Here is the book that started my love for the series. Look at it and tell me how it wouldn’t jump out to a Seventh Grader looking for a good book to read. I clearly enjoyed it back then; I picked up Animorphs books after it and eventually became obsessed with the series. As much as I enjoyed it back then, reading it now, I feel like not much happens in it. That’s both a good and a bad thing. Some of the later books are more exciting, but this one is nice because it is slower. I enjoyed getting to know Rachel even though she hadn’t really come into her own yet. Seeing Rachel interacting with the other Animorphs and learning that they don’t fully trust one another yet was interesting, because they become so tight as the series goes on. I’ll get into that a little further down.
This is just the second book in the series, so Applegate is still world building. The Animorphs are still learning about their new powers, about the Yeerks, and about themselves. So, too, are we, so let’s go ahead and jump into the book.
The original cover was illustrated by Tim O’Brien, a different cover artist than from the first book, but not David B. Mattingly, who illustrated almost all of the series, so there are distinct differences between this cover, the first book’s cover, and covers of later books. While it is miles better than The Invasion’s cover, it is not the quality or style that we would later get used to.
Here is the cover of the next Rachel book, illustrated by Mattingly. You can see what I mean. Mattingly drew full-body morphs. O’Brien and Bollinger (the first book’s cover artist) focused on transforming just a head. It just isn’t as interesting. Rachel looks a lot different as well. O’Brien made her look older. She looks at least 25 here. I wouldn’t know she is practically a kid from this cover. Mattingly’s Rachel looks more the age Rachel should be.
Despite the differences, I don’t think The Visitor’s cover is bad. O’Brien went from the first book’s eight morphing phases on the cover to five, which would carry on through the series. The morphing phases themselves were appealing and more realistic than The Invasion’s. Rachel to cat was a lot smoother than Jake to lizard.
The new cover, created for the 2011 re-release is …interesting. The original cover is better.
The human mouth and neck with the cat face is just weird. I think it would have been better if the division between cat and human were vertical or diagonal rather than horizontal. I don’t know, maybe I’ll have to see these new covers in person to adequately judge them. (I did learn that they are lenticular and morph as you tilt the books.) The picture of it on my Kindle is just not good.
Anyway, Rachel to cat is the only real choice for the cover morph. The only other animals Rachel morphs is a shrew and a Bald Eagle, and the cat is more important to the story than both of the other animals.
Tagline: No one knows who they are.
The tagline is pretty generic and doesn’t really apply to this book particularly. I’ll give it a meh.
The book begins with the Animorphs soaring thermals as birds of prey. Rachel has morphed a Bald Eagle, Jake a Peregrine Falcon, Marco and Cassie Ospreys, and Tobias is in his now-permanent Red-Tailed Hawk body. The birds of prey morphs are important and are used again and again throughout the series. Having powerful bird morphs is convenient for traveling, but I wonder if the Animorphs initially chose bird morphs to spend time with Tobias. He is stuck as a hawk now and must be feeling extreme disconnect from the world. That has to be lonely. We’ll explore that with the next book.
Something that has always bothered me about Animorphs is Cassie doesn’t get very many unique morphs. What I mean by that is the other Animorphs have morphs that are uniquely theirs. Jake has his tiger. Marco has his gorilla. Rachel has her elephant and later her Grizzly Bear. Cassie’s battle morph, which she hasn’t acquired yet, is a wolf, and all the Animorphs acquire her wolf. Her bird of prey, even, is shared with Marco. In the long run this doesn’t matter, as Cassie went with morphs that she enjoyed, but it bothered me as a kid. Weird, huh?
The Animorphs start getting shot at by two of the most stereotypical underage red necks that any author could write. One even had a mullet. The Animorphs swoop down and take one of the guys’ gun and the other’s beer. Marco finds it appropriate to not just let the symbol of what happened sit, but to let the other Animorphs and the reader know that underage drinking is bad. Hear, hear.
