So, funny story with The Stranger: I read this seventh book of the Animorphs series in 2018 a day or so after reading The Capture. I got ridiculously busy with school shortly after, and I did not get to write my recap. I tried to write it when life slowed down again, but the details of the book were fuzzy to me, and I knew I’d have to reread it again to do the book justice. Now, coming back to the series in 2021, I decided to go back to book 7, recap it properly, and move forward from it. I had considered moving on and rereading and recapping book 8, but the lack of a post for 7 would trigger my OCD, so here we are.
I actually listened to the audiobook for this “read.” The school I teach at this year is nearly an hour from my house, so I was able to get through the book in about two days. I loved the audiobook. This “read” made me appreciate this book so much more than I did before. It was never a favorite of mine, but now I think it is a really solid entry in the series.
Before I jump into the book, I want to talk about some changes with my recaps. You guys have probably noticed my Goosebumps recaps have gotten a lot deeper and a lot more analytical. Animorphs recaps will follow suit. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing when I began these recaps and just kind of talked about my reaction to the stories’ plots, but as I wrote about more books, I realized what I enjoy is tearing these books apart, looking at common thread, making meaning, and drawing connections. That will be the focus of my recaps. I want to make you think.
The book begins with Rachel and Cassie at a circus. Rachel has witnessed the circus’ animal handler abusing his elephants. Rachel morphs an elephant and gives him a good scare. She makes him promise to never hurt another elephant. As a kid, I saw this scene as an interesting, but random beginning of the book to ease the reader into the story. Now, I think it ties into a large theme of escapism that is present throughout the book. I’ll discuss that in Analysis.
At an Animorphs meeting, Marco and Tobias announce to the group that they have discovered an entrance to a yeerk pool. It can be entered via the dressing rooms at The Gap. The group debates whether it is a good idea to go to the Yeerk pool again because they had their butts royally handed to them last time they went to the Yeerk pool, and they feel they didn’t hurt the Yeerks. The Yeerk pool, for those unfamiliar with these books, is a body of water the Yeerks have to exit their hosts and swim through every three days to soak up Kandrona Rays they need for nourishment. Ax tells the group that Yeek pools are generally centered around Kandrona. The Animorphs decide it is not a good idea to attack the Yeerk pool, but they decide it is worth going to the Yeerk pool for intel, to possibly find the Kandrona. Taking out the Kandrona could seriously hurt the Yeerks and delay their plans, at least for a few weeks.
At home, Rachel is informed that her father has been offered a full-time anchor position in another state, thousands of miles away. Rachel’s father asks Rachel to come live with him. She would have the chance to work with a renowned gymnastics coach that could let her really take her passion seriously, she would get to spend more time with her father, which she loves and has not been able to do as much since her parents divorced and moved out, and she would be able to fly back anytime she wanted to visit because his salary is so good. The downside of it is she would leave her mother and sisters, she would leave her friends, the Animorphs, and she would leave the war against the Yeerks. The latter is an upside as well.
Needing to think, Rachel morphs an owl and flies out of her house. She decides she needs some firepower for the mission to the Yeerk pool, so she wakes Tobias up, nearly scaring him to death, and tries to convince him to go to The Gardens to find a better battle morph. Tobias does not want to go, so he tells her to go home. She decides to go anyway, alone. She lands in a grizzly bear habitat and acquires a grizzly’s DNA.
The Animorphs meet at the mall and infiltrate the Yeerk pool as cockroaches. They scurry around reminiscing about and contemplating on the trauma they have from the place until they smell food and make their way toward it. A large tongue whips out and hits the Animorphs as roaches, sticking them to it and pulling them into a Taxxon’s mouth when everything freezes. The Animorphs demorph involuntrarily and are soon joined by Tobias, who is human again. They soon find out time was stopped by a being known as an Ellimist. He tells the Animorphs that they will lose their war with the Yeerks and that humanity is doomed. He is there to save them and give them a choice. They can stay and continue to fight a war they are destined to lose, or he can take them and some people they care about to another planet to preserve the human race. The Animorphs need time to think about the decision, but the Ellimist needs an answer right then. They vote and the answer is to stay and fight.
Part of what helped them make their decision to stay is they see a dropshaft that they can escape from while time is frozen. The Ellimist sets things back to as they were before he came, but tells the Animorphs he will ask them once more. The demorph as they are being eaten and blow the Taxxon up. The quickly morph battle morphs, Rachel morphing her new grizzly and surprising everyone, and escape the Yeerk pool, although Rachel loses control of her new morph and attacks Jake while doing so.
The Ellimist appears again later, as promised, and shows the Animorphs a future in which they have lost to help them make their decision. While in the future, Rachel notices that the city’s buildings have all been leveled out, except for the EGS Tower. Rachel sees herself as an adult, a Controller, who knew she would come at that time and brought Visser Three, who is now Visser One, and the two mock the Animorphs. Adult Rachel makes a wrong move and Ax puts his tailblade against her throat, which Rachel notices surprises the adult version of herself. Rachel realizes that the future can change.
