Columns > Published on August 10th, 2016

Can I Survive ONE Choose Your Own Adventure Book?

My experience reading Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid was probably a lot like yours. I picked up a book that seemed more exciting than a regular book, made about three choices, and then saw my character consumed by fire. I picked up another one, made about three choices, and my lifeless corpse was flung into outer space. 

But that was decades ago. Surely, now, as an adult, and as an adult who reads a lot and understands what writers are trying to evoke in children, I can survive one of these things. Right?

Attempt #1: 'Blood On The Handle'

In this book, my parents have vanished mysteriously on a sailing trip, and I now live with my uncle in his New Orleans mansion. My uncle calls his mansion "Swan Song," which tells you how rich he is. Poor people name their houses, but they don't name them things like "Swan Song." For example, I call my place "Over by where they found that dead lady in a trunk" (This really happened. I am the 99%). 

Anyway, the story starts off when I get dropped off by the school bus and have to walk the mile-long driveway up to Swan Song. Which makes me really angry right away. I have this super rich uncle, and nobody on his staff can pick me up from school? I have to walk up a road like a commoner? What the hell kind of rich kid walks? This is my chance to live a fantasy, rich lifestyle, and here I am using LEGS to get around.

When I get to the house, I find a bloody dagger in the floor! Then I look out the window and see some people packing my uncle into a car, and I run out, jump on my motorcycle (which my uncle gave me) and give chase.

From here, I make exactly four unimportant choices before I die, burned alive or possibly shot in a hayloft. It's unclear.

I wanted to skip to the end here because I'm still pissed off that I had to ride the damn bus and no one picked me up, and all along I had a goddamn motorcycle? Did the person who wrote the endings to this story read the beginning? What was I even doing on the bus? I was the Screech, riding the bus like a geek, when I could have been the A.C. Slater showing up to school on a Harley.

In all seriousness, I tried to make the choices that I felt would continue the plot of a lousy action movie. That method failed. Lesson learned. Let's see what's next.

[amazon 1933390336 inline]


Attempt #2: 'The Lost Jewels Of Nabooti'

This was an obvious next step. The woman with a snake in her eye is completely without reason and completely awesome. And who doesn't want to walk around saying "Nabooti"?

For a bunch of stupid reasons that don't matter other than "Jewels of Nabooti", my cousins need me to come to Morocco. So I hop on a flight to France. On the flight, I'm seated next to a dude who has no fingernails, and he's scribbling the word "Nabooti" on a paper over and over. I'm told by the book that this behavior seems suspicious, and I agree. Although I can't put my finger(nail) on it...

Hint to bad guys: If you're going to have a creepy appearance, don't give yourself away further by writing what you're pursuing on a piece of paper over and over. If you're going to assassinate Weird Al, don't get on a plane and write "Weird Al" over and over and draw a bunch of guns pointing all over the place. This is a dead giveaway.

Also, don't kill Weird Al. That would be a loss, and also the internet would be unbearable for like three weeks. "Seventeen Reasons Why 'My Bologna' Is Great." #WeirdAlRIP. Heartfelt tributes from a bunch of jerks who just like writing heartfelt tributes. Ugh.

Anyway, back to the story.

When I arrive in France, I can choose to go with the no-fingernail creep, who invites me into his taxi. But I pass on that one. Then I meet up with "a tall woman with intense eyes and a muscular midget in a track suit." They try to convince me to go with them. The "midget" "grins in an evil way." 

I decide not to go with them either. Which turns out to be a mistake because I'm seized by customs, they find a diamond sewn into my clothes somehow, and I get extradited to the states. 

I feel manipulated. Couldn't the book have said, "The midget grins and you see a gold tooth" and then I could have thought Hm. Gold tooth. Sounds evil? But no, the book straight-up told me the "midget" was grinning in an "evil" way. Why would I possibly think he might be up to anything good? I only have the information provided by the book, and that information was all pointing towards this dude being bad news.

Lesson Learned: If you're going to smuggle diamonds through customs, you know where you need to put them. 

