Go Your Own Way With These 5 Modern-Day Takes on Choose Your Own Adventure Books 

R.A. Montgomery’s Choose Your Own Adventure books were an ever-present part of childhood for ‘80s and ‘90s kids. Popular at both school libraries and book fairs, they were a game as much as they were a book, more accurately described as “interactive fiction”—taking the infinite possibilities idea of video games and applying it to text. A CYOA book wasn’t just one story, or a collection of stories—it was the same story told a bunch of different ways, like Rashomon for kids, but with way more aliens, rainforest escapes, and fringe scientists. The stakes were always nice and high, too—if your character died (or rather when your character died) you could just go back to the last breaking-off point at try again.

A generation or two of kids inhaled Choose Your Own Adventure books, and they made a huge impression on readers, some of whom grew up to be writers. And those writers have found ways to imitate, parody, pay homage to, and expand the ideas of interactive fiction not to mention second-person fiction.

If you want to read about a CYOA­­­-style book about grown-up life…SCROLL DOWN.

Choose Your Own Misery: Dating, by Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon
MacDonald and Gagnon have struck on a brilliant idea, juxtaposing the breathless tone and breakneck speed employed by Choose Your Own Adventure books with painfully mundane and realistic adult situations. Sure, they’re still harrowing and terrible, just not spelunking in haunted caves or messing with malfunctioning time machines or whatever. In Choose Your Own Misery: The Office, the authors tasked readers with deciding whether or not to actually deliver their big presentation…or goof around on the Internet (hi!). (You know, work stuff.) Next up came The Holidays, which offers its own aggravating choices, like spending the festive season with your terrible family…or your significant other’s terrible family. Completing the trilogy is a book about things more terrifying than any spooky pirate ship or alien abduction scenario a CYOA could produce: first dates, mingling at parties, and connecting to another person in some small way. Ah, love!

To go on a Shakespearen adventure…KEEP READING.

To Be or Not to Be, by Ryan North
The author subtitled this the copyright-skirting “A Chooseable-Path Adventure,” but we all know what this is. It’s also incredibly ambitious—the dude is rewriting Shakespeare, or at least he’s making you do it, putting into the reader’s hands all the raw material of the greatest work of English drama, jostling it all around, and seeing what happens if the reader can make the Prince of Denmark’s bad decisions for him. Finally, you can make Hamlet get to it while the getting is good and kill his throne-usurping uncle right away, and move on. Or you can give Ophelia, a fascinating character robbed of a good storyline, the good storyline she deserves. There are about 100 possible endings in all, plus it’s illustrated and there are puzzles. It’s everything a play should be!

If you want to pursue the aliens…READ THE NEXT ENTRY.

Super Giant Monster Time!by Jeff Burk
And here we have a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that is more homage (peep that perfect cover) and continuation of the form than a transplanting of its properties. It reads exactly like an old school Choose Your Own Adventure classic, especially since the plot concerns giant alien monsters from space that are attacking your city. However, there are some adults-only, ironic flourishes, such as how the aliens’ ray guns turn people into mohawked punk rockers, as well as barroom fights, lots of swearing, and violence. It’s a kids’ book for adults is what it is.

For a classy British adventure…MOVE ON DOWN.

My Lady’s Choosing, by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
There’s this whole cultural subgenre of Jane Austen fantasy—stories about people who long to live inside a Jane Austen novel (Shannon Hale’s Austenland) or magically get to do that (the British miniseries Lost in Austen). Who wouldn’t want to bicker and then marry Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and enjoy all those Regency-era fancy parties? The most successful and ephemeral entry in this genre: My Lady’s Choosing, because it’s written in the second person—“you” are literarily there, dear reader, making the decisions for a “plucky but penniless” young woman as she tries to find love with the prickly Sir Benedict, an affectionate faux Darcy. It’s a wonderful use of the Choose Your Own Adventure Format while also paying respect to Austen. This means that yes, there’s lots of witty back-and-forthing, but depending on the decisions you make, may also encounter a libertine Scotsman or go on a pirate adventure.

If you wish to follow the clever humorist…READ ON.

Choose Your Own Disaster, by Dana Schwartz
Schwartz has done a lot of living, or she’s lived so much of her life with eyes wide open and with the Nora Ephron dictum that “everything is copy” in mind, that she’s already written a memoir by her mid-20s. This is an innovative autobiography in more than one way. First of all, life is rarely linear, but books that tell life stories are—but not this one. A read of Choose Your Own Disaster is all jumbled up, out of order, episodic, and fragmented—on account of how life is like that. It’s also interspersed with Internet-style personality quizzes…the answers of which direct readers to choose different paths—which are funny, self-deprecating stories from Schwartz’s life. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel where author, reader, and plot all get rolled up into each other’s business.

What modern-day Choose Your Own Adventure iteration are you excited about?

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