake in his dog form overhears the Yeerks conversations. One of whom has direct influence over not just his life, but a whole school full as he is the assistant principal! If that wasn’t bad enough the Yeerk in Tom’s head declares that he has a feeling about Jake and that one way or the other by the night’s end, either Jake with being controlled and join them or he will die.
Saved by Chapman the Assistant Principal for the moment, it is clear to Jake that things are very dire. The rest of the team agrees, and Jake ends up at Cassie’s looking for a smaller and faster morph. It is during this morph, that of a lizard, that Jake follows Chapman and discovers there is a pool under their very school. Having heard the screams and knowing that his brother will be among them tomorrow, Jake discusses his finds with everyone at lunch. Everyone seems to be on board with taking the next step, Marco has an outburst about loyalty to friends and how he would never let Jake go by himself. Even Cassie is on board and has a brilliant idea; her Mother works for The Gardens which is a local zoo. They can get great and powerful animal morphs there. This is when their name is born as Marco makes the joke that they are Animorphs. It sticks obviously.
After a very productive and eventful day, including a face to face encounter with a Siberian for Jake and Marco, the team feels more up to it. The only thing wrong is that when it is time to meet up, Cassie is nowhere to be found and there is a good reason. As the rest of the gang shows up at the school, it is revealed that the police officer from the farm earlier has Cassie and he is leading her down to be for lack of a better term here, assimilated!
So Much Worse Than We Thought
As the gang makes their way down the entrance to what they believe is the Yeerk pool, they find out it is so much more than that. A vast cavern that has several staircases leading in and out of the area shows them that the school is but one part of the infestation. With aliens of all kinds, not just Hork-Bajir and Taxxons, there are Caterpillars and Earthmovers at work down on the far side of the cave. The Yeerks are not there on a small mission. They are there for a higher goal, the town.
In the middle is what looks like a lake filled with lead that has melted, but the kids soon figure out that it is full of Yeerks in their natural stage. Surrounded by guards and both Alien and Humans alike in cages, no line has been uncrossed as the Animorphs look over and see kids, Women, and Men.
Jake asks Tobias to keep an eye on Cassie, and while he does the gang gets their first full look at precisely what they are dealing with. They watch as the hosts are held over the pool until the Yeerk inside their head is free, and while in doing so their functions return to their control, it doesn’t matter. They are just put in cages till the Yeerk is full and ready to go for another three days. They even find out there are “volunteer” hosts that have willingly let the Yeerk take over their body. They get a full glimpse of just what is they are fighting against and fighting for.
All at once things go to chaos, and suddenly there is an elephant, a gorilla, a hawk, a tiger and a horse going nuts trying to help free people as well as getting out of the cavern safely. The Yeerks and their guards don’t seem to have any idea what is going on and are struck down easily until Visser Three makes himself known.
In the midst of it all, there are wounds and lessons learned. Our Animorphs make it out but not without severe consequences. Most of the ones they had hoped to save were left behind all save one. Even worse than that, the next morning Jake finds out that Tobias had gotten stuck down in the cavern and had been unable to change in time, Tobias was stuck as a Red Tailed Hawk, unable to morph and unable to turn back into a human. In a heartfelt moment, the two boys forge a deeper bond and vow to keep fighting… until the Andalites come.
This has been an in-depth review, piece to piece of the first book that set a very great precedence for me. As not only a reader but also as a writer, the first tale stands the test of time. This book, for me, was just as enjoyable if not more so as an adult. As a kid reading it, there were many concepts that I was on the same level as the Animorphs themselves.
From school to how I reacted to social situations. As the story went on the characters became so much more immersive, and I had only ever had this level of want for a story from two other writers at the time, Christopher Pike with his amazing and highly recommended Remember Me series, and Bruce Coville’s My Teacher is an Alien series. I had yet to discover Douglas Adams and Tolkien himself.
K.A. Applegate’s series was an amazing one, and over this series of reviews, I do hope you check the series out for yourself as it is honestly worth it. Until next time readers, enjoy your book and reread an old favorite!