Review of The Separation by K.A. Applegate
by K.A. Applegate
I’d like to gush over this one and give it five stars because it’s Rachel and my bias for her awesome/tragic character arc knows no bounds. Except. Except. The Separation is just not a very good novel. It has a cool (albeit unoriginal) idea that is squandered on a dull threat-du-jour.
Have you seen Superman III? What about the TOS episode “The Enemy Within”? The Voyager episode “Faces” (even more so than the TOS episode I feel like this one very accurately corresponds to this novel)? The Buffy episode “The Zeppo” (which is amazing, btw)? Farscape’s “My Three Crichtons”? Charmed’s “Which Prue Is It Anyway?” Half a dozen episodes of Smallville because apparently all of Krypton ended up in pieces on Earth and the writers can’t leave well enough alone?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then you’ll immediately get the premise of The Separation. If you answered “yes” to all of the above, then congratulations: you’re automatically awesome. (If you answered “no” to all of the above, go watch “The Enemy Within”, like, right now.)
Rachel gets split into two personalities: Nice Rachel and Mean Rachel. Nice Rachel is a scaredy-cat airhead who nevertheless retains the ability to think long-term; Mean Rachel is a psychopathic and aggressive force of nature who only has short-term reasoning. Neither can survive without the other. But before the Animorphs can find a way to put them back together, they have to deal with the threat of an anti-morphing ray the Yeerks are about to start testing.
One of the disappointments of this novel is simply that the Yeerk plot turns into a bit of a red herring. Despite Erek talking the anti-morphing ray up as a huge game-changer, there is no resolution after the Animorphs fail to apprehend the device in transit. I know it’s the main focus of the next book, but I don’t feel like that excuses how it is portrayed and then just dropped in this book. I think the whole thing would have been more successful if the book just focused on the Rachels and their difficulties interacting with the rest of the world and the Animorphs.
Because there is so much potential here—that is, after all, why this storytelling device has been used so often. And Rachel is certainly the correct Animorph upon whom to inflict this divisive form of torture. She has long been the standard bearer for Applegate’s ambivalence about the nature of aggression. While all the Animorphs are changed, forced to “grow up” too fast because of their roles as child soldiers, Rachel’s situation is unique in that she proves markedly good at being a warrior. Notably, Applegate takes care throughout this series to emphasize that Rachel’s fighting skills are not something to be ashamed of, most obviously in Marco’s frequent but nonetheless accurate comparisons to Xena. Of all the Animorphs, Rachel is the one who seems to be most at home when they are on missions. Yet in past books she has questioned the propriety of her enthusiasm for fighting.
The Separation attempts to do a few interesting things with the Mean/Nice Rachels. There are some funny moments with Rachel’s sister and father. It’s played for laughs very early in the novel. And the resolution requiring the two Rachels to work together is nice as well—I really like how Jake leaves it up to the Rachels to figure out that they need each other; it’s a nice show of faith on the leader’s part. Yet there could have been so much more!
Alas, what we get instead is an uneven story that shoehorns two plots together so that neither one gets the treatment it deserves. While The Illusion remedies that for the Yeerk plot, Mean/Nice Rachel must be content with their appearances in The Separation.
But next time, yes, we do find out what happens with the anti-morphing ray and we get more Rachel/Tobias drama! It should be good.