Friday, December 14, 2012

Animorphs: The Invasion by K. A. Applegate (Review)

The Invasion (Animorphs, #1)The Invasion by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Invasion" is the very first book in the quite lengthy Animorphs franchise, a series of superhero-inspired action sci-fi books written for an older Middle Grade audience. I'd say somewhere between ten and fourteen would be the target audience for this book. Despite the intended demographic, it's still a pretty good read for adults, particularly those who don't like to engage a tale for a lengthy period of time. Were I not a lazy butthead, this book would have been finished in a single sitting. But like I said, I'm a lazy butthead.

As a kid, maybe around sixth grade, I fell in love with the Animorphs books. I never finished the whole series, unfortunately, but I had about forty of them. Now I'm down to about twelve plus one or two of the spin-off titles. It hurts, you know. Not the book, but having lost them all. So much of my childhood washed away in the tides of time. No clue where my Goosebumps books got to, and I had every single one of the original books... twice. Captain Underpants, Deltora Quest, Animorphs... alas, all lost.

My apologies for the slight derail. Going through my books one day, realizing I haven't read many of them, I decided to make it a mission not to bring in anything new until I had read every single book I already owned. This is a goal which I failed at miserably, but I gave it an attempt! I still want to go through and read everything I've collected over the years, so I thought I'd start off by going through the Animorphs series again. See if it still hit some chords.

Boy, did it! I'm so glad I went back to this series. It's been a struggle, for me, reading through some of the books I've picked up over the past couple years. Something about them just seems to bug me, to push me out, can't get into them. I was beginning to fear that I'd lost an interest in reading at all. Fortunately I picked up "The Invasion" and it kicked that nonsense right the hell out of me.

This is a page turner. The story is filled with suspense, oozing angst from all possible angles, and it leaves each page and chapter with some kind of hook. That is the surest way to get a reader, even a disinterested one, to flip from cover to cover without pause. Which, incidentally, you're supposed to do so the cool animation in the corner can move. While I know some people complain about cliff hanger chapters, it's a style that personally works for me. Sure, it's a little cartoon. You know, "Find out on the next exciting episode of Dragon Ball Z!" But what's wrong with that? I personally love this stuff. It leaves you grappling with yourself and the late hour of the night, trying to decide whether to sleep or keep going. Spoiler alert: you'll say "one more chapter" and read the whole book.

The characters are, if not all likeable, at least varied. And curious. You've got Jake, the Red Ranger--wrong series, my bad. Jake, the leader, who seems to be the most level-headed of the bunch. He's the narrator for this book, and we get to take a look at his decision making skills, which aren't quite developed yet. He's kind of afraid of everything, and feels like he's going through a dream. Not quite the leader the rest of the team wants him to be, but he knows he has to be and he gives it the old college try. Tobias, who escapes reality and embraces his new ability to morph, Marco, who acts like a huge spoiled jerk for the entirety of the book and rejects the gift they've been given, seeing it as a curse. Actually, at this point, the boys are all fairly stable, but I'll have to admit not really having a handle on the girls yet. Cassie is the more developed of the two, but unfortunately she doesn't have much depth. She's the typical animal-loving nature girl. Then there's Rachel, who I feel has been poorly under represented here. I really don't have any feel for what kind of character she is. She's a girl, and she gets full of herself when she's an elephant. That's about all I know.

What drags the book down, but is to be expected, are the immense cliches it relies on. The series is very basic. This is the bad guy, he's a jerk and talks with a deep, booming voice. He's also an alien, so naturally he must say things in very long and drawn out ways instead of being concise and to the point. Also, he's from space, so everything he does must involve the fourth moon of the second planet of a dying star. Because he's from space. And the star is dying, so he's bad. Did I mention he was from space?

The other issue I had was with the writing itself. There were times, mostly towards the first half of the book (this issue began to dwindle about halfway through) where the author was clearly writing down to her audience. That is never a good thing. I get that this was written for younger people, but that isn't really an excuse to treat them like idiots. This is a bad thing. It ruins what would otherwise be an awesome book, and it assumes that pre-teen readers aren't initiated enough to figure things out or look them up. Plenty of children's material does not talk down to its audience. That material continues to make itself relevant while the Teletubbies disappear into the pits of obscurity where they belong. Keep your nose levelled and write like you want to read.

Besides those two issues there really isn't anything wrong with the book, and there's a whole lot right. On a Venn diagram comparing Pros and Cons, the Pros circle would heavily outweigh the Cons circle. Heavily.

The books are cheap, you can find them for about four bucks each on Amazon, sometimes less. I'm going to fill in the gaps of my collection and finally read this series right through, just as it deserves. If you're between hard-ass "grown up" books and want something light to bridge the gap, dig out some snack money and grab this book. You won't regret it.

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