Short opinion: I giggle every time I read the line “President Clinton urged everyone to remain calm” but seriously this book is so scary specifically because it feels so realistic to canon.
I’ve always felt like this book takes place in direct conversation with #1, fleshing out the existing personalities and relationships of the team as of the moment that they walk through the construction site. The actual first book in the series sweeps the characters along so quickly toward their destiny (by necessity, because anything else would be bad writing) that we get extremely few details about what these kids are actually like before the war ruins their lives except in the retrospective. Back to Before feels like a chance to go back and find out who exactly these kids were before they all became homicidal cinnamon rolls. Of course I’m a sucker for the details about Tom (He has a driver’s license! He wears a denim jacket over blue jeans like a true 90s fashion victim! Temrash 114 keeps at least two separate dracon beams in his room! His parents think he should pay more attention in school!) but there are also a ton of rich characterization moments for all six Animorphs.
This book really shows us for the first time why Tobias is so desperate for his life to change that he throws himself into a war (and maybe-maybenot gets himself trapped in morph) just to have friends and a purpose. He belongs nowhere—not at home with his alcoholic uncle, not at school where he’s constantly under threat of physical violence, not at the mall where Jake listens to him out of pity while Marco’s openly hostile—which means that he grabs the first chance he can to fly away from it all. Maybe he’s being short-sighted, since by #3 he already knows he had no idea what he was getting himself into, but he’s so desperate to get out that one can hardly blame him even when he resorts to becoming a controller in order to have someone to talk to and something to give him meaning.
It’s also striking that Tobias is the one who ends up recruited by the Sharing, while Jake attends one meeting and leaves. Most of the series has this implicit assumption that if any of them will be the first one taken, it’ll be Jake, since he’s the one with a controller already living in the house. (For instance, #41 and #7 both feature variations on the theme of everyone getting caught because Tom saw something he shouldn’t, and in #49 everyone is shocked when the yeerks’ DNA match isn’t between Jake and Tom.) However, here Jake sees everything the Sharing has to offer… and tells Tom “I’m not really a joiner,” because he’s really really not (MM4). The unfortunate flip side of the coin of Jake’s leadership ability is that he makes a fairly terrible follower. In this book it saves his life, but there are other instances (when dealing with the andalites in #18 and #38, during the negotiations with the Arn in #34) where everyone would probably be better off if Jake could find it in himself to sit down, shut up, and do as he’s told. Non-Animorph Jake is probably at risk of becoming a useless washout (between the crappy academic performance, the mediocre athletic performance, and the lack of motivation to do anything, he’s probably destined to spend the rest of his life as a failed artist living in a studio apartment in downtown LA paid for by his parents’ money), but he’s also not at risk of becoming a voluntary controller, because he’s perfectly content with his mediocre life.
Rachel, by contrast, is incredibly restless in her normal life. Cassie describes her as “hunting” with “laser focus” when looking for bargains at the mall (MM4). It takes her about ten seconds to get on board with chasing down and attempting to tackle some random stranger because Marco thinks said stranger looks like his dead mom. She snaps into action the second that Ax broadcasts the news that aliens are attacking the planet, and keeps fighting with whatever tools come to hand (including a severed hork-bajir head, because this girl is hardcore) until she gets killed. For all that she loves it, this book implies that the war might be the worst thing that could have possibly happened to Rachel. After all, she’s quite good at channeling all that pent-up aggression into verbal sparring the way her mom does (notice how much she enjoys arguing with Marco in the planetarium) and also releasing that extra energy through athletics the way her dad does (unlike Jake, she’s not deterred in her sports ambitions by a mere hiccup like utter lack of talent). She also has a lot of friends and admirers, a track record of being one of the highest performers in her class, and a casual self-confidence that is rare enough for a girl her age to win her a lot of favors with a lot of people. Non-Animorph Rachel (in a world that also had no yeerks) would probably thrive in whatever career she chose for decades before dying at a ripe old age surrounded by her highly attractive husband and seven fat grandchildren.
