Review of The Threat by

Book cover for The Threat

What is this I can’t even.

#21: The Threat strips away any remaining pretensions that this is a “children’s” series. This is YA at its grittiest. Long before we had people volunteering themselves as tribute and running through mazes and choosing which Personality House they belong to, we had David the Traitor betraying the Animorphs because he is a terrible human being.

We’ve seen this theme before in the book. Applegate reminds us that humans have the capacity for great acts of courage (see: the Animorphs) and cowardice (see: Chapman in The Andalite Chronicles). It’s this fluidity that fascinates and frightens us. And one of the most important realizations for the Animorphs in this novel is how incredibly lucky they were that Eflangor happened upon them. (Thanks, Ellimist.) I mean, yeah, they aren’t perfect—but it’s not like David is unique in his instabilities or psycopathy.

It makes so much sense that this is a Jake book, too. Marco was the perfect narrator for David’s introduction: naturally these two butt heads, because Marco’s role as the group clown means he is a keen observer of his fellow humans, and David sets off alarm bells from the start. But in The Threat, as it becomes clear that David is just not going to work out, it falls to Jake to deal with David’s betrayal.

I feel like Applegate is also finally dealing with a lot of issues that, until now, have been side-stepped or conveniently avoided. David is basically a great example of what not to do as an Animorph: don’t use your powers for personal gain; don’t be a jerk to your friends; don’t act like you’re better than everyone else; don’t get into unnecessary fights. There are some grounds for compassion here—unlike the other Animorphs, David no longer has a home to go to, nor can he return to school. He’s like Ax and Tobias, except he’s still in human form but can expect none of the creature comforts humans want and need. So some of his positions are understandable. Let’s remember he is still a kid, and maybe the remarkable thing here is not how much David freaks out about his situation but how the other five have managed to remain sane and on-task for this long.

That being said, David is a little shit, and he deserves what he has coming to him. And if you were in any doubt of that, then I will point at the last chapter of this book, and if you still want to argue, then come fight me IRL.

We end on yet another cliffhanger, and it’s tense. This is the first time the Animorphs have come to blows like this—and I know David never felt like an Animorph, but the fact remains that he’s a kid like them who has morphing powers like them and, for a very brief moment, was a member of the team. Bad idea or not, he is now their responsibility—Jake’s responsibility. As are all the actions David takes, including … yeah … Tobias. Wow.

And as much as that last chapter is a masterpiece—I’m eating my words about Applegate’s simplistic writing from my first few reviews, by the way—my favourite moment comes earlier in the book. As the Animorphs fly away from the resort after narrowly escaping Visser Three’s trap, David starts strutting his stuff and plumping his ego. And you can feel Jake’s feathers crawl. You share that sinking feeling in his stomach as he realizes that David is a Problem, and that he needs to find a Solution. And we get to watch as the other Animorphs pull away from David, surround him in a bubble supporting his fantasy. It’s incredibly powerful.

This is Applegate holding up a mirror to the Animorphs, saying, This could have been you. This is a watershed arc within the series. I mean, the supposed A-story of this book concerns the Animorphs trying to prevent infestation of world leaders—and that’s just completely subsumed by the David drama. Although David is the eponymous threat, in some sense this is a reminder of the fragility of the Animorphs’ very existence as a guerrilla group. All it takes is one betrayal, or one innocent and well-intentioned misstep, and suddenly the Animorphs are exposed and vulnerable. And as we are going to discover, there are some things you can’t come back from.

Speaking of things you can’t come back from … next time, Rachel has to deal with the David Problem. Poor Rachel.

Engagement

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