[amazon 1933390042 inline]


Attempt #3: 'Lost On The Amazon'

 I wanted so badly to mock this book. But you know what's crazy, a sure sign of how stupid I am? 

Why, as an adult man, did I think the Amazon river was in Africa? How am I that dumb?

I mean, sure, in the book I'm a doctor who specializes in leprosy and has spent many a day in weird canoes going up and down horrifying rivers in order to cure diseases, but if I, the reader and decision maker, don't know which CONTINENT I'm on, what are the odds that I'm going to get out of this alive? If I don't even have that one piece of information in my brain, what are the odds that I'm going to finish this adventure without being devoured by piranhas? 

I died by piranha, by the way. But I can't blame the book for this one. 

[amazon 1933390093 inline]


Attempt #4 'Behind The Wheel'

Ultimately, a fellow rally driver is killed, and it's kind of my fault. So no biggie as long as living with a death on your conscious isn't a problem. I guess that's an adventure? You semi-caused a man's death, and you're not going to prison, but you DO have to live with the guilt. I'm not sure that was the intended adventure, an adventure of emotion, a slog out of deep depression and guilt. I kind of thought this would be like a vroom vroom car race thing.

Most interesting, in this volume the author had to show what was happening in a secret conference between the bad guys, but the book is written in second person. How do you maintain the fourth wall, maintain the perspective, and show me a conversation I wasn't present for?

Watch the master at work:

"What would you say if I told you that these people were planning your death?" a voice inside your head asks. "That's right, your death. Right here in this little out-of-the-way cafe, your fate is about to be decided. Come, let's listen in."

At first you are jarred by this voice, its tone strange and yet familiar. Then you realize that it is your thought guide, and you give into it, allowing yourself to go along for the ride. [cut to inside of cafe]

Oh, riiiiight. That's just my lil ol' thought guide. Nothing to get excited about. Just that thing that happens where I go outside of my own body and watch little real-time movies in my head regarding people sitting in a cafe and plotting my death. Seems reasonable. It's not like only a crazy person would think something like that was happening.

[amazon 1933390352 inline]


Attempt #5 'The Abominable Snowman'

I'm on some kind of expedition, and my idiot buddy gets lost. Some other idiots tell me that I can look below base camp, where the Abominable Snowman usually hangs out, or climb up higher.

By the way, I'm calling the Abominable Snowman AbS from here on out. I'm not typing that over and over. You can't just attach an adjective to your name and expect others to go along. I don't force people to call me "The Semi-Admirable Pete" all the time.

To get through this adventure, I decide to Costanza the whole thing and do the opposite of what I think is right whenever a decision is presented. Original me would have said, "If the mythical creatures usually show up below camp, it doesn't make sense to waste energy climbing up when we could walk down. Screw it, let's coast." But this is the new me. We climb.

The climb starts okay. I manage to engage the services of an Asian slave through a bizarre incense-guessing ritual. I think that's supposed to be a good thing as opposed to a commentary on slavery. But then, in camp, AbS shows up, and though I manage to snap several pictures and use the flash to scare him off, the shutter on my camera doesn't close and the pictures are ruined.

And that's the end. I SAW AbS, but no evidence. So, on the plus, I didn't die. AbS didn't drink my spinal fluid at any point, so that's sort of a win. On the minus, I'm now part of a vocal minority who show up on Dean-Cain-hosted television regarding whether or not crap like AbS is real.

[amazon 1933390018 inline]


Attempt #6 'Prisoner Of The Ant People'

This one takes place in the future! I live in a dome, the classic sure sign of living in the future. 

Anyway, I leave the dome almost immediately, at which point we get Futuristic Bit #2 which is that I travel by tube. The future is really into tubes. I guess somewhere around 2050 everyone will say, "What if we did your idea, but as a tube?" Sort of how everyone did with apps for a while.

Future Bit #3 is the fact that I have a Martian friend whose name is consonant heavy. Aliens hate vowels, perhaps because they have misinterpreted Wheel of Fortune and believe that one must actually purchase a vowel in all contexts.