However, the Animorphs decide to revert their previous decision and agree to be whisked away to the new planet. Nothing happens, though. Rachel concludes that they weren’t immediately whisked away because they didn’t give the Ellimist the answer he wanted. She recalls the EGS Tower that wasn’t leveled off like the other buildings in the future and has the revelation that that is where the Kandrona must be. She tells the Animorphs that the Ellimist must want them to stay and fight. She hypothesizes that he has to let them make their own decisions to not interfere, but that he shows them just enough to give them hope and help them in a way that it can’t be said that he interfered. For example, he stopped time right when the Animorphs made it to where they could see the dropshaft and knew they could escape. He sent them to a future to “convince” them, where they happened to see where the Kandrona must be.
The Animorphs make their way to the EGS Tower and they destroy the Kandrona. They learn after their mission that a replacement Kandrona is on its way, but that their actions have seriously hurt and set behind the Yeerks. Many Yeerks perish.
Rachel tells her father that she is going to stay with her mother and sisters.
Theme – Escapism
It is so interesting reading these books as an adult. When I was a kid, I thought, “this is a book about the Ellimist.” Reading it (or rather, listening to it) this week, I thought, “this is a book about escapism.” A theme of escape appears all throughout this book. In the main plot, the Animorphs are given an opportunity to escape the war on Earth and live a safe, carefree life on another planet. In a subplot, Rachel is given the opportunity to escape the war and her worries and go live with her father in another state where she could focus on her gymnastics. Going even deeper into the theme, Rachel has a problem with morphing in this book, because she uses morphing as an escape, letting the animal brain take over so that she can get away and stop being Rachel.
“I guess every kid has times he wants to just get away. But I had the power to do it. I could even get away from myself” (35).
Human beings, especially adolescents, escape mentally in times of trauma. It is called disassociation. It is part of “flight” in our “fight or flight” responses. Disassociation is an ability that allows us to survive unimaginable things. Unfortunately, doing that does not come without a price. When you escape and do not face things, you do not process your thoughts and emotions, and as a result, you do not heal. Things that remind you of that traumatic moment will trigger you and send you back to that pain. To free yourself from these triggers, you have to face things, you have to process things, and you have to heal. Therapy can really help.
I bring all that up to say that when a child or adolescent reads this book, it may create a good opportunity to discuss escape with them. Wanting to escape is natural and fine. Staying, whatever that may look like — talking with an adult, discussing thoughts and feelings, asking for advice — can be hard but worthwhile.
Rachel ultimately decides to stay and face her hardships rather than run. She comes to realize she has responsibility, and more importantly, I think she realizes she is not alone. She eventually confides in the other Animorphs about the decision her father plopped in her lap. Her problem is that she tried to hold it inside and deal with it alone. That is why escape looked so good. Thankfully, she realizes there are other options.
Circus/Zoo Symbolism and Foreshadowing
I used to think that the beginnings of these books were random, fun, and interesting ways to slowly get readers into the main plot. I realized with this readthrough, however, that there is nothing random about the beginning. The captive elephants that are being mistreated are a symbol in the novel that tie into the theme. Rachel actually becomes an elephant and joins them in their captivity where she stands up to their handler. This is interesting and significant because Rachel stands up against and faces the elephants’ problem here. These abused elephants are not alone because they have Rachel, and Rachel, too, does not have to face her hardships alone.
Also interesting to note is the Animorphs come to the realization that they would be like zoo animals to the Ellimist on the planet they escape to, much like these elephants are on display for humans.
Cover and Tagline
I am moving my opinions on the cover here, to Analysis, because I want to focus on the significance of the animal being morphed and write about how the tagline does or does not fit into the book as a whole. In previous recaps, I discussed the artistic qualities of the cover, and to be honest with you, I have never enjoyed writing those sections. I am not an artist and have not had experience or training analyzing art, so I always felt like I was rambling with little substance. I want to play on my passions and strengths.
I believe the grizzly is a perfect choice for the cover morph. It is Rachel’s new morph in the series, but it is also one Rachel acquires and chooses to morph alone, without the support of her friends. She loses control of herself as the grizzly and rages. I think the grizzly makes a statement to Rachel’s mental state and struggles in this book. The only other morph I think could have worked for the cover is the elephant, and that is because of the symbol that is created at the beginning of the book, and the fact that the elephant is what Rachel uses to destroy the Kandrona. How powerful is that fact, by the way? Either animal would have been a strong choice.
Tagline: This time there may be no way out . . . .
Even the tagline touches on escape. I like the irony of it because Rachel is offered ways out in many forms in this book. She learns that escape is not truly an option, however. She has to stay and fight, for herself, her loved ones, and for humanity.
Finally, let’s examine the title. Who or what is the stranger? Literally, it’s the Ellimist. This book is his introduction into the series. Figuratively, I think it’s Rachel. She discusses in the book that people expect her to be strong and decisive, but that she is scared and doubtful.
“You know, there are days when I just don’t feel brave and fearless. There are days when I just want to go to a ball game with my dad and eat popcorn and tune out everything else that’s going on. Be a normal kid. But that’s not the life that I had. Not anymore” (47).
Rachel is a stranger to herself because she does not who she is or who she has become. The Rachel she knows is inside would be a stranger to the other Animorphs.
This was a much deeper book than I initially realized. Maybe it’s because I have never analyzed it before. I have a strong appreciation for it now.
This was a lot of fun. I am interested to see what you guys think of how deep I went into this book, and my recaps’ new focus on analyzation. I want to go back and rewrite the recaps of the first six books I covered, going deep into them as well, but I also want to keep moving forward in the series, because I will never finish this project at the rate I’m going. Next is The Alien. I’ll come back and hit the first six books again at random.