Saturday, August 24, 2013

Animorphs Revisited: #2 - The Visitor

In which an Animorph faces Visser Three head-on for the first time. Also, Rachel feels bad for being a shitty friend, and she tackles street harassment in a satisfying but tragically non-reproducible way.

Our first Rachel book! Rachel books mean sass, Cassie books mean moral anxiety, Marco books mean bad jokes leavening angst, Tobias books mean philosophy, and Jake books mean naptime.

(Ax books, if you'll permit me a touch of prolepsis, mean all awesome all the time.)

Book Two opens with our first viewpoint account of flying, since Jake didn't morph a bird last book. These descriptions of soaring up on thermals and diving down made me ache with longing as a kid. PTSD or no PTSD, I wanna be able to turn into a bird, dammit!
If I'm being perfectly honest, it's pretty clear which bird I would be.
Apparently, the whole premise of the books came about because K.A. Applegate was really interested in animals and wanted to write a series that would teach kids about aspects of animal physiology in a fun way. The ability to turn into animals came first, and the rest arose from there. I guess it worked, because I am not much of an animal person and I don't care much for nature, but I still hoovered up these books and dreamed of morphing. I mean, this shit is just so cool.

Rachel alleges that Jake “loves excitement and adventure and being a little crazy.” Really? Because I just read an entire book from his viewpoint and I didn't get the slightest hint of such traits. From what I know about Jake's thought processes, he would love elevator music and the shipping news and white bread with the crusts cut off.

When the gang morphs back to human, Jake and Cassie share this charming exchange:
“It's like now, being back in a human body, I feel like I'm handicapped or something. I feel like I'm glued to the ground.”
“And blind. Human eyes are so lame for seeing things far away.”
Wow, guys. That's, like, eight counts of ableism in two sentences. Not cool. (This reminds me of the time a couple years ago when I rediscovered the nineties Harriet the Spy movie, and my eyeballs fell out of my head when Buffy's little sister dismissed another kid's idea as “retarded.”)

The main reason Rachel is so much more fun to read than Jake is because her personality (of which, unlike him, she has one) really shines through in her interactions with the others. She loves Cassie to death and appreciates her peace-loving steadfastness, but she can't really get over Cassie's lack of fashion sense. She has a smart-mouthed, snarky tendency to trade unserious semi-flirty insults with Marco – they're like Ron and Hermione without the undercurrent of sexual tension. She totally fancies Tobias, which is a little weird now that he's a bird. She is cousins with Jake.

Our narrator takes center stage in this book. The plan is for her to attempt to revive her fading relationship with former second-best-friend Melissa, daughter of assistant principal / Controller / epic douchenozzle Chapman, as a way of spying on him.

Rachel reacts to street harassment by going half-elephant. I don't love her narration's harping on about how dumb she is for walking home alone, but it rings sadly true for internalized self-victim-blaming, and it's pretty impressive for a kids' book about mind-controlling aliens to even acknowledge the existence of street harassment. Yeerks are not the only horrifying things in this world.
As far as feminist wish-fulfillment goes, I'd say going elephant is about on par with this.
“Rachel is going to become a shrew? How will we know when she's changed? How do you become what you already are?” Shut the fuck up, Marco. You're only funny when you're not being a raving misogynist. Rachel lets that one slide, but at least she calls out Jake for talking about “letting” her do a morph: “since when do you let me do things? What are you, my master? I don't think so.”

