Book 1: The Invasion
Publishing Date: June 1996
I’ve been thinking about this review for a while. There’s two major difficulties: it’s often hard to write a great review of an amazing book, and how does one review a book one has read a billionty times since one was ten years old? (That was nearly twenty years ago. I SAY NEARLY I AM NOT THAT OLD.) This is an establishing review as well, so it will be longer than my other ones.
Let’s start from the beginning. I first saw this book when I was ten years old in my school library. It sat alongside book #2. I seem to recall half of my class telling me about this book, because #2 had a girl turning into a cat and everyone knew I liked cats (as should be obvious from my blog header). I was tempted to read #2 first because as an eight year old I wasn’t aware that book series had this thing called ‘continuity’ – I’d read Goosebumps, the Babysitter’s Club, and the Saddle Club, each of which you could pull out a random book and enjoy a stand-alone story – especially Goosebumps, of which most of the books were unrelated. I was unprepared for the overarching story arc that encompassed all the books. This was especially relevant when I read #2: The Visitor, but we’ll get to that.
In #1 The Invasion, Jake is our narrator. He’s an average guy – he’s got good grades, is good-looking, likes basketball and video games. His best friend is short, annoying Hispanic Marco, His crush is black farm girl Cassie. His cousin is blonde Amazon warrior Rachel. There’s also this weird, quiet kid Tobias. The five take a walk through a construction site, meet a dying alien who warns them of a silent invasion and gives them a power to fight back: the power to morph. That means they can turn into any animal they touch. Unfortunately, so can their greatest enemy: Visser Three. He’s the alien leading the invasion and wants nothing more than to destroy our trusty Animorphs. He’s also scary in a love-to-hate kind of way: psychotic, ambitious, and completely ruthless.
The book follows the kids’ first adventures: acquiring powerful ‘battle morphs’ and attacking the Yeerk pool, where the invading parasitic slugs have to return every three days. Not everything turns out OK, which is what I love about Applegate. She’s not afraid to give us an unhappy ending, even in her children’s fiction. Looking back, I can see that the prose is written with a breakneck pace. You don’t want to tear your eyes away from it. It’s so breathtaking that the non-essential parts are left out and your brain has to race to catch up. There are also a few mistakes that Applegate would later refer to as KASUs (Katherine Applegate Screws Up) such as Tobias in cat morph able to hear Jake’s thoughts, which was removed from the reprint.
The best thing about these novels, what made them so popular and what made Applegate want to write them in the first place is looking through the eyes of the human as they’re morphing and describing everything in vivid detail, even the gross parts, and looking at the world through the eyes of the animal filtered by our human narrator. Applegate really gets into the head of Jake’s dog, lizard, and tiger. It’s joyful, scary, comforting, amazing. And that’s what made these books so special.
Join me for a review of Book #2: The Visitor soon!