So we begin the Second Age—dare I say, the Silver Age?—of Animorphs with The Secret. Applegate combines one of the ongoing themes of environmentalism with a personal look at the tolls this secret war takes on Cassie, the most empathetic of the Animorphs.
See what I did there? These titles, simplistic though they might seem, are always multi-faceted. The eponymous secret could be so many things. It could be the Yeerk invasion. It could be the existence of the Animorphs. It could be the fact that the Animorphs are not, as Visser Three believes, Andalite bandits (and it isn’t interesting he calls them bandits now, rather than warriors?), but just ordinary humans—human children, even. For Cassie, the secret might be that she is exhausted by the morally dubious nature of morphing and the war they are fighting. She just wants to peace out and take care of some animals.
That can’t happen, though, if the Yeerks clear-cut the forest behind her farm. So Cassie finds herself forced to once again fight, even if she isn’t sure she is doing the right thing in order to do the right thing. Does that make sense? No? Good. The whole point is that war doesn’t make sense, that sometimes you get so caught up in trying to survive and win the latest battle you lose sight of what you’re fighting for. Case in point, Cassie does not mince words when she explains what the Animorphs are:
We had been made into soldiers that night.
Soldiers in a terrible war we could not really hope to win.
Boom. Applegate is not playing around here. The Animorphs are totally child soldiers, full stop. Worse still, they are fully aware of the stakes of this war and the odds stacked against them.
Trappings of the Second Age are all around us. For the first time, the Animorphs come up with a plan that actually doesn’t suck. They realize a full frontal assault is a bad idea. They perform reconnaissance, and then they find a way to help deny the Yeerk front company the permission it needs to cut the forest. Smart! Everything still goes pear-shaped, of course, but this time it isn’t because the Animorphs charged in, morphs blazing, hoping for the best.
We also see some more signs of conflicting opinions and ideologies. In particular, Cassie conveys a harsher side to Marco than we have really seen before. Sure, he still jokes and tries to be the clown … but he’s also a little nasty towards Cassie. I appreciate how Applegate uses her different narrators not just to highlight different aspects of the war against the Yeerks but also different aspects of each other’s personalities.
This is a nearly pitch-perfect story, in my opinion, until we hit the end. The subplot in which Cassie has to mother some temporarily orphaned skunks is adorable, even as Applegate uses it to explore the psychology of the war-traumatized Animorphs. The stakes in this book are appropriate, and I love the way the Animorphs make a plan and execute it. Once again they try a morph that goes disastrously wrong. Really, they just need to swear off insects in general.
Unfortunately … that ending. The Secret takes an abrupt turn towards farce. If the whole book had been like that, then I wouldn’t have a problem—the Visser’s predicament, and the way the Animorphs handle it, is genuinely funny. Yet it runs contrary to the sombre tone the rest of the book adopts. It’s a huge flaw in an otherwise perfect gem.
This week’s technological callback to the 1990s? Cassie looks up termites in one of her mom’s books. The Web was, of course, quite new-fangled back when this was published, and while some of the Animorphs might have access (Marco’s computer seems Internet-enabled), Google and Wikipedia and online sites about termites were not much in evidence. So the Animorphs still have to do book research. Do kids these days ever do that? I suspect that a young reader of this era would wonder why Cassie didn’t just pull out her phone.
Siri, what will happen if I morph a termite?
Next up, the Animorphs violate Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. Siri, what could possibly go wrong? …Siri? Why are you looking at me like that?