The Animorphs land and demorph. All of them except Tobias, of course. Thankfully, the Animorphs have mastered the art of demorphing into morphing outfits, skin tight leotards (for the girls) or bicycling outfits (for the boys). No more nude morphing.
The war and the story must go on, so the Animorphs discuss their next action against the Yeerks. The entrance to the Yeerk Pool from the school has been closed, so the Animorphs are only left with two leads: Jake’s brother Tom and Assistant Principal Chapman. Jake is firmly against drawing anymore attention to Tom and putting him in danger, so that just leaves Chapman. Luckily, our narrator Rachel is on the gymnastics team with Chapman’s daughter, Melissa. Rachel and Melissa used to be really good friends, actually, but they drifted apart. Melissa has grown distant the past few months and seems depressed. Could she be distant because her father isn’t himself anymore? Nah.
Rachel is put on Melissa-detail, and tries to be the friend she hasn’t been being during a practice, but is pushed off by Melissa. Rachel worries she, like her father, may be a Controller.
A really weird scene happens next. Rachel is walking home alone and begins to be sexually harassed by an adult man who drives up and insists she get in the car. This scene would be a major storyline for an episode of Degrassi, but since this is an Animorphs book, it’s just thrown in there and is over almost as soon as it begins. Rachel mid-morphs into elephant and scares the man away. Chapman and Melissa pull up behind (a fully demorphed, thankfully!) Rachel and ask if she’s okay. Rachel decides not to report the sexual harassment, and it’s never mentioned again. She makes up a story about the guy, Chapman offers her a ride home, and Rachel begrudgingly accepts. The ride home is uneventful.
Rachel remembers that Melissa has a cat named Fluffer, and Fluffer becomes the key for Rachel to get into Chapman’s home and learn more about the Yeerks. Rather than simply catching the cat and acquiring its DNA, a couple of chapters are spent on Tobias catching a shrew — not a mouse, Rachel morphing the shrew and luring the cat out of a tree, the others catching the cat, and then Rachel finally acquiring Fluffer McKitty. Acquiring the battle morphs didn’t seem this hard or convoluted.
A couple days pass, but Rachel eventually gets into the house. She follows Chapman down to the basement and spies on his meeting with Visser Three, who appears via a hologram. Visser Three is concerned about Rachel as a cat being in the room, but Chapman tells him to chillax, that this is just the family cat. Concerned about the “Andalite Bandits” who invaded the Yeerk Pool the last book, Visser Three commands Chapman to kill the cat. Chapman tells Visser Three killing the family cat will upset Chapman’s daughter, and Rachel acts enough like a cat to fool Visser Three, so Visser Three lets the cat live. I wonder if Fluffer was fixed. If Rachel morphed Fluffer, a fixed cat, would she also be fixed? If not, that would be a sure fire way to find out if Rachel was Fluffer or an “Andalite Bandit.” I hope Fluffer was fixed. I mean, otherwise, he’d be spraying all over the Chapman house. I’d hate to smell the inside of that house.
All Rachel really learns is that Visser Three desperately wants the “Andalite Bandits” caught. He has no idea that the Animorphs are human. After leaving the basement, Rachel goes upstairs to Melissa’s room and cuddles with her as Fluffer. Melissa cries to
Fluffer Rachel that her parents don’t love her anymore. Her parents are not themselves. What! I did not see this coming. Rachel comforts her by purring.
Rachel eventually escapes, and when she demorphs she decides for whatever reason not to tell the others about Visser Three wanting to kill her. And for whatever reason, Rachel decides it’s a good idea to go back into the house another night. Thankfully, the other Animorphs see right through Rachel and realize she is hiding something from them. Jake morphs a flea, and Cassie puts Jake on
Fluffer Rachel’s back without her knowing. I don’t know how she didn’t know. I knew something was suspect when Jake was missing and Rachel went into detail about Cassie petting her back.