I've got a dome, I've got tubes, I've got a Martian friend. Here is where things go off the rails.

There is this evil dude called the Power Master. He's figured out something about molecules that has given him the power to disintegrate planets. So I, as a smart dude, am trying to stop the Power Master. For some reason my plan involves working with miniaturization, and when other portions of the research team disappear we decide to miniaturize ourselves and go looking for them.

I'd like to point out that making myself tiny is not my choice. This has to be the most idiotic plan when it comes to searching. When someone is lost in the woods, I bet there are very few rescuers who think, "If only we could miniaturize ourselves and effectively search a leaf as though it were the size of an entire PLANET."

After we get smalled, it takes me exactly two decisions to piss of my Martian friend and discover that I have misplaced the de-miniaturizer. After a brief argument along the lines of, "Smooth move, Ex-Lax" followed by a resounding, "Hey, don't call me Ex-Lax, Dum-Dum" my Martian friend decides to sit down and meditate (ignore me), and I'm all by myself, tiny and screwed.

This is the end of the book. So again, I didn't die. Not exactly. But I was the size of a grain of rice, and I pissed off my only friend. 

Oh, and the title? Prisoner Of The Ant People? I only met one ant who died almost immediately. This makes me suspect that I made it a very short distance into the potential story. I guess the dying ant made me a sort of conversational prisoner. He was pretty boring. Maybe a more appropriate title for my adventure would have been Social Prisoner of One Ant Person.

[amazon 1933390107 inline]


Attempt #7 'Tattoo Of Death'

THIS time I figure I'll shoot for the big idea, which appears to be a karate fight in Japan. So whenever there is a choice, instead of being responsible or taking the light risk, it's balls to the wall.

And again, I don't die. But the book ends with me about to be taken to Japan, where the boss of this whole operation, Big Guy, is probably going to murder me. And that's it. Basically, it's like Man On Fire. You don't see me die for sure, but it's pretty thoroughly implied.

Just as a quick note, the main bad guy in this book is called Big Guy. Your friends are Ben and Sprazzle. And, my personal favorite because it's insane and also because it absolutely did not need to be in the book for any reason, the name of your father's attorney is Marvelous Marvin Carmichael.

Also, the dedication in this book is fucking excellent:

This book is dedicated to the concept of freedom, liberty, and justice to all. Thank you, founders of this democracy.

Yes indeed. You were the TRUE choosers of this great adventure we call America.

[amazon 1933390220 inline]


Attempt # 8: 'Track Star!'

I figure I have a decent chance on this one. Unlike seeking the yeti or getting along with Martians, running track is something I've actually DONE. And I didn't die while running track. Not even once. So this should be a snap.

I can't be sure where exactly things started to go wrong in this book, but as far as I can tell, making the decision to continue running track as opposed to taking a paid teaching job (as a high school senior, by the way) results in me taking drugs. The part where I took the drugs? No choice! One minute I'm making the decision to not work a boring job teaching dumb youth about whatever, the next I've somehow acquired steroids and injecting myself all to hell, which somehow results in me fracturing my own leg.

Death truly stalks us all in these damn books.

Oh, and BY THE WAY, I guess I must have really sucked at track in real life. Movies have led me to believe that coaches are always trying to convince players to do dumb shit to enhance their performance. Which never happened to me. I guess my performance wasn't even worth enhancing.

My main problem with drugs is that I think the kids who suck, the ones who would really benefit from drugs, aren't being offered them. That's bullshit. I mean, here we are, talking about how Lance Armstrong may have done some space age shit to shave 1/10th of a second off his times, meanwhile I was working really hard to not get LAPPED in the 2-mile. Who needs the drugs here, people?

[amazon 193339031X inline]


Attempt #9: 'Chinese Dragons'

The room where you sleep is small and cramped. In one corner is stored the sacks of seeds needed for planting. There are not as many sacks as usual and your uncle and his wife are worried.

OH MY GOD SO BORING! Who starts an adventure book for kids like that? "In the struggle to feed a family, commodities like seeds had to be carefully portioned out and rationed."

