In news that just made my day, Scholastic recently announced that it would reprint K.A. Applegate‘s Animorphs bookÂ series. If you grew up in the ’90s, chances are you had at least heard of this YA series, in which teenagers Jake, Rachel, Marco Cassie, Tobias, and Ax have the power to morph into animals. Using their animal forms, they fought aliens called Yeerks, slugs who crawled into humans’ brains and controlled them to take over Earth. And they couldn’t tell anyone who they were. Not even you.
I know, it sounds incredibly inane; and in lesser hands, it would have been a schlocky, directionless collection of books. But Applegate’s series didn’t shy away from handling darker themes that her flesh-and-blood characters had to puzzle out without any help from authority figures. So, even though the new books have those cheesy high-tech lenticular covers, you’ll want to commit to the series. (Or at the very least, buy it for a younger sibling.) Here are the five things you need to know about Animorphs:
- You can skip the first few pages. Each book begins with whichever character is narrating giving a background of how the Yeerks got here, how the Animorphs began, etc. It’s mostly part of the “tell no one” shtick, and you won’t miss anything if you flip to halfway through Chapter 1.
- Get ready for some dark themes. Like many authors, Applegate contrasts the sci-fi setting with real-world problems like divorce, depression, mental health issues, and torture. It’s especially jarring when you consider that these kids are 13 at the series’ start. The Megamorphs and other companion books — sort of the equivalent of a TV movie in their length and subject matter — get especially dark when dealing with time travel and the backstory of how the Yeerks made it to Earth.
- There’s a TV series. It aired on Nickelodeon on Saturday nights. Don’t watch it.
- Applegate didn’t write all of the books. Through some loophole it says that she did, when really a young editor fleshed out an outline that Applegate provided, then got thanked in the acknowledgements. For the most part, #25-#51 were ghostwritten, then edited by Applegate to fit series continuity. You should definitely check these out, but bear in mind that the Golden Age for the series is more at the beginning.
- It has a fantastic ending. Applegate did return for #54 The Beginning, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, the last book manages to introduce a major game change, offer closure for most of the characters, and make readers smile while being sucker punched.
Bonus fun fact: My favorite book was #6 The Capture, the first one I ever read, where Jake gets infected by a Yeerk.