Between the 54 main storyline books, 4 chronicles, 4 Megamorphs, and the two stupid “choose your own adventure” books where I think just about every choice ended up in you dying, Animorphs had a lot of books. Everyone that has ever spoken to me for more than five minutes probably knows that I love the series. I often pick one up for a reread because they’re so short you can get through one in like twenty minutes and they make me feel a lot of things in a short amount of time. Picking favourites is all but impossible because there are so many awesome things about nearly all of them. So I made this list by thinking of which ones come to mind when I’m trying to describe why I love the series.
10. The Reaction (12)
The book that spawned the “Cassie loves hard rock” meme. Also, my personal favourite of the stupid plot books. What’s not to love about a morphing allergy and uncontrollable morphing triggered by Rachel’s anger issues while they try to prevent some teen actor with, as Tobias put it, “Yasmine Bleeth power” from being infested?
This is by far the lightest book on this list and one of the lightest in the whole series. It’s just funny with very few heavy or serious moments, and it always makes me laugh, just because of how rare books like that are in this series. Friendship, hijinks, Xena jokes, Rachel starting to turn into a bear and passing it off as new boots, Rachel turning into an elephant and falling through her house, Marco as a llama, Cassie attacking a crocodile while in squirrel morph, Cassie morphing Rachel, and talk show hosts freaking out.
Note: Cassie being a bad liar that can’t think of anything to say is usually played for laughs, but here, when the word Andalite was barked at her to see if she’d react, she just agreed that “and a light” would be helpful and kept walking. She claimed she had a hard time controlling Rachel’s morph and that Rachel’s brain kept trying to make her do dumb things, but maybe Rachel’s instincts also helped her lie better?
This book was a zany adventure that’s far closer to the usual use of the Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World trope than the rest of the series. While nearly every book has lighthearted, funny moments, entire plots that are light don’t happen often, making this one hugely refreshing and a nice reprieve from all the darkness.
9. The Pretender (23)
Toby’s intro! Well, not really. That wouldn’t make sense. Her real intro was at the end of Hork-Bajir Chronicles, but seeing as between that book and this one she wasn’t so much as mentioned once, this was where we got to see her as a character for the first time. That automatically gives this book bonus points, because Toby Hamee is freaking awesome. Even more bonus points because it’s a Tobias book, and he has fewer from his perspective than most of the others.
The story goes between trying to rescue a Hork-Bajir child that wandered off, a supposed long lost cousin of Tobias, and his upcoming birthday on which he’ll be read a letter from his father. All the while, Tobias is dealing with the fact that being a hawk is tough. It’s quite an eventful book for him. He uses the fact that he’s forgotten how to emote as a superpower while sitting in a room with someone he knows is Visser Three in morph and learns that Elfangor was his father, and that’s after a whole book of him having a really bad three days.
Lots of action, angst, good fight scenes, and Hork-Bajir. Basically, classic Animorphs.
This wasn’t labelled as one of the Chronicles, even though it essentially was one of them, and I can see why – while the rest of the Chronicles told stories about the past, about how the universe reached the place it was when book 1 (The Invasion) began, this one is told in the present and through flashbacks.
This book provided a lot of insight into the Yeerk Empire and its internal politics. Very cool. It was primarily about Edriss, her past, and her present chess game with Esplin, and all that was great, but what I was struck by more than anything was how badass Marco’s mom is. Eva was fascinating in this book, because this basically the first time we got to see her. Not her as filtered through the perception of her son’s memories from when he was eleven. Not her as a helpless little host that needs to be saved. Her as a woman with her own mind and thoughts, her as a smart, competent, experienced individual, her as the other side of the same coin as Edriss. And she’s awesome.
In an earlier book, we see Chapman, who’s also spent years as a Controller. But where Chapman didn’t resist for his daughter’s sake, stopped paying attention to what was happening to the point where he had forgotten how to control his body when he had his head back, Eva kept fighting. She didn’t need time to figure out how to use her mouth and limbs again, she had control of her body again and immediately started thinking about what she had to do, what the smart thing to do was. This woman sacrificed everything – body and mind and freedom – for the sake of the planet, because she knew her freedom would come at a cost. Eva is the hero of another story.
