By K. A. Applegate
Available now from Scholastic
I started reading the Animorphs shortly before the eleventh book was released. I was in third grade then, and too old for the series when the last book came out. But I was still following the series, because the Animorphs were my favorite. I drove my parents crazy whenever a new one came out. (I ordered most through Scholastic book clubs, but that wasn't always possible.)
Since I've been saving mine in a box to give to future generations of my family, the re-release couldn't have come at a better time. My eldest baby cousin is just now old enough to read them and now she can buy her own copies. Based on THE INVASION, Scholastic has not updated the books. The characters are too young to have cell phones. Most references to video games are made-up, whereas most pop culture references are to enduring stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek. I can mostly think of future references that will have aged (Alanis Morisette, NIN), but will still be understandable. I hope Scholastic continues to leave the books as they were.
The story begins when Jake and his best friend Marco meet up with three other kids at the mall - his cousin Rachel, her friend and his crush Cassie, and odd-man-out Tobias. They decide to go home together (smartly) and to cut through a construction site (dumbly). There they meet a dying alien who gives them the power to morph into any animal they touch, for two hours at a time. But he gives them this power because Earth is being infiltrated by parasites that will enslave humanity. Five normal junior high schoolers are now the only ones with the ability to save the world. They can't trust that anyone isn't already infected - not their families, not their teachers, not the police.
What parents should know about the Animorphs is that it is a dark series. I remembered how dark the books got at the end, when the kids are suffering the effects of waging a long-term guerilla war, but forgotten that they were never light. It's easy to forget, since the books are extremely funny and full of absurd situations. In THE INVASION, a good person dies within the first three chapters. The main characters are constantly in mortal peril. In their first engagement with the evil Yeerks, the main characters fail in their objectives. Jake, Marco, Rachel, Cassie, and Tobias accomplish amazing things throughout the series, but they're always at least one step behind their enemies.
Reading THE INVASION reminded me of how awesome this series is. There's excellent character development and lots of adventure. Kids with non-nuclear home lives are affected by their circumstances, but never pitied or ridiculed. Animal lovers and budding sci-fi fans will be especially intrigued by the series.
Since the Animorphs have been previously published, fans on a budget can readily find the books at secondhand stores.