When it comes right down to it, Animorphs plots are pretty silly. I mean, they kind of have to be, for a bunch of kids to stymie Visser Three on a regular basis. He is only slightly more competent than Dr. Drakken.
(I’m just going to pause here for a moment so you can envision the gloriousness that would be an Animorphs/Kim Possible crossover. That’s right. How awesome would that be?)
Fortunately, Applegate recognizes this, and that’s why she tends to serve up a helpful dosage of internal conflict with each novel. The Reaction is no exception. Indeed, it’s one in a long line of “bizarro morphing” plots. Rachel acquires a crocodile, but in the process, loses control over her morphing powers. She starts morphing at random, morphing parts of different animals. That’s not good. So while the Animorphs confront the Yeerk plot of the day to take over the world by using a teen heartthrob as the poster boy for their boys and girls club, Rachel has to deal with her new allergy.
There are just so many reasons to enjoy this book, even if, unlike me, you are not a Rachel fan.
Rachel enlists Cassie to hide this embarrassing development from the others, at least at first, hoping to consult with Ax privately. (“Well, doctor, I seem to be having this problem where I transform into various animals…”) Even once the rest of the Animorphs are in on the secret, Rachel lies to them again because she doesn’t want to be left out of the mission to rescue Jeremy Jason McCole. This is part of Rachel’s character: she consistently sees herself as integral to the success of the team. You get a great sense in this book of how driven she is to make sure the Yeerks don’t succeed.
Each of the Animorphs have their own reasons for fighting. Marco and Jake both have loved ones who are Controllers. Cassie is in it to save nothing less than the Earth, as an ecosystem, itself. Tobias has nothing left to lose now. And Ax is honour-bound to avenge his brother. Rachel, in some ways, has the least personal stake in this fight—way back in The Visitor we see how affected she is by Melissa Chapman’s plight. So it speaks volumes, then, this impersonal commitment she has to fighting the injustice of the Yeerks. Marco is always half-joking when he likens Rachel to Xena, but it’s an apt comparison in more ways than one.
With the whole embarrassing morphing allergy, Applegate finds a new an interesting way to play with the morphing power. This creativity is one of the reasons Animorphs is such a successful series and was able to go for so many books while still feeling fresh. There is a lot of morphing in The Reaction, and aside from Rachel’s crocodile morph at the very beginning, Applegate doesn’t linger on the actual experience of morphing so much in this novel. But she still manages to convey the weirdness of the experience through Rachel’s allergy.
I also see some parallels between this allergy (and morphing in general) and puberty. When you’re at the age of these kids, and the target audience’s age, weird stuff happens to your body. Hair appears, as if out of nowhere, in places where there was no hair. You get moody for no good reason. Your body does not, really, feel like your body any more. So this allergy is allegorical for the loss of control and loss of certainty that occurs during puberty. As with puberty, Rachel isn’t keen on letting others know what’s happening to her; it’s a very personal problem.
But when you’re fighting to save the world, you don’t get personal problems. You can’t take a personal day. You’re a warrior, and in war, you don’t always get sick leave. Sometimes you just have to keep fighting. So Rachel risks it all—somewhat foolishly, maybe, but that’s just what the Animorphs tend to do.
Next up is The Andalite Chronicles, so I am very excited. In a break from the regular format, Applegate delivers a much longer story, this one filling us in on Elfangor and once again changing our entire perspective on the Animorphs universe.