I have misremembered or forgotten entire books and plotlines from this series, something which I’ve discovered over and over again in this re-read of mine. But I did not forget this book. This book I remembered very clearly. It made a HUGE impression on me as a kid.
This is the one where Cassie quits the Animorphs because she’s finding herself willing to do more and more horrible things in the name of defeating the Yeerks, and she doesn’t want to become that person. She doesn’t want to be the one who pays the price anymore. This understandably upsets the others, but she doesn’t care. She walks away, promising Jake she won’t use her powers if not for the cause.
And then she and a little girl, who is also a Controller, are trapped in the woods, and she knows Cassie can morph. And she’s injured. And she can’t understand why Cassie hasn’t killed her yet, despite having every chance and motive to do so.
Most of the book acts like a sort of bottle episode. Just a conversation between the two of them that does more to grey things up than almost anything we’ve seen so far. Both of them, two people from opposite sides of a war, only become more confused and conflicted as time goes on, and they ask each other genuinely difficult questions. This book more than any of the rest of the series, to be honest, is what I think of every time I can’t believe this is a children’s series. It’s rare enough for a war/adventure story to humanize the enemy so much, to show such sympathy for the “evil bad guys”, rarer still in children’s fiction, which in my experience is even more black and white. (I would have that same feeling of OH, WOW, WHAT ARE THEY DOING? years later when I watched the second season episode of Battlestar Galactica, “Downloaded”, in which the show repositions the Cylons as ‘people’ instead of enemy robots.)
I was almost tempted to give this five stars, not just for Cassie’s reaction and her conversation with Karen/Aftran the Yeerk, but for Cassie’s interactions with her fellow Animorphs, who have very different, very human, very angry reactions to her quitting the team. Rachel especially feels Cassie’s actions condemn her, that Cassie is leaving because she doesn’t want to become someone like Rachel. How can a friendship recover from that? Which is ultimately why I’m not giving it five stars. Because it almost seems like after Cassie’s sacrifice is hand-waved away (though the image of Cassie turning into a butterfly is not without poignancy, all of the conflict from the first part of the story seems to evaporate and Cassie is suddenly back on the team and best friends with Rachel again. It was a disappointing, too simple ending to a fascinating, complicated story.
Next up, probably the most intense WTF story arc of the entire series.