Rachel morphs Melissa's cat, which is appropriately sassy and self-confident, so as to spy on the Chapmans. She learns that both Chapman parents are Controllers, that the Yeerks on Earth are none too happy with Visser Three as their commander, and that the change in Melissa's personality has happened because she can sense that her parents no longer love her.
Melissa cried. And it came to me, like a vision: All the children all over, whose parents had been made into Controllers. And the parents whose children had been taken from them to be turned into Controllers. It was a terrible image. I wondered how it must feel to see your parents stop loving you.
Rachel morphs again, and Visser Three is all THAT KITTY IS FO SHO AN ANDALITE BANDIT. Oops. 
Maybe if cat-Rachel wasn't so dang SASSY, V3 wouldn't get all lime-green jell-o.
V3 – I can call him that, right? – wants Melissa enYeerked, but the Chapman parents stage a full-on host rebellion, nearly wresting control back from their Yeerks. Humans can't and don't throw off Yeerk control completely, but if sufficiently motivated they can fight, and if they fight publicly it'll make them look totes irrationalpants. (←I invented that; it's the non-ableist version of “crazypants.”) Not ideal for Controllers who wish to remain in positions of authority. As a compromise, the Chapman-Controllers let Melissa alone but take cat-Rachel to V3. Cat-Rachel is accompanied by flea-Jake, whose physical mass is now roughly the same size as his personality, and the other Animorphs roll into town and help them escape, but not before the real Chapman has had the chance to speak a few words to V3.

Turns out that Chapman has willingly accepted a Yeerk into his head in exchange for Melissa's ensured safety. That's right: The reason Melissa's parents act like they don't love her anymore is because they have made the greatest possible personal sacrifice for her. Rachel leaves an anonymous note promising Mel that her dad still loves her, “more than he can ever show you,” but I somehow doubt that's hugely comforting for poor Mel (and I guess her mom doesn't matter at all?). God, it must kill her parents to be trapped in their bodies daily, witnessing themselves treat their daughter like shit and knowing she can't ever know how much they truly love her.

Y'all, these books are so very very upsetting.
Pictured: Me, reading this book.
Moral Quandaries
Rachel and her old friend Melissa have been growing apart for a while. NBD, that's just what preteens do, but Rachel has a lot of guilt about it in this book.
'Melissa is still my friend. Maybe somehow I can help her.'
'Your job is not to help Melissa Chapman,' Marco pointed out. 'You're supposed to be spying on Chapman. You're supposed to be finding some way for us to get at the Yeerks.'
Ouch. Rachel knows the mission should be her number one priority, but she's desperate to comfort her old friend. That's why she takes an unwise risk in morphing Melissa's cat again, which gets her captured by Visser Three (and almost lets the cat out of the bag). (Sorry not sorry.) It's a stupid move that seriously jeopardizes all the Animorphs, but her motivations make total sense. Since Cassie our moral compass, let's hand over to her for the Aesop:
'Don't ever let any of this get in the way of spending time with your dad,' [Cassie] said earnestly. 'He needs you. We need you, too, Marco, but your dad comes first.' She looked at Jake, then at me. 'There isn't much point in doing any of this if we forget why we're doing it.'
Trans* Moments
Tobias is adjusting to being a hawk full-time. 
<There are things you miss... Sitting back on the couch with a can of pop and a bag of chips and no school the next day and something good on TV. That's a good feeling...> He didn't sound like he was feeling sorry for himself. Just like he was mentioning something that happened to be true.
I know how you feel, Tobias.
Pictured: All women's restrooms. All of them.
PTSD: Not All About Capslock
Passing the abandoned construction site where they met their plot last book, all the kids are stricken. Rachel breaks off from recapping the events for readers who missed book one: “You know what? I really don't want to talk about that...” Cassie starts crying. They admit to having nightmares about the Yeerk pool and the horrors of people being Controllers. Even Jake has a sympathetic moment, thanks to his one personality trait of having a Controller brother. Later, Rachel has intense nightmares about the shrew morph.

Hey, It's 1996! Pop Culture Reference Log
Shit's getting way nineties, y'all. I had to google Shannon Miller and Morris the cat, because I had absolutely no idea who they were.
  • Spider-Man
  • Letterman, again, and Stupid Pet Tricks specifically
  • Shannon Miller
  • Tolkien
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger's arms (yes, his arms)
  • Itchy and Scratchy
  • Morris the cat
  • Clint Eastwood
  • Star Trek, of course
  • Fantastic Four, X-Men, Superman

Next time: TOBIAS!!!!!111 !!!!!11!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment