My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was a lot of fun, fast-paced, suspenseful, and tightly plotted. The kids had good reasons not to want to fight; their fears were reasonable, and their sacrifices mattered. I thought the big villain’s grandstanding was a bit silly, but it might be the right tone for the target audience. I would have loved these books as a ten year old; I love them even reading them for the first time as a thirty year old.
Cassie’s characterization made me wince a little. She’s described on page 4 as ‘…quieter than Rachel, more peaceful, like she always understands everything on some different, more mystical level.’ If a white character was described that way, it would still be a weird thing to say about a person, but it wouldn’t play into the same tropes.
Cassie is the one black character in the book, and she’s described as having supernatural understanding (by a first-person narrator who’s in junior high, but still), she’s unusually insightful and calm, she’s far better than the other kids at morphing, she delivers a little speech about the old days and calling on the spirits of animals for protection, and because of her special interest in animals and her parents’ occupations, she can put the group of kids in contact with the larger and more unusual animals they morph into. None of the other (white) kids are special or essential to the plot the way Cassie is.
I feel like the author tried to make Cassie extra-super-awesome, and fell into the magical black person trope. She went too far, and the character became a plot device in a way that the other characters did not.
(Edit: someone pointed out that Marco is Latino, so not all the other kids are white, but the first book in the series at least didn't single out Marco the way it did Cassie).