It’s time … to travel … in time.
Animorphs played with time travel once before, in #7: The Stranger, but that was at the hands of the Ellimist. This time, the Animorphs accidentally create a Sario Rip—technobabble for “hole in space-time,” which is technobabble for … well … you know … stuff—when the Dracon beams they fired from a stolen Bug fighter intersected with the Dracon beams from Visser Three’s Blade ship, and—
—what? Oh, yeah. The Animorphs totally steal a crashed Bug fighter, get it operational (thanks, Ax), and initiate an epic suborbital chase sequence with Visser Three. Sorry I skipped that part.
In terms of just pure awesome action sequences, The Forgotten has to rank up there with the first Megamorphs novel, which was really the Michael Bay of Animorphs novels. In this book, we have the aforementioned spaceship duel, with five kids and an Andalite facing off against the biggest, baddest six-shooter in the galactic west. The fight is so badass it punches a hole in the space–time continuum, and so everyone gets thrown back in time.
To the day before.
(It wasn’t that big a hole.)
Jake is our narrator, so in between more epic chase sequences and monkeying around (literally—they morph monkeys), he worries he’s going crazy. There is a totally legitimate explanation for his crazies (other than, you know, being a child leader of child soldiers in a messed up secret war). But I commend Applegate for broaching this subject. There is a lot of pressure on all the Animorphs, and more so on Jake than any other. Marco, in his trademark lack of subtlety, points this out: Jake is the leader, so he isn’t allowed to go crazy. He can’t have a day off; he can’t mess up. Because everyone follows his lead, so if he makes a mistake, people could die.
Welcome to the big leagues, son.
Applegate uses the big ol’ reset button excuse that is all too common in time travel plots. She can get away with this simply because, as children’s/young adult literature, Animorphs is likely introducing a lot of readers to some of their first science-fiction stories. So what’s cliché to me is going to seem pretty cool and novel to a new reader. And even to someone as jaded as I am now, I’ll concede that the reset button makes sense in the context of what Applegate wants to do here. The Forgotten is precisely that: it’s a pocket adventure for only Jake to remember, one where he learns the important lesson: sometimes being a leader is luck.
This idea kind of flies against the face of the big American Dream that you can get ahead purely by working hard. But it jives entirely with Applegate’s series-long crusade against the glorification of war. I’m pretty sure most veterans will tell you that a large part of why they survived is just luck. They were in the right place at the right time, missed the bomb, the mine, the bullet—or got injured, but just enough to get sent home rather than killed. Similarly, we like to talk up the great strategic victories in the history of warfare and laud the minds of the Alexanders, the Attilas, the Caesars, the Napoleons. We don’t talk nearly as much about how most of the time these people are lucky—or at least, the luck allows them to survive long enough to get good.
This also explains why the Animorphs seem to fail an awful lot. Marco himself lampshades the fact that their hasty plans always fall apart in this book. Applegate is deliberately and carefully trying to delay the power creep that is inevitable in a series about superpowered people. Even though Ax can fly a Bug fighter, things still go wrong, and they crash. The best plans inevitably fall apart on first contact with the enemy.
The Forgotten was not as engaging for me as some of the more recent books. However, I see the appeal, particularly for less experienced and jaded readers. And it’s a good Jake book, if you are Team Jake. In fact, it’s mostly a Jake book, and that’s probably why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. In addition to Jake being the only one who remembers what happens, the other Animorphs don’t quite come through as distinctly as they do in other books. This is a super-Jake book, in other words. So if you need a Jake dose, Jake yourself up with this Jake. Jake jake jake jake.
Next time, Rachel burps crocodile DNA. Need I say more?