(The Animorphs series, Book 1)
K. A. Applegate
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. As I'm squeezing in re-reads on top of my existing book backlog, this project could take some time...
DESCRIPTION: Jake used to be an ordinary American kid. His biggest problems were running out of quarters for the video games at the mall and not making the cut of the junior high basketball team. Then he, his best friend Marco, his cousin Rachel and her friend Cassie, and the strange new boy Tobias decided to take a shortcut home from the mall, through the old construction site. That's when they saw the UFO... and when their ordinary lives ended.
Prince Elfangor, a centaur-like Andalite, was dying when his battered ship landed. He tells the children that he is the last of his kind left in this sector of space, sole survivor after a fierce space battle with the Yeerks. Little more than an outsized slug, a Yeerk crawls into a victim's brain, taking over their bodies and memories and turning their victim into a Controller. Some entire species in the galaxy have succumbed to the parasites. It could be years before more Andalites arrive, and by then it may be too late for Earth. To fight back, Elfangor defies his race's protocols about sharing advanced technology, giving Jake and his friends the Andalite power to morph into any animal they can touch. Morphing proves as much a danger as a strength, and there's much more to it than Elfangor had time to explain before the Yeerks arrived to finish him off, but for now it's the only tool they have.
Now Jake and his friends are Earth's only defense against the Yeerk invaders, their terrifying alien host-bodies, and their foul leader: the only Andalite-Controller in the galaxy, with his own array of monstrous alien morphs... the abomination known as Visser Three.
REVIEW: This book reads like a pilot episode for a TV series, down to the sometimes-awkward setups and the details that change once the series gets picked up. It starts fairly fast, introducing the characters, establishing the "game rules" for the universe, and giving a taste of the action, paranoia, and occasional humor that form the bulk of the series. Jake finds himself unexpectedly - and unwillingly - thrust into the role of group leader, a job he almost refuses until the Yeerk invasion hits too close to home. With his friends, he has a good support team, even if - like Jake - none of them feel up to the monumental task of saving humanity. Applegate creates some nicely non-humanoid aliens, and if a few of them stretch the laws of physics and nature, well, Animorphs is ultimately an alien-blasting action series. Some fact issues bugged me (such as the "backwards knee" on dogs; as digitigrade walkers, that's the ankle, not the knee, as a quick glance at a dog skeleton amply proves), but on the whole it intrigued me just enough to keep reading... which is just as well, as I originally bought this book because I wanted to read Book 2. (It had a cat on the cover. I never pretended to be a sophisticated book buyer...)
Oh - and I must say that, while I liked the "morphing" covers of the original Animorphs run, the new ones are rather cool, in a shiny-object way. (Hey, I told you, I'm not that sophisticated...)