This is called Chinese Dragons. I want to see some dragons. Or at the very least, martial arts masters who are referred to as dragons. I don't think that's asking a lot.

Because I need a reason to push through, I challenge myself. Not to survive or get a good ending, but to see how long this book will last. If I survive for 15 minutes, I'll count it a victory. If it's less than that, failure.

Ready. Set. Go.

56 Seconds: I get out of bed. That's a start, I guess.

3 min 36 seconds: I haven't made any choices yet. And just to confirm, it sucks to be a Chinese farm kid whose parents are dead, especially if your cousins are a bunch of assholes.

4 min 10 seconds: I make a choice! Probably a bad one. I kind of have to decide if I'm going to watch a battle or work in a field. I abandon my work and head for the battle.

4 min 53 seconds: Ugh, now some dweeb is offering me a job. Leave me alone! I want to get to the battle! No, I don't want job security assisting some pot painter. I want a damn battle. Where is the battle? Where are the dragons?

6 min 31 seconds: I'm waiting in line to sign up for the army. For 45 minutes. The text ACTUALLY SAYS that I wait in line for 45 minutes. Wow. Choose your own adventure. How long will YOU wait in line? 45 minutes? 32 minutes? Choose and find out!

7 min 20 seconds: "You decide to stay with the army. 3 months later, you are a trained soldier." Time is so elastic in this story I can't even.

7 min 46 seconds: And as I'm walking around, having never spotted the enemy, I get shot in the chest with an arrow and die immediately.

Now, on the plus, the book ends with me in the afterlife, and my dad makes a little joke like "You didn't even see him coming, eh?" Thanks, pops. Good one. 

On the minus, I made it about half the goal time.

And what the hell, R.A. Montgomery? I do almost nothing, and then an arrow hits me out of nowhere and I'm just dead? That's cheap, man. I read all your nonsense about grain and farming and blah diddy blah, and then you skip right over my warrior training, which was probably awesome, and just go straight to my death? How did I not get to fight anyone? How was there no "If you swing your sword high, go to page 42. If you swing low, go to page 77"?

Death truly stalks us all in these damn books. Even with a lower standard of "Winning" I couldn't make it. Damn, Damn Damn.

[amazon 1933390301 inline]


Attempt #10: 'Moon Quest'

Two factors in my favor here.

1. This book is by ANSON Montgomery, not R.A. (Raging Alcoholic Montgomery, I assume). Maybe Anson is more reasonable.

2. I've decided that if I die in a way that's relatively cool, ON THE MOON, I'm counting it as a victory. Explosion, mutant, SEXplosion. These sorts of things count. Impaling myself on the original moon landing flag. You get it.

Here we go! The Moon!

The book starts with some important background information, which is the fact that my parents like to watch Earth sports and mock basketball players who are hampered by stupid Earth gravity. Fools. They should come get some less gravity on the moon. Your Earth slam dunks pale in comparison to our lunar dunks.

Then I get choice one, and it's a doozy.

One option is to work leading around a crew of diplomats. If Lethal Weapon movies have taught me anything, it's that you can do whatever you want and then yell "Diplomatic Immunity" and not get in trouble. Until one sensible person is like, "Dude, I just watched you gun a bunch of people down. I don't think you know the laws totally right, and I'm going to take my chances here."

Option two is to go on a mission to the far side of the moon. Which is like 3,300 miles away. I'm just praying, begging to not have to actually read a lot about this drive. Please, if there's a (Moon) god, let this be a part where the book says, "And then, after a long drive we don't need to expand on, you were there."

I opt for the Moon road trip. My goal is to die on the moon. Eyes on the prize, Pete.

Conclusion: I end up alive, and nothing cool happens.

Damn it.

Anson Montgomery spared my life, but was it worth it? I mean, I was on the moon in a spider bus thing, but then I was back in the colony, and I went to bed and that was it.

And, unfortunately, I did not make it within my parameters of winning, lowball as they were.

You win this round, Montgomery II. You win this round.

[amazon 1933390263 inline]


Books read: 10

Victories: 0

Screw: Adventure in all forms

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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