Maybe my favorite piece of Marco characterization from this book is the way it establishes there is actually a lot more to his crush on Rachel than thinking she has beautiful hair and looks cute in a leotard. He’s considerably less comfortable in his own skin than either of the Berensons, but he also practices what he preaches by appreciating a joke at his own expense just as much as one he uses to mock another person. This book makes it obvious that he looks up to Rachel (not just literally, although Marco’s jokes about his own height are also amazing) because he recognizes how intelligent and ruthless she is, and those are the qualities he values the most in himself and others. Cates pointed out that it’s interesting almost all of Marco’s role models are female (Xena, Alanis Morissette, Carmen Electra, Eva for that matter) and in a lot of ways he doesn’t just like Rachel; he admires her.
And then there’s the portrayal of Ax when no one comes to rescue him. #4 and #8 only hint at what it must have been like for him to spend weeks stuck in a tiny dome at the bottom of the ocean, not knowing whether anyone was coming for him, suspecting more and more every day that his whole crew was dead, but here we get a much deeper look at those long days of solitude. He comes off almost like a prisoner in solitary confinement in the scenes before he manages to use the shark morph to escape: compulsively addicted to routines, talking to inanimate objects, starting to hallucinate when left alone for long enough… Ax is a survivor, tough enough to live through years of loneliness and grief while fighting a war on a foreign planet. This book shows just how much of that strength comes from within, fire-forged by his traumatic introduction to Earth.
Oh, and Cassie is sub-temporally grounded, apparently. I have nothing nice to say about that concept so I’ll settle for saying nothing at all.
Anyway, I love both the opening and closing of this book. The first scene has one of those UTTERLY HORRIFYING banality-of-violence beginnings, where we open on the aftermath of a battle that may or may not have accomplished anything other than giving the kids involved a few more nightmares. Jake is disturbingly casual about the fact that he has lost an entire leg and is slowly bleeding to death, making wry jokes about how he and the three-legged table match each other. We can tell why: this isn’t the first (or even the thirtieth) time he’s been fatally maimed and then forced to shrug it off in order to keep fighting. The kids try—and fail—to save the host of a fatally injured yeerk a few minutes of pain, and end up watching both beings bleed to death. And then Jake goes home, and he once again plays the game of Lying For His Life with his parents and Tom, and he goes to bed ready to do it all again the next day, wondering what dreams of Sauron Crayak will come. This poor schmuck literally never catches a break. No wonder his little deal with the devil seems so tempting for the millisecond that it takes for Crayak to pounce. (By contrast, the TV episode features Jake asking the Little Blue Ellimist to make him a Real Boy because he doesn’t want to do his math homework and plan a battle at the same time. What a whiner.)
Ugh, and then the ten little soldiers go out to dine, and they drop off one by one so fast that most barely get the chance to fight back. Rachel and Ax especially do their best to battle the oncoming horde, but they’re largely unarmed and clueless against the yeerks. Tobias becomes the living puppet of a living puppet of Visser One, and then there were five. Marco stands a little too close to a Bug fighter, and then there were four. Rachel runs straight into turret fire because Rachel is still Rachel even without unleashing her inner grizzly bear, and then there were three. Cassie is in the wrong shopping mall at the wrong time, and then there were two. Jake faces down an army of hork-bajir as just his little human self, and then there was one. Ax might be able to survive—but he isn’t looking to go home and be safe, he’s looking to save the world. And then there were none.
A lot of the point of this book is that of course the Ellimist “stacked the deck,” because these kids in particular are the the only ones who have the necessary combination of idealism and grittiness to take on an entire army and win (MM4). Marco says it best in #54: “We beat an empire, my friend, the six of us, and we did it in large part because you didn’t know any better than to trust your own instincts.” Ax has the tech savvy and determination to engage in total war, but he can’t survive on Earth without human friends. Rachel has the ferocity to be a one-woman army, but without her friends to ground her she’d get herself killed a lot sooner. Jake might be a natural leader, but he’s also naive enough not to know how to balance ethics in times of atrocity without Marco’s ruthlessness and Cassie’s pragmatism to guide him. Without Marco, the team would never succeed in taking down Visser One. Without Cassie, they would never get in contact with the Yeerk Peace Movement. Without Tobias, they’d never succeed at freeing the hork-bajir. These six form a constellation of skills and needs and strengths and neuroses that balances the fate of the entire galaxy on the shoulders of a bunch of middle schoolers. They don’t need morphing power to be badass—but they do need it to win.
