Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Beginning (K. A. Applegate)

The Beginning
(The Animorphs series, Book 54)
K. A. Applegate
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Once, they were five human children and one Andalite warrior-cadet, hidden warriors fighting to save Earth from an invisible, parasitic threat. Fighting the foul Abomination, the sole Andalite-Controller in the galaxy. Fighting the animal minds of their own morphed bodies. Fighting their own inexperience, their own doubts and fears.
Three years later, the secrecy is gone. The Yeerk war is over.
And, in the final, terrible battle, six became five.
Now, after years of fighting, of fear, of making soul-scarring decisions no sentient, feeling being should be forced to make, the surviving Animorphs find themselves thrust into the international - and interplanetary - spotlight. Hailed as heroes, mobbed by fans, courted by politicians, and targeted by terrorists, Jake and his companions face their greatest challenge ever: the beginning of the rest of their lives. It should be a time of relief, of joy, of hope. But the old scars linger, as do the old warrior instincts. For not all of the Yeerks surrendered at the end of the war... and so long as the rebel Blade ship remains free, interplanetary peace may be just a temporary illusion.

REVIEW: I remember the hammer-blow to the gut I felt the first time I read The Beginning. Realistically, Applegate could've ended the story of the Animorphs with one or two more chapters at the end of Book 53. Most authors would have. Instead, she chose a more challenging, more honest route, giving readers a look at the lives faced by war veterans and other survivors. Jake and his friends each became nothlits in their own ways, morphed into soldiers by the necessities of war only to find - at the end - that they had overstayed the limit, and could no longer demorph into the innocent children they used to be. It takes the concept of the series to a whole different level, and provides a more realistic portrayal of after-the-victory life than most books dare. The ending... well, Applegate caught a lot of flak from fans. I admit, I wasn't too keen on it the first time, myself. But, in rereading the books, I don't think she could've done justice to the characters or the series had she let things lie where most people would have, in the happy honeymoon glow of war's end. Jake and his friends had been too deeply changed, too deeply wounded in heart and mind, for such a happy-taffy send-off. (Even the little page-corner morphs - a feature of the books, where you flip the pages to see them morph - give the Animorphs a proper send-off, with the profiles of the characters fading to nothing.)
In the afterword, Applegate explains why she ended it how she did. She explains that it was time to walk away from the Animorphs world. There's enough meat left on the bones, enough lingering loose strings, that she could easily revisit the universe in the future... but I don't expect she ever will. She told the story she wanted to tell. And, on the whole, she did it brilliantly.
In the end, I was left with a few regrets. I regret the unnecessary extensions and filler books, not to mention the uneven quality of the ghostwriters, that kept the story from advancing as smoothly as it should have. I regret not being able to spend more time getting to know the newer Animorphs and other allies from the final phase of the war. I regret never knowing the answers to some of the nagging stray threads left over from earlier adventures. But mostly I regret that I'll probably never read its like again... not even from K. A. Applegate (whose Everworld series ended on a strong note, but whose Remnants series petered out disappointingly.) For five years, the Animorphs series provided me (and my father and mother, both of whom swiped my books as soon as I finished) with a monthly fix of action, adventure, and the occasional burst of humor. I always knew they were treasures, but not until I reread them did I realize just what rare jewels they truly were.
So, Applegate, if you're reading this, I offer a belated and heart-felt "thank you." (And a profound wish that you are, somehow, overseeing the "updates"... it would be a shame if the magic was lost for future generations.)

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