Choose Your Own Adventure for Grown-ups

Photo by Sushiesque on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Did you read these as a kid?  I had one that was about a mystery in a horse stable (Google tells me it was #127, Showdown.)  These type of books are sometimes called “gamebooks,” because the narrative structure allows you to participate in the story by making choices.  There are multiple plot threads and endings to the story, which can be “good” or “bad.” It can even end with you dying!

These books were targeted at young teens, but I read two books recently that update this concept in a more mature fashion, though each in a distinct way.

Jane, Unlimited

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This novel, the latest release by Graceling author Kristin Cashore, was originally written in the second person as a choose-your-own-adventure with five different possible endings.  However, in the revision process the protagonist developed into the titular Jane, and the different endings, which split off about a quarter of the way through the book, should be read in order to get the most out of them.

The story begins with Jane being invited for a visit to the island mansion Tu Reviens; her late beloved Aunt Magnolia curiously made her promise to go there if she ever got the chance.  At Tu Reviens, Jane’s curiosity gets her embroiled in a number of mysteries, and each of the different ending spin out of which one she chooses to tackle first.  Though she’s struggling to find her place in the world, Jane is a fun and quirky protagonist; she likes Doctor Who and Winnie-the-Pooh and makes umbrellas as a hobby.  She also reads as bisexual, though the romance aspects are relatively minor.

In short, don’t judge this one by the ugly cover.  It’s one of the most creative books I’ve read this year.  Though the endings build on each other, each one also takes on qualities of a specific genre: heist story, spy drama, psychological thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy.  I don’t want to say too much else, just be ready to hold on and enjoy the ride.

One neat concept that is threaded through the endings, and is in fact tied to the choose-your-own-adventure format, is the idea of a multiverse: summed up by one character, “everything that could conceivably happen does happen, somewhere, in alternate universes across the multiverse.”

“…every time something happens, everything else that could have happened in that moment also happens, causing new universes to break off from the old universe and come into being.  So there are multiple versions of us, living different lives than the ones we live, across multiple universes, making every decision we could possibly make.  There are versions of us we wouldn’t even like, and some we’d barely recognize.”

It’s a great concept, and one that makes me want to re-read Jane, Unlimited to really appreciate its depth.  Is each ending taking place in a different dimension?  Is one of those dimensions “ours?”  There is some evidence that says yes…and some that says no.

Lastly, this book owes a lot to two classic Gothic stories of “orphan comes to a house of mystery:” Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which has inspired me to read and re-read them, respectively (they are both also selections for the Great American Read).  There are a few other interesting literary and artistic references as well.

My Lady’s Choosing

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This entertaining book is billed as an “interactive romance novel.”  It reminded me greatly of the old Choose Your Own Adventure format.  You begin the story as a penniless companion to Lady Craven and can go on to have any number of adventures including getting kidnapped in the Egyptian desert, delivering a foal in the Scottish Highlands, visiting a London brothel, and staying at a creepy Gothic manor.

There are four main love interests that you can end up with: Lady Evangeline, Lord Craven, Sir Benedict, and Captain McTaggart.  Each has several storylines and endings, plus there are a few other “side” endings you can also choose.  My favorite was ending up with Kamal, the nerdy curator of Lady Evangeline’s Cairo museum of artifacts.  We also have “many adorably studious children.”

This is not a serious romance book, but rather a bit of a satire of one.  It pokes fun at Regency romance tropes, including using a plethora of terrible puns and creative euphemisms in the sexy parts.  I found it absolutely hilarious, possibly because I read a lot of Regency romance.  If you would laugh at phrases like “a vision of Scottish virility” and “You kiss as though you are discovering islands off each other’s hidden coasts,” plus a mansion named “Manberley,” you are in the right place.

The “choose” points come up pretty frequently, and have hilarious little flavor text such as:

What, did you actually think you could fight off four enormous henchmen single-handed? Come on now.  Think of a better plan and turn to this page.

I was reading this on a Kindle which was an interesting experience for a choose-your-own-adventure.  It was nice because of the automatic links at the choose points that immediately direct you where you want to go.  But the links also mean there is no easy way to go back one choice and try a different path, which I used to do in the print versions by holding pages.  You’d have to keep making and deleting bookmarks or something.

I read through many of the endings because I was having so much fun.  I don’t think I would buy this book to read again, but it was definitely good for a few hours of entertainment.

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14 thoughts on “Choose Your Own Adventure for Grown-ups

  1. bujoowl July 11, 2018 / 1:26 pm

    Great review! Neil Patrick Harris did his autobiography in a choose your own adventure style if you’re ever interested in another one!

    Like

    • Mei-Mei July 11, 2018 / 5:14 pm

      That’s awesome, I love NPH so I’ll have to check that out. Sounds interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thomas Weaver July 11, 2018 / 3:16 pm

    I received a couple of old CYOA-type books for my birthday this year; one of them is titled The Black Road War. (Neither book is well-written, but I NEEDED them for my collection, since they’re derivative works of one of my favorite series of novels.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei July 11, 2018 / 5:19 pm

      I don’t think there are many CYOA books that are “well-written,” but that doesn’t have to lessen their enjoyment factor. I can definitely understand your completionist tendencies; what is the series?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For Tyeth July 11, 2018 / 4:48 pm

    Hi Mei-Mei, yes I definitely remember these CYOA books. Back when I was a youngling there was an offer on the boxes of a certain breakfast cereal to get free CYOA books. Collect so many tokens for each book. I had around a dozen of them by the time I had finished. One particular book had 81 possible outcomes. Great fun, didn’t know they still existed in this updated versions though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei July 11, 2018 / 5:12 pm

      That’s awesome! Nothing as great as free books. I meant to count the number of possible endings for My Lady’s Choosing, but I gave it up because it would take too long!

      Liked by 1 person

      • For Tyeth July 11, 2018 / 8:56 pm

        It was a very healthy way to get free books too as it was whole wheat biscuits (known as Weetabix in the UK) I had to buy and eat to get the tokens. And fortunately the authors stated on the introduction page the number of possible outcomes.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. MoMo @ Remnants of Wit July 11, 2018 / 7:28 pm

    Ryan North has some great choose-your-own-adventure versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. I didn’t know that there were other “grown-up” books like that as well–interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Michael J. Miller July 12, 2018 / 10:37 am

    I’ll second the comment above. Ryan North’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ and ‘Romeo and/or Juliet’ are incredible. I laugh out loud while reading them, sometimes to an embarrassing degree. They are just like the old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books I remember as a kid. And they are also setup so you can play as multiple characters in each, sometimes switching back and forth in the same story. Each novel is has over a hundred possible endings! They’re filled with fun illustrations by a bunch of great artists too, so that’s fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ally Bean July 19, 2018 / 11:14 am

    I’ve never heard of choose your own adventure books. I live under a rock apparently. I’m going to look into this genre. Thanks for the heads up… she says peeking out from under her rock.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei July 19, 2018 / 11:23 am

      Haha hope you enjoy your visit out from under your rock; the CYOA books are not great literature but are very fun!

      Liked by 1 person

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