7. The Attack (26)
Awwww, Jake defeated the Howlers with the power of love. But more than that – he looked at two nigh omnipotent beings and made them blink. You know how the whole series is about child soldiers? This book was about child soldiers coming to face with other child soldiers and deciding that they cannot kill children that don’t comprehend that the killing isn’t a game.
We see Erek again, which is nice. There’s a lot of questioning what it means to be an android that’s barred from violence and the true limitations of that. It’s not the focus – the Chee are minor characters – but it is there. Foreshadowing for later? Probably not intentionally, but interesting all the same. The characters meet the Iskoort, two species – the Isk and the Yoort – in a symbiotic relationship where neither can exist without the other, showing what the Yeerks could be at some point. It never came up again, but still, cool.
It’s a good character piece. Plotwise, it’s not really relevant, seeing as it’s pretty much a one off that doesn’t get referenced at all later, but it’s excellently written, delves into the same kind of ethical dilemmas and such that Animorphs at its best always does, and has some great moments between the characters.
6. The Solution (22)
Also could be called: Nothing Brings A Team Together Like Plotting The Destruction Of The New Member.
The best written Rachel book, by far. Lots of heavy stuff, but they also ran into a drunk, pantsless G8 leader who I think saluted them while grinning wildly? (There was a recent debate on Tumblr over whether that was supposed to be Boris Yeltsin or Vladmir Putin. Help us out, KAA). Back on topic!
Animorphs is, for the most part, highly episodic. There’s an ongoing story, and everyone has a pretty consistent character arc throughout the series, but most of the books are written in a way that you could pick one up, starting in the middle of the series, and be pretty okay. Those loosely connected books are good. Some of them, put into context, though? Where specific plot points from one come up later, or the ones that carry out a tightly woven mini-arc, like the David Trilogy? Those are almost always great.
What’s interesting about this book is that it showed the team aspects of the Animorphs better than anything else. It’s not just Rachel getting a moment where she stands alone. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the darkest book – how do you decide on that in a series that’s this dark overall? For heaven’s sake, the first one opened with an alien being eaten alive and a bunch of children crying as they listened to his screams – but I’d argue that it’s their darkest hour as a team, the first book where they’re really pushed to their limits together.
This book is messed up. If book 6 was the first time they’d ever come up with a plan, executed it, and wound up winning with no element of luck involved, just them and their skill, this is the dark side of that book. They come up with a plan. They execute it successfully. But it shows off the scary sides of all the Animorphs. Cassie’s sense of empathy and ability to manipulate people. Jake’s ability to make the hard choices. And above all, Rachel’s growing violence and ability to complete the plans others formulate.
Book 6 was hardly light and breezy. Jake spent the entire book trapped inside his own head. Cassie came up with the idea that they needed to send Ax to impersonate him for his parents. They dragged a sentient creature into the woods and starved him to death. But he was enslaving Jake at the time, we could see that he was indubitably a bad guy, and this was long before they met Aftran and started to see the Yeerks as people, so it felt justified. David is not a sympathetic character. He completely disregards Cassie and Tobias. But he’s still just a kid the same age as the protagonists that didn’t ask for any of this to happen.
Cassie’s potential to be the most dangerous Animorph was clearly illustrated through the fact that it was her plan to trap David as a rat. She wrote the script, anticipated every one of David’s moves, and successfully trapped him, because she didn’t want to kill him. Damn. Just three books before this, we saw the positive side of Cassie’s empathy – she convinced Aftran that enslaving Karen so she herself could be free was wrong. Here? She used that empathy to figure out every move David would make and how to beat him – trapping him as a rat and leaving him alone on an uninhabited island.
Jake’s major strength is his ability to adapt. And yes, that as at least partially innate, but it was honed by experience and, I’d argue, perfected here. David strengthened him and made him capable of the kind of things he does later in the series. In the book immediately preceding this one, Jake outright admits that David is an unknown. He spends the book trying to figure out what makes him tick, whereas he knows the others so well he doesn’t even need to think. He can make those decisions on how to use them, on what they’ll probably do, on autopilot. But David? Jake didn’t know how to handle him, handle people that are only nominally on his side that he neither likes nor trusts, or even people that he wasn’t sure would listen to him. The events of this book made him capable of dealing with Mean Rachel and Nice Rachel in 32, the Andalites in 38, the Auxiliary Animorphs in 50. The way he used Rachel in this book is why he was later capable of manipulating Tobias into volunteering to be captured and tortured in 33, why he could figure out every move Tom’s Yeerk would make in 53 and 54.
