A while back you were doing individual reviews of animorph books and I was searching through the tag and I can't believe no one asked for 53,so please I know it was years ago and ur probs busy but I'm dying to know
Short opinion: I LOOOOOVE the “several independent teams come together to fight a common enemy in the final boss battle” tope—and I love even more how much K.A. Applegate subverts that trope in this book.
I do really REALLY like #53, which I think actually manages to be a final battle worthy of the entire Animorphs series despite all expectations that such a thing would even be possible. However, I also think I need to say before I get any further into this review: this book is also Really Freaking Problematic. Specifically, it’s Problematic As Hell that 30-odd disabled characters, most of them from unstable situations, get killed off (offscreen, no less) to manipulate the emotions of an able-bodied cis het upper-class white boy. It just is. I love this book despite its problematic elements; I also don’t ask anyone else to like this book or to overlook those problematic elements just because it’s also well-written. (Given my feelings on #40, it’d be pretty damn hypocritical of me to do so.)
Anywhoo, as for everything else in #53: I freaking love it. A+ to K.A. Applegate for making us genuinely feel bad for Tom in this book… and for making us hate that yeerk’s guts to the point where we’re rooting for Rachel to kill it dead, no matter how many innocent hosts might have to die as well. Jake’s heartbreak over the loss of his family, and his simultaneous inability to deal with that heartbreak, are writ large throughout this book. He’s already lost everything, he’s a liiiiitttle off the rails, and he’s constantly combating the urge to take the easy way that Tom’s yeerk offers through simply swapping victory on Earth for his family back. We also get a fair amount of both Jake and Rachel expressing empathy for Tom, even though in earlier books we see them both trying to distance themselves from him—presumably once the decision to kill him is made, they both recognize that there’s no point in continuing to try to lie to themselves just in case they maybe-someday have to kill him.
That’s the first half of the book. The second half of this book has Tom’s yeerk torturing “Cassie” (actually Erek in disguise) for no other reason than the fact that it so clearly views Cassie as being Jake’s property and wants to pee on something Jake loves. It has the yeerk simultaneously infantilizing Jake and being willing to throw away all its alleged ideals about morphing for a chance at revenge on Jake. It features a conflict where the Animorphs realize that if they let the morph-capable controllers get away they’ll essentially be sacrificing a different planet to save their own. And by the end of it we hate that yeerk’s guts almost more than we hate the guts of Visser Three, whose surrender is a (very deliberate, IMHO) anticlimax.
Anyway, how cool is it that we get humans AND hork-bajir AND taxxons AND chee AND andalites AND freaking yeerks AND whatever the hell the Animorphs are by this point all teaming up to protect the planet they all claim as their own? I am an utter sucker for this kind of battle, as I mentioned, because it really captures the feeling that the entire series up to this moment has been building up to this moment. Ultimately the taxxons are powerless against the Yeerk Empire, the ordinary humans throw their best shot at fighting alone against the Bug fighters in the first scene and get annihilated, the hork-bajir can’t organize enough to take on the yeerks alone, the andalites don’t want to get their hands dirty enough to fight on Earth, and the rebel yeerks can’t overcome mainstream leadership, but together… together… It also gives us the sense that this is the culmination of the Animorphs’ hard work over the last three years of pain and struggle. If Tobias had told the Ellimist that the hork-bajir weren’t his problem, if Jake chose not to trust Arbron, if Marco wasn’t connected to the chee, then they would lose this battle. It’s as simple as that.
However, this is also not The Battle of Five Armies. It’s not the fight against Glory in “The Gift,” or against the Fire Nation during the eclipse. It’s not a romanticized band of brothers coming together and forgetting all old conflicts in pursuit of a higher goal. Russia and the U.S. go right back to hating each other’s guts the instant Nazi Germany is no longer a threat, and it took Jake threatening to kill Chapman in order to get the Irish and Australians fighting at all. (Okay that metaphor got weird, but the point stands.) My favorite part of this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-besides battle is that it’s also, in its own way, a choice of the lesser evil. Jake has to give up on a lot of his ideals to win this game of cosmic speed chess. He does win, of course, and does so with staggering aplomb, but at the end of it he’s got “Tom and Rachel and those seventeen thousand yeerks around his neck like the Ancient Mariner and his albatross” (#54).
Part of what’s so cool about the complexity of this plan is the simplicity of its execution. Sure, there are up to seven independent forces all fighting each other during the wackiest parts of this whole dog-and-pony show, but the focus is always tightly on Jake and his friends and their very private concerns: Can they all stay alive? Can they keep their families safe? Are they doing the right thing? Where is Rachel, anyway? Exactly how far are they willing to go to protect their species?