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Review of The Stranger by

The Stranger

by K.A. Applegate

Marco finds the location of the main Yeerk pool. (It’s underneath the Gap, guys! We don’t have a Gap in Thunder Bay any more. But I remember when we had one—in the nineties.) It’s too difficult to destroy the pool, but if they can find the Kandrona that emits the rays the Yeerks need to live, then they can deal a serious blow to the Yeerks. Don’t worry, the Animorphs have a plan … and I’ll let you guess how well that turns out.

Good thing the Ellimist shows up to be minimally helpful! (TVTropes)

I had forgotten how soon the Ellimist becomes involved in the series. As I reflected in the previous review, this demonstrates Applegate’s larger plan for the series beyond “kids fight body-snatching aliens by turning into animals.” As much as I might be inclined to criticize things like the writing style or the length (and that last is mostly because I just want more Animorphs!), I can’t fault the way Applegate foreshadows what is to come.

The Ellimist is a gigantic dick in this book. He shows up and claims he’ll transport the Animorphs, some of their family, and a few other humans to an Earth-like planet where humanity can survive. After the Animorphs refuse, it comes back with a whopping possible future in which Rachel is a Controller and the Yeerks have conquered Earth. But even that proves to be more of a gambit on the Ellimist’s part than anything else—sneaky fellow.

I had also forgotten how even the earliest books are very dark and serious when it comes to the psychological effects of war. People often pan the ending of the series, because it really isn’t a very happy one, but it’s not like Applegate ever lied to us. She never made it easy for the Animorphs. I mean, their plans never work out the first time around, and in this case a nearly-omnipotent alien had to save them.

And when they do find the Kandrona and decide a full-frontal assault is the most sensible way to take it out? Dismemberment. Gaping wounds. Not only is it pretty graphic, for what is ostensibly preteen literature, but some of the Animorphs nearly die.

This is Book 7.

We get to see it all from the perspective of gung-ho Rachel! Each Animorph reacts differently to the prospect that losing this war is a foregone conclusion. Rachel, being an Action Girl, needs to lash out: she has to do something, take control. She goes for a flight, finds another fighting morph, anything. Applegate mirrors this in Rachel’s reaction to being invited to move out of state with her father. As with the grim future scenario, Rachel cannot seem to do anything to change her father’s decision to move. She feels powerless, trapped—and that is so not Rachel’s jam.

I just love how Rachel will never, ever give up or settle for less than winning. She revels in the power of her new grizzly morph and its feeling of invincibility, because as a teenaged girl, she feels vulnerable and wants to wrap herself up in that grizzly morph. She wants to charge through all the obstacles in her life, be they of alien or human origin. And she does this with utter conviction and commitment.

Even though so much of The Stranger is serious, however, Applegate still manages to find time for the humorous. Take, for instance, Marco’s approach to getting them into the building that houses the Kandrona:

<Hi.> Marco said in thought-speak. <I just came from a masquerade party, and I was looking for Visser Three.>

And then, once inside and in their fighting morphs, they cram into a freight elevator, and this happens:

<Can you press the button? I sure can’t.> Jake said. He held up one of his huge paws to show me.

It wasn’t easy. Bear paws aren’t exactly subtle tools. But after carefully lining up my first claw, I hit the top button.

Ordinarily I don’t visualize while reading. In this case, though, I couldn’t help but picture a bear, tiger, and gorilla waiting in an elevator, trying to figure out how to punch for the top floor. And then, elevator music playing as they ride. That is the kind of visual gag they should have had in that horrible TV show Nickelodeon made. Oh well.

(Oh, and Rachel also talks about going to see a new Keanu Reeves movie. So nineties!)

In the end, what do we take away from this book? Well, there are far stranger beings out there than the Yeerks or the Andalites. The Ellimist isn’t just going to leave them alone now. And Marco’s quips about Rachel starting to crack aside, even this early in the fight, these experiences are starting to take their toll on the Animorphs.

Next up: the first Megamorphs adventure! And no, that doesn’t involve the Animorphs merging together into a single, formidable morphed being.


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