Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Reunion

Animorphs #30: The Reunion
© 1999 K.A. Applegate
176 pages

Ever have one of those nights? Where you're exhausted, where you'd pay anything just to fall asleep? But the wheels in your head just keep spinning and spinning and spinning? Imagined conversations. Me talking, explaining, arguing. Changing the words around, repeating them, rehashing them. Around and around in circles.  
Me talking to my mom. Raging. Explaining. Me talking to my mom, as my real mom, why I had to do it.
Me explaining to my mom as Visser One. Laughing, chortling, savoring my victory over head.
This is how I defeated you! I crowed.
This is how I saved you! I explained.
No choice. No choice. 

Long ago while in a local grocery store, I spotted an interesting book-cover that depicted a young boy about eleven years old transforming into a lizard. Naturally, it picqued my curiosity and I wanted to read it, but my mother -- thinking it suspect for some reason -- denied me the freedom to read it. Two years later I started reading the series behind her back and found myself entranced by it:  Animorphs is the story of a band of young adolescents who, with the help of an alien teenager, fight a secret invasion of Earth by a race of brain-controlling slugs called "Yeerks" by transforming into animals -- an ability given to them by a doomed member of an alien race fighting against the Yeerks.  At the outset, the novels were chiefly entertaining for their premise -- the idea of people "morphing" into animal forms, complete with animal instincts, fascinated me.  The series grew darker as the kids -- eventually becoming teenagers -- became more involved in a desperate guerilla war against the Yeerks.  They strike against the Yeerks using animal morphs, becoming bitterly-experienced warriors who fight savagely against long odds. Unfortunately, I lost access to the series before the final arc began and have not been able to attempt to complete it until now.

Because I do not quite remember where I  stopped reading, I've decided -- arbitrarily -- to jump in at number thirty. That means establishing a bit of background for curious parties reading this.

The book series began when a group of young adolescents, roughly of early middle school age, witnessed the crash of a small alien spacecraft containing one being, a warrior named Elfangor.  Elfangor informed the children that their planet was in danger, secretly invaded by the Yeerks who were slowly accumulating greater and greater numbers of human hosts.  His kind, the Andalites, were waging a great war against the Yeerks, for Earth was not the first planet to fall prey to the Yeerks: the slugs are spreading throughout the galazy, enslaving whole planets.  Elfangor was alone in attempting to prevent the Yeerks from gaining a foothold on Earth, and failed in his mission: he decided to empower the children -- Jake, Rachel, Marco, Tobias, and Cassie -- to fight for Earth by giving them the ability to "acquire" the DNA of animals and then transform into those animals at will.

This is an Andalite. They're as cool as they look. 

Their enemies, the Yeerks, are insidious: the slugs worm their way inside a victim's ear canal, squeezing into the various crevices of the brain and seizing control of it, turning the human body into their own:  the victim retains his or her personality, but cannot exert any control over their own body. The Yeerk inhabiting a host body is called a "Controller". Controllers are everywhere, constantly -- and discreetly -- acquiring new victims. They have one great weakness: every three days, they must take in "Kandrona" rays', originally transmitted from their native planet's sun.  Most Yeerks do this communally at gathering sites known as "Yeerk pools", but the elite have access to generators that provide the rays. The kids have precious few allies: the kid brother of Elfangor for one, and a few androids whose programming prevents them from partaking in violence. They're useful as spies, however. The six -- for "Ax",  Elfangor's brother, is part of their band -- use a wide variety of "morphs" to spy on Controllers and strike their gains. They fight a holding action against the Yeerks, hoping that one day the Andalite battlefleet will arrive to start open war.

Applegate and her ghostwriters rotate characters in telling the books: Book #30, "The Reunion", is told from Marco's point of view. Marco is Jake's best friend, and while Jake provides leadership and stability, Marco provides humor, often the sardonic variety. He's intense, a difficult character to read: more than any of the others, he understands that he and his friends run a tightrope, risking death and defeat at every moment while enganging in morally questionable activity. Marco is the soldier who knows they teeter on the edge of insanity, but he hides the fear of what might happen behind a mask of laughing bravado.

That mask has a weakness: Marco's mother, who disappeared during his childhood but resurfaced recently as a Controller: she is host to the highest-ranked officer in the Yeerk military, Visser One.  In every action involving her, Marco is torn between his duties as a member of the Animorphs and his love for his mother:  in The Reunion that comes to a head when he spots her walking the streets in a disguise and decides to follow her. He soon realizes that Visser One is on the run,  having lost a private war with another Yeerk ruler -- Visser Three.  Visser Three is the kids' main nemesis, as he heads the Earth invasion: Visser One was trapped on the surface when the kids undermined a project of hers that recquired experimentation on Earth.

Marco decides to use the conflict between the Vissers to the Animorphs' advantage and contrives a plan that will -- with luck -- destroy both Vissers. That he is willing to sacrifice his mother -- whom he loves dearly -- for the cause indicates how dark the series already is that this point, having already wreaked an emotional toil on Marco and Jake particularly. The resulting plan sees the Animorphs take to the mountains amid a furious battle between the Vissers' respective forces, but all does not go according to plan.

The Reunion made for a strong reentry into the Animorphs series. It's a short read -- I used to go through several of them a day in high school -- so this series won't take long to finish. If you can find the collection in your local library, it might make for a fun diversion regardless of age.

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