Okay, question. Before following you, I hadn't even HEARD of animorphs. And I see it a lot from you. What is it?!
Animorphs is the story of five ordinary teenagers who discover that aliens invading their planet. They meet an alien from a race that opposes the invaders who gives them the ability to shapeshift into animals to fight the invaders and protect their planet. Cue wacky hijinks and cool animal shapeshifting and awesome space adventures!
Except not. Animorphs takes the whole ‘teen superheroes get up, go to school, save the world’ trope and deconstructs it HARD. The kids aren’t even close to equipped to deal with this war; the enemy is huge, powerful, and ruthless. Super-healing comes as a happy side effect of their shapeshifting, which is a good thing because they get into physical combat a LOT and are constantly being disembowelled and having limbs ripped off and soforth. Also, the invaders are body-snatchers, who climb into the heads of their victims and control them utterly, being privy to their every thought and memory, meaning that all the ‘enemies’ whose throats the kids rip out in battle are in fact innocent slaves. One of the kids finds out almost immediately that his older brother, who he loves and respects, is a helpless slave of the enemy, living a nightmare in his own head — and who would kill his little brother without hesitation if he ever found out who he was. The bad guys use the kids’ high school and the local boy-scout-esque community group as tools of manipulation and recruitment, meaning that the kids are surrounded constantly not only by enemies but by innocents being led straight to the enemy and they can’t do a damn thing but watch it happen. A main character tries to commit suicide in book 3 and I think the PTSD nightmares start about book 5. The kids can’t tell their parents why they wake up screaming, of course, any more than they can hug them and tell them they love them right before going into a deadly battle — their parents might be under the control of the enemy, and could kill them at any moment.
As the series goes on, the war gets more complicated. The violent, knife-covered alien footsoldiers the kids are constantly fighting in battle aren’t so violent. The bad guys aren’t so bad. The good guys aren’t so good. And these kids, who are thirteen when this all starts, have to figure that out, because there’s nobody else to do it. Is it okay to use biochemical warfare against the enemy? Is it okay to keep fighting and kill innocents in defense of other innocence? Is it alright to use drugs against the enemy, even if the side effects have negative consequences for their slaves? The Big Bad has a habit of decapitating henchmen who fail, and the Animorphs sometimes need to work against their leader’s enslaved brother… what if the Big Bad kills him? Can they back off, sell out part of the human race just to protect a human they happen to know and love? Eventually, a resistance movement develops among the body snatchers and some of them refuse to take unwilling hosts and will only inhabit volunteers — but where’s the line between free consent and coercion when you’re trapped between opposing forces in a war, when your family is in danger?
Despite having six main characters (they pick up an alien to join them shortly into the story), the protagonists are as well developed as the grey areas they fight in. The character development is amazing as you watch the war break them all in different ways. The charismatic kid who is nominated leader mostly because he has no glaring flaws prohibiting him from the job has no choice but to take it seriously, and can’t show weakness or fear, so he lets nobody help him as he slowly breaks inside and starts treating people like pawns. The clear-sighted realist and head strategist who deals with tragedy with humour, using jokes and sarcasm to hold the team together and give them roles to hold onto, who gets better and better at planning until he realises that the plans and outcomes are all that matters to him even if they involve the death of people he loves… and thinks of this as a good thing. The brash bombshell with more courage than anyone, who shields her friends with her strength and her body and leaving nobody to shield her, who deals with her fear by doing her job until the anger and rage and violence is all that’s left. The philosophising environmentalist, who entered the war as a force of nature nominated to save her planet and has to compromise on line after line until she doesn’t even know how to protect her friends any more. The neglected orphan with no connection to any human being, who finds friends in the fight and fights for them, not humanity… knowing that when it’s over, he’ll have nothing. The alien cadet who just wants to go home and somehow ended up with the honour of his famous brother and the fate of a planet on his shoulders, who tried to operate under his own people’s laws and moral code in a completely different world.
It’s really good, basically. And it’s been released online for free here: http://animorphsforum.com/ebooks/