Of course, this was Rachel’s book, not theirs, and it showed off so much of how she’d changed throughout the series. Unlike many, though, I don’t think it’s how she stood watch for the necessary two hours that did that. Sure, maybe it’s not something Cassie would have been able to do, but it’s not that Rachel wanted to do it. She had a choice between that and killing him. And Ax was right there with her, even more emotionally detached from it than her. It’s how in the rest of the book, she veered into straight up sadistic, threatening David’s family while holding a fork to his ear, wanting to cause him pain, becoming just about the only fourteen (probably, somewhere around that age) year old girl capable of making a plastic utensil terrifying. She’s the one Jake wants by his side at a fight, that he automatically calls for without having to think. Everything with David made it dawn on her that her bloodthirstiness was actually scary.
(I love this book so much that I rambled on about it forever and had to cut out half of the points I made.)
5. The Sickness (29)
Cassie does awesome on her own, and this was a clear demonstration of why. This book follows 19, another amazing Cassie book, by bringing back Aftran. In this one, she morphs a Yeerk, visits the Yeerk Pool by herself, rescues Aftran, and gets home in time to figure out how to perform brain surgery on Ax, her other alien friend, in her barn with nothing but a hole saw and scalpel. Relatively low angst, lots of funny scenes, some cute ones, but mainly just Cassie, doing her thing and being awesome while her team is all down with the flu.
Cassie Middle-Name-Unknown, a high school student brave enough to go down to rescue a friend from a place that gives her nightmares and cut open another friend’s head, but not enough to not need her best friend/boyfriend’s cousin to tell him he’s taking her to a dance. I love her. Come on, Cassie. He literally stopped the Howlers by giving them the memory of kissing you three books ago. Pull yourself together.
4. The Departure (19)
This book celebrated hope. It celebrated optimism. There was some clumsy writing, what with the random bear and leopard serving as plot devices to herd the characters where Applegate wanted them and Cassie behaving uncharacteristically stupidly in a way that I’d need another post to analyze, but I love it anyway. There are a lot of books, shows, and movies that glorify the cynical characters or the “badass” ones that do the ruthless, necessary thing or stuff like that, but that’s not what Cassie is about, and it’s certainly not what this book is about.
This is about choices and sacrifice, about standing up against evil being hard, about not standing up being morally reprehensible. It’s about how not everyone in the empire the protagonists fight against is evil. It’s about trust. It’s about how it’s unfair that the Yeerks were born slugs, without sight or hearing, unable to see how beautiful the world is, but how it’s not right for them to enslave others to have it. It’s about peace. Not between all humans and all Yeerks and all Andalites, but between Cassie and Aftran. One human and one Yeerk.
Cassie’s morals are impossible to separate from her as a character. She jealously, maybe even selfishly, guarded her own soul and her principles, because she couldn’t live with not being able to look herself in the mirror, and that’s why she survived. She was determined to stay who she was. She fought to hold onto her sense of right and wrong, which was why she could move on with her life after. This book was beautifully written, with amazingly poignant quotes, and an amazing way of forcing the reader to empathize.
3. The Beginning (54)
Controversial opinion? Maybe. But I love this book. Sure, maybe it wasn’t what most people wanted. But it was what I needed. It wasn’t a happy ending. It wasn’t all miserable, either. It was bittersweet and dedicated to the aftermath, to hammering in the point that the lead characters had become child soldiers that sacrificed their souls for humanity, because there’s no such thing as a glorious war or a just war, but there may be a such thing as a necessary one.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a children’s book that demonstrates the effects of war as well as this one. Jake had absolutely no idea what to do with his life for most of it. He spent a year clinically depressed and not talking to a therapist or any of his friends. He barely left his house except to sometimes visit Rachel’s grave, and he didn’t even talk to her. After that, when he started making an attempt to move on, it was by floating through life until someone gave him another mission. Marco got the fame and fortune he’d craved, but it was hollow and as good as he was at pretending otherwise, he was bored out of his mind and jumped at the chance to go into space and rescue Ax. Tobias became a recluse. Ax mostly just…found other stuff to fight so he could avoid trying to get on with his life. Cassie alone managed to move on.
