I actually didn’t remember this one going into it, so my hopes weren’t high, but it turned out to be one of the best installments of these first sixteen books, even if it’s a little dated (okay, I’ll be honest, part of the reason I liked it so much is BECAUSE it was dated–all the adorable little references to 14k bps internet speed and modems and THE INTERNET and chat rooms and their idea of “security” and such, not to mention the thinly veiled AOL stand-in, Web Access America . . . oh, the late 90s, such a time of nostalgia for me).
Actually, I don’t think this book would make sense transposed into today’s era, so I guess it’s a good thing the planned updating of the series didn’t make it past book eight, because it would have required extensive reworking to make sense with our level of technology.
Anyway, as for the book itself, this is a Jake story, and I’ve always had a soft spot for those. But I don’t think it quite hit me as a kid how much responsibility was put on his shoulders, and what that meant for his emotional development as a character. I got it on a theoretical level, I suppose, but reading about it as an adult . . . man, this book was actually kind of bleak?
So the plot kicks off when, on a lark, Jake types the word “Yeerk” into his generic, totally non-AOL search engine, and surprisingly, there is exactly one hit. It’s a website seemingly devoted to uncovering the Yeerk conspiracy, and its members are (supposedly) average people who have stumbled upon knowledge of aliens among us. The Animorphs immediately suspect a Yeerk trap when Jake tells them what he’s found, so they devise a plan to break into the headquarters of Web Access America in order to find out the real life identities of the chat members. (The chat transcript in this book was painfully accurate. There’s a reason they have gone the way of the dinosaurs.)
What they find is illuminating, but the real meat of this book comes when the mission forces Jake to make some choices that illustrate just how much he’s taken on by accepting the others’ decision to make him the leader of their little group. SPOILERS Jake almost dies while in fly morph on an airplane after being swatted, and the experience (utterly horrifying, by the way), is extremely traumatic, to the point where he doesn’t want to go back into fly morph. There’s this lovely scene at the airport on the way home where Cassie confronts him about not having to put a brave face on his pain, and that it’s okay for him to show weakness. He very firmly but gently corrects her. He says she’s wrong, that people need leaders not to show weakness because they need someone to be better than they are, to show them it’s possible not to give in to the fear. It’s honestly a heartbreaking moment that I had completely forgotten.
And later, when Jake makes the wrong choice in going after the rich owner of Web Access America rather than saving a nine year old kid who’s on the verge of confronting his father over being a Yeerk, he has to live with the judgment and guilt not only of the other Animorphs (especially Cassie), but his own as well. But he can’t dwell on it. The fight is ongoing, and simply in order to function, they all have to move on and just accept that they’ve most likely done bad things in service of a good cause. That he, as leader, made the wrong call END SPOILERS.
This is a children’s book.
Of course, it’s not without its light moments. Two stand out in particular: Ax not understanding what’s going on when Tobias finds himself trapped in a toilet, and why the other Animorphs find it so amusing (the thing that makes this really funny is that he keeps asking for someone to explain it to him, and the others keep ignoring him); and then, of course, the distraction that Rachel, Tobias, Jake and Cassie provide at HQ, wherein they morph into animals and pretend to mop a carpeted floor, scaring the shit out of (and baffling completely) the Web Access America employees, so that Marco and Ax can steal the data they came for. The image of Rachel as a grizzly bear holding a mop tickles the hell out of me.
Next up: Something with Rachel and Yeerks eating oatmeal? I don’t remember this one, either, so hopefully it’s another happy surprise.