When she follows Chapman down to the basement the second night, she is discovered again, and this time Visser Three knows Rachel is not a real cat. He commands Chapman to capture the cat and bring it to him. Rachel puts up a fight, but is eventually captured, put in a cat carrier, and carried outside. Melissa runs outside sobbing, demanding to know where her father is taking her cat. Tobias! Marco! Cassie! Where are you? Come down and claw Chapman’s eyes out! Save Rachel and Jake! This book can be over quickly! Alas, no.
Visser Three wanted Chapman to bring “the girl,” his daughter Melissa, but Chapman became a voluntary Controller with the understanding that his daughter would be spared. Chapman would make the life of the Yeerk in his head Hell if that promise was broken. He displays that he can regain some control of his body and make himself look mad (by mad I mean crazy, not angry) in front of parents or other influential adults. A willing host is a lot easier to control. I forgot to mention that Chapman’s wife is also a Controller, but it’s of little importance to the plot of this book.
The real Fluffer comes out, and Chapman explains to Melissa that this is another cat, and he must take it the animal shelter so its parents can be found. Chapman drives away with Rachel (with Jake on her back). They arrive at the abandoned construction site the Animorphs gained their powers, and Visser Three arrives via a Blade Ship. As Chapman and Visser Three talk, Rachel begins to be carried to the Blade Ship when an earthmover starts up and begins rolling toward the ship. Ah, Cassie and Marco, there you are! Why are they not using their powers?! Dracon beams fire on the earthmover, destroying it, but another another one starts up and rolls toward the Blade Ship. During the confusion, Jake jumps off Rachel’s back, demorphs, and morphs into his tiger morph. He attacks the Visser.
Rachel fears running out of time and getting stuck as a cat, but doesn’t find an opportunity to demorph. Visser Three morphs a stone beast and chases Rachel and Jake. Tobias swoops down and grabs Rachel, helping her escape. He drops her into trees, and as she falls she demorphs. Through the trees, Rachel can see Visser Three way back throwing a fit because the Animorphs escaped. Tobias tells Rachel that they all made it out alive.
In what happens to be one of Rachel’s sappier moments, she types up a card to Melissa letting her know that her father loves her very much and puts it in Melissa’s locker. If the other Animorphs disapproves, no one says so. I think they realize Rachel needs some sort of closure for her and for her friend.
This is a little weird to me, and only because Rachel seemed so concerned about keeping Melissa safe. If Melissa decided to ask her dad about the note, mistakenly thinking he wrote it, perhaps, the Yeerk in his head would know that the “Andalite Bandits” got to Melissa, putting her in danger of becoming a Controller. Worse, it might tip him off that these “Andalite Bandits” are human. Ah well.
Something I want to do with Animorphs after examining the plot is analyze each book’s title. All the books are titled “The…” and some word after it. (I didn’t think to do this with The Invasion. Sorry, I’ll go back and leave a comment with my thoughts on it, though it’s a pretty obvious title.) I think the “visitor” here refers to Rachel as Fluffer McKitty, visiting the Chapman home. Do you guys have other ideas?
I’ve seen this book be called boring because of how slow it is compared to other books in the series, but action isn’t everything. At the beginning of the series, the Animorphs are still largely holding on to their humanity, and I think this book represents that the best. Rachel is completely human here, putting her care for her friend above the war, which will seem very un-Rachel later on. Rachel is going to toughen up a lot. This is a very human, very soft Rachel. I had forgotten that part of her and enjoyed this book because of that.
The “action” was minimal because the Animorphs are still focused on learning as much as they can. Rachel was on an intel-mission rather than an attack one. It’s interesting to go back to when the Animorphs knew so little. I recall the Animorphs discussing in this book that Rachel has morphed the most animals since she has four morphs, and they are worried there may be a maximum number of animals they can acquire. These worries, these uncertainties about their powers and their new world, make Animorphs fun to read.
On to The Encounter! Birdboy, I’m ready for you.