There really aren’t many books out there were a significant chunk of is it about the war crimes trial a year after the end of the war, during which the defence attempts to discredit the lead character by accusing him of being a war criminal himself, so when you read one, it sticks with you. Animorphs, everybody. For kids!
2. Hork-Bajir Chronicles
Animorphs is in general a story about war and imperialism, and this book showed that off like whoa. There was a cast of great characters:
- Alloran, my trashbag fave! He’s pretty much my favourite character outside the mains, partially due to him being a pretty terrible person.
- Seerow, the closest thing that this series has to an unambiguous good guy! Except no, not really, because his was a very Woodrow Wilson style of idealism and liberalism – that is to say, hugely racist. Wilson believed in self determination as it extends to white people. Seerow believed in the intelligence of the Yeerks, that they deserved to see the stars, but not in that of the Hork-Bajir. Aldrea told him how Dak was brilliant and had rapidly learned just about everything she had to teach. He flat out didn’t believe her, because how could that possibly be?
- Aldrea, who was all for getting the Hork-Bajir to fight the Yeerks and trying to manipulate Dak even as she started to like him, then noped the hell out of there as soon as she found out about the biological warfare stuff.
- Dak Hamee, who mastered the art of calling out Andalites way before Jake, smart and kind and forced to fight.
- Esplin from before he infested Alloran and was still a cunning villain because of not growing kind of crazy from the power. Man, they really shouldn’t have promoted him, he was really good at his old job.
Plots are all well and good, but they’re nothing without solid characters to drive it, and these? Amazing.
1. The Answer (53)
You can argue that the entire series culminated in this book. If 54 was about the aftermath, this was the book where all the pieces that have been building since the beginning came together for the sake of this one thing.
It’s a complex plan filled with various forces, some of which are teeth gritting their way through their alliance. The Animorphs are only reluctantly working with Tom, and that falls apart almost immediately. They used the Auxiliary Animorphs and the military as a distraction. The Hork-Bajir and Taxxons were holding position down to the last person. Jake had to threaten to kill Chapman in order to force Erek to help. Esplin doesn’t surrender until the next book. Tom and Rachel aren’t dead yet. But the war was effectively won here.
There are a lot of fans that see Jake as a boring everyman. I’m pretty sure Marco is the most common favourite character, and something I used to see quite often (but not so much anymore) is people saying he’d be a better leader. I disagree for a lot of reasons, and it would take a whole post of its own to explain why, but this book was the best example of Jake at his most brilliant and most terrifying.
Jake was as a ruthless as a character can get, because now they’re in all out war and for the first time, he actually saw a way to win, one that involved a whole lot of sacrifice. He was emotionally distant for most of this book. Very early on, he says that he’s had to give up soul searching because there’s no time left for that, and he does. He has a brief moment of feeling amazing at the prospect of victory when Arbron says they want to help, but aside from that, this book is a sombre one about him using his people as chess pieces. He’s detached, numb, and only focused on the goal until near the end, when it seems to register just what he’s doing.
Ordering Rachel to go after Tom made sense. He was stopping Tom’s nameless Yeerk from getting away and enslaving some other species – and how crazy is it that this guy, this villain we loathe so much, at times even more than Esplin, never got a name? Through the whole series we call him Tom, and while at times I found that frustrating, it serves a very important purpose that pays off here. Jake doesn’t know the Yeerk’s name. He can’t separate the Yeerk from his brother. It’s not just the Yeerk that dies. It’s Tom himself. It’s the conclusion to the series long Cain and Abel theme, and the reason that even now, in 2018, thinking about Jake Berenson still makes me want to cry.
The plot of the series is not complex. But the depth of the characters and the way in which the books deconstruct so many tropes is outstanding.