i haven’t read books in a long time i’m really trying to get back into it but the books i can recommend from more or less give years ago would be:
the vampire academy series
the evermore series
paranormalacy (which i believe is a series now! it was a single when i read it)
ghost and the goth
the sweep series (extremely easy reads, very thin books, but they pull you in)
the monster high series (yes, i know they’re a bunch of kid movies, but the book series is different and interesting and cool)
i’m currently reading fangirl by rainbow rowell and it’s really good so far! as for these series, the only knowledge i have of them are their basic plots and good memories so i’m sorry if they disappoint, but when i read them they were all really intriguing
there is a dwarf drinking in the corner. the dwarf is always drinking, but the corner changes. space warps around him. he has drank his weight in ale once, twice, thrice since you’ve been watching. he is still, and will always be, alive.
“all men are created equally in the eyes of the maker” the chantry woman preaches. “all men are created equally in the eyes of the meeker” she cries. “all men are created aqually in the aves of the meeker” she continues. “all men,” she repeats “cretins acquired.”
there is a popular book series sweeping across thedas. it is written by varric tethras. you’ve read it twice. there is another book series you’ve read, written by varric tethras. your sister recommends a new book and it is written by varric tethras. when you open your diary, you find it is written by varric tethras.
you cannot go into the mountains. the other villagers tell stories of vicious dragons. you have never seen a dragon in your life, but you know they exist. they have to exist. it is the age of dragons, but you have yet to seen one.
the inquisitor passed through town yesterday. he was an elf then. today, she is standing on the platform giving a speech. her horns are very threatening, but not as threatening as her two-handed blade. when she comes off the stand, she is a dwarf with an axe. as he passes, you shiver. even human mages are frightening.
you have never met hawke, the champion of kirkwall, but you trust them.
every one in the city is bisexual. you are bisexual. whispered rumors of men and women attracted to only one sex have reached the town, but no one believes them.
the familiar lute chords are strummed and the bard starts singing. “sera was never,” she sings. you don’t know who sera is, but she was never. and she never was.
My mom was cleaning things out a d she found my whole Sweep (aka Wicca) collection by Cate Tiernan. Omg i can’t believe I forgot about them. She just called me so I can drive over and pick them up. I was like 12 or 13 when I read them.
*sigh* Hunter. Anyone else out there a fan?
When he comes sweeping in on his white horse, you promise me. Don’t leap out of our throat. He’s just a boy. It’s okay to pound faster. It’s okay to be infatuated.
Even I wouldn’t be able to stop that feeling of happiness when he’s around. I wouldn’t be able to stop the blushing either. But promise me dear, you won’t forget what it’s like before him. You won’t forget that you are the same girl who loves mango smoothies and runs out into thunderstorms enthralled with nature. The same girl who loves sleeping in patches of sunlight and her best friends and her family so very much.
