In what might be one of the most efficient stories in the series, The Diversion delivers an emotionally intense blow to the Animorphs as Applegate hammers home to her readers that nothing will ever be the same.
In Tobias’ last solo turn as narrator, we learn that the Yeerks have finally clued into the possibility that these Andalite bandits are actually humans. So they’ve begun a massive project of sifting through DNA samples, trying to find matches that include bits of animal DNA as well. When the Animorphs raid the lab where they believe this is happening, they discover that they might be too late: the Yeerks have already started finding matches. So now it’s a race against the clock to save their families—but if they do that, then it means coming clean about what they have done these past years, and it means everyone, not just Marco, will have to accept a life on the run.
In some ways, this is a book that could only have been told from Tobias’ perspective.
Firstly, it needs to be from Tobias’ perspective in order to include his parent, his mother, Loren, whom we learned about (and actually met) back in The Andalite Chronicles but whose status has been unknown for a long time. Now Tobias has found her, and he makes the bold move of contacting her in order to save her from the Yeerks. This is a monumental moment for Tobias, because up until now, his only human companions have been the other Animorphs. The book opens with a touching scene between Tobias and Rachel after Tobias loses a hunt to a rattlesnake interloper: Rachel brings him a burger, which he appreciates despite the ding to his dignity it entails. Applegate and ghostwriter Lisa Harkrader simultaneously show us Rachel and Tobias’ budding relationship while reminding us of how much Tobias has adapted to life as a red-tailed hawk. But with his mother back in the picture, Tobias suddenly has this other connection—and more to lose.
Secondly, Tobias’ estrangement from both his birth family as well as the family members who “cared” for him while he was a human boy makes his perspective quite unique. This would be such a different book if it were from Jake’s perspective. We get enough, through the dialogue, to learn how torn up Jake feels about what he perceives as bad calls on his part: rushing in to the lab, and it’s a disaster; moving to move their parents too slowly, and it’s a disaster. Tobias finally realizes that Jake isn’t any stronger or better at this than the rest of them. Jake, too, is just a scared boy struggling to keep it together. Tobias has always been an interesting element of the Animorph dynamic for this reason: as an outsider even when he was human, his grasp of the others’ characters hasn’t always been accurate. And he has still kind of been the outsider Animorph, the nothlit, and it’s really fascinating to see how that colours and informs his reactions to the others.
The Diversion also highlights something that, in my opinion, Applegate often underplayed up until this point: how fucking terrifying Visser One can be when he wants. Hear me out. Up until now, Visser One has often come across as a comical kind of antagonist. He reminds me a little of Skeletor. Now and again, we’d get a glimpse of the evil within, the genius mastermind who is ready to take on Earth and then take the Earth. For the most part, though, in his direct encounters with the Animorphs, there has always been this element of bumbling villain that lets them defeat him.
But here, in this book, we finally understand how screwed the Animorphs would have been earlier in the series had Visser One discovered their identities. The moment he figures out they might be human, he turns all these resources onto a clever project to unmask them—and he basically succeeds. The Animorphs have been lucky up to this point.
Running through the entire story, of course, is the constant reminder that we’re coming up on the final battle. I think even the Animorphs themselves recognize it now. Visser One’s promotion means he has the authority to prosecute an open invasion. The gloves are coming off. The Animorphs are being backed into a corner. Even the little things, like giving Loren morphing ability, show us how all the rules that previously held in this series are starting to fall away.
This is a fantastic book, not just for what it is by itself, but for the role it plays within the series. It isn’t filler (which is the worst); it simultaneously manages to set up and hint at the bigger events to come while still delivering a great story on its own merit.
Next time, the Animorphs have to make more hard choices about how they can continue to protect this planet.