Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Encounter (K. A. Applegate)

The Encounter
(The Animorphs series, Book 3)
K. A. Applegate
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release of the Animorphs series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of all 54-plus books, to replace the en-masse series review on my book review website.
And, yes, I promise I won't post more than three in a row... I am still reading other things, after all.

DESCRIPTION: A few weeks ago, five ordinary kids took a shortcut home through an abandoned construction site. They didn't know about aliens. They'd never heard of the parasitic Yeerks, the blade-festooned Hork-Bajir, the giant scavenger-centipede Taxxons, or the deer-centaur Andalites who opposed them. They had no idea Earth was already under attack by the Yeerks, or that the popular civic organization The Sharing was the front for their recruitment forces. And they had no idea that, with a little help from Andalite technology, a person could morph into any animal they can touch: the one weapon the dying Andalite Prince Elfangor was able to give them to defend their homeworld. That gift transformed them from five children to five warriors. The Animorphs.
Now, they are only four kids: Jake, Rachel, Cassie, and Marco. And one red-tailed hawk named Tobias.
Stuck in animal form after their disastrous first mission, Tobias clings to the hope that, when the Andalites return to this sector of the galaxy, they'll have a cure for his condition. In the meantime, he acts as the ultimate spy, harnessing a hawk's vision and flight with a human brain. It was he who first spotted the peculiar ripple in the sky - a ripple caused by a cloaked Yeerk ship, traveling to and from the mountains on a regular schedule. Even as the Animorphs investigate, however, Tobias feels his humanity slipping away. To be in a morph is to share an animal mind, with animal instincts, and the longer he's trapped, the more powerful those instincts become. How long can Tobias the human survive in the brain of a wild hawk?

REVIEW: This was the one that hooked me, taking the story from a simple alien-invasion/paranoia action series to something else altogether. All along, the kids have had to struggle with their animal morphs almost as hard as they've struggled to fight the Yeerks and avoid revealing their identities; Visser Three still thinks he's fighting Andalites escaped from their doomed ship, a delusion the Animorphs happily perpetuate to spare their families the danger. This book brings the struggle with the animal mind to the forefront. Tobias wrestles with his new identity, torn between two seemingly incompatible worlds, that of the compassionate human and that of the predatory hawk. The fight nearly leads to his own death, more than once... and at his own talons. His friends, too, must come to terms with their own feelings on his condition - a fate they all could share if they, too, stay in animal form for too long. The fight against the Yeerks continues, of course, but this installment is really more about the people... and the animals whose minds they're obligated to share. I clipped it for a few forced scenes, and one continuity error that, while minor, bugged me.

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