Promise me if he leaves, you keep on beating. If there’s another girl in his life, you grin and bear it because you were always that kind of girl, the kind that’s happy for people she cares about even if it seems like they don’t care for her anymore. Don’t let yourself tighten with jealousy and regret. It’s okay to be enamored, to be in love, but don’t for one second do you forget that you can live without him.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Anne Brashares
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth
The Sweep/Wicca series by Cate Tiernan
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
The Grisha trilogyby Leigh Bardugo
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
The Body Electric by Beth Revis
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Rose Master by Valentina Cano
The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (I’ve only read the first 2)
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer-Bradley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Woodcutter by Kate Danley
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Living With the Dead series by Jesse Petersen
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Stacey Justice series by Barbra Annino
The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Witching Pen series by Dianna Hardy
Sinners on Tour series by Olivia Cunning (erotica)
Masters of the Shadowlands series by Cherise Sinclair (erotica)
Badass Brats series by Sorcha Black (erotica)
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger (steampunk)
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (graphic novel)
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (non-fic)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fic)
Doll Bones by Holly Black (children’s/middle grade)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (children’s/middle grade)
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick (comics – I’ve only read issue 1)
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace (poetry)
Gothic Charm School by Jillian Venters (non-fic)
Unteachable by Leah Raeder (NA)
The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath (poetry)
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (non-fic, memoir)
Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay (poetry)
Some of these I absolutely loved, some I thought were pretty good, and some I remember really enjoying at the time but I have no idea what I think if I read it today. I know I’m forgetting tons of books and authors that I’ve enjoyed reading, but these were what I could think of without digging around on goodreads for a few hours.
*Updated July 7th, 2016 to add a few more I’ve read or remembered.
Author you’ve read the most I mean if we’re gonna be technical then I think it would have to be Cate Tiernan because the Sweep series had like 15 books in it and I read the series twice so that means I’ve read her books 30 times.
Best sequel ever Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.
Currently reading I am just about to start reading Hopeless by Lauren Oliver
Drink of choice while reading Water or Iced Tea
E-reader or physical book? I’m leaning more toward e-books. Haters gonna hate.
Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in HS We all know how obsessed with Twilight I was when I was in high school so it has to be Edward Cullen. 15 year old of me would have done everything to marry Edward Cullen. Again, haters gonna hate, haha.
Glad you gave this book a chance Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover. They was so much hype about it so I was a little skeptical but I’m glad I read it because it was amazing!
Hidden gem book Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Though I pimp that book out constantly so it prolly isn’t that hidden anymore lol.
Important moment in your reading life I don’t know if they are “important ”moments by they are pretty vivid memories I have that I associate with my “reading life”. 1.) Being home sick when I was like 10 and reading the Princess Diaries in bed and laughing hysterically because was so funny. 2.) The first time I read Twilight we had to bring a free reading book during testing and I was a freshman and Twilight wasn’t even popular yet, like it had just been released, and I had the book on my desk and my teacher Mr. Stout (who was the nicest guy) picked it up and started reading it and I was too nervous to focus on my test because I worried about his thoughts on Twilight haha, 3.) Reading the Sweep series and devouring them. I remember reading them on a road trip and us being at a pit stop and me being like, “I can’t talk to you right now, I need to read this.” and then listening to Hawthorne Heights and trying to relate every song to the series lol. #emolife 5.) Finishing Stolen because I felt like I had been hit with the feels truck. There is a lot more but I won’t bore you.
Just finished The Maybe Someday Novella by Colleen Hoover
Kind of books you won’t read I ain’t about that High Fantasy life
Longest book you’ve read Breaking Dawn? Maybe.
Major book hangover because of…….. Just soooo many. Most significant was Stolen by Lucy Christopher though.
Number of bookcases you own With actual books on it? 3 that are my own and 2 that family shared bookcases.
One book you’ve read multiple times DON’T HATE ME but Twilight. I swear I lost count at how many times I read Twilight. It’s like over 15 times, no lie.
Preferred place to read At home. I can’t read in public.
Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read “Once upon a time, an angel lay dying in the mist. And a devil knelt over him and smiled.” - Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I didn’t really LOVE this book but I like this quote.
Reading regrets No regrattttttts hahaha
Series you started and need to finish The Beautiful Creatures series, The Wallbanger Series, and The Born Wicked Series. I’m getting bad with finishing series.
Three of your All-Time favorite books I can’t answer this.
Unapologetic fangirl/fanboy for I’m not really that obsessed with any specific book at the moment.
Very excited for this release more than all the others Apparently there is going to be a 3rd book in The Program series. I thought it was a duology so I’m very excited to read this new one.
Worse bookish habit Skimming or skipping paragraphs because I’m bored.
X marks the spot: start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
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