I never was an avid Choose Your Own Adventure reader as a kid. I remember checking a few out from the school library from time to time, but they never were a favorite. Honestly, I was way too busy reading every single Boxcar Children book in existence to care about any other books that much. It wasn’t until this past summer that I decided to pick one up and realized what I’d been missing.
I was in the middle of planning out a paper for grad school when I realized that Choose Your Own Adventure books might be a great reference text for my essay on the merits of collaborative storytelling. I’ve since gone in a different direction, but I love that I got to start looking into these books. I’m a huge fan of collaborative storytelling, and I was really interested in the idea of these books being a method of collaborative storytelling between the author and the reader. Even though I ultimately went in a different direction, I learned a lot about myself as a reader in the process.
If you’re unfamiliar with these books, they are very much what they say on the tin. You’re reading the book, but it has many different outcomes that you choose from as you go. For example: You are walking down the road when there is a fork in the path. If you want to go left, turn to page 9; if you want to go right, turn to page 33. Depending on your choices throughout the book, it will end in any number of ways. Sometimes the story may only last a few pages because you made a bad choice and died. Sometimes, you sink a good amount of time flipping through the book, and you can finish the story in the time it would take to read a novella. The best part of these books is that you can always start again and do it differently.
I am one of those people who can get really animated when the main character of a story makes a very clearly wrong decision. I am simply built differently, and am very smart, and would have made a better decision if I was in their shoes. Except maybe I would not.
Choose Your Own Adventure books are written in second person, so you, the reader, are the main character in the story. You are the one picking up the cursed sword or helping Mrs. Smith get her cat out of the tree. Reading these isn’t some open-world adventure where you can pick from an infinite amount of options, though. Usually, there are only two or three. And sometimes, despite being built differently and being very smart, when I read these books, I make the stupid choices. Usually, it doesn’t work out, and I have to start the book over, but sometimes the bad choice was actually the right choice, and the story is all the better for my bad idea.
Since getting into these books, I’ve found myself being a lot more forgiving of main characters. Especially YA main characters. I’ve been humbled. I understand now that sometimes everyone is bad at decisions. Before reading these books, I knew this, of course, but I understand it a lot more now. Choose Your Own Adventure books have given me the tools to remember that sometimes, in fact, I’d argue most of the time, a character making a bad choice tells the better story. Even if it can be a bit frustrating.
I’m going to be so real. I am very bad at paying attention to details in books when I’m reading for fun. This is probably why I am one of those people who never sees the twist coming. And I absolutely never solve the murder before the detective does. I’m usually just there for the vibes.
This is not the case anymore since I’ve started choosing my own adventure. Since I’m the one making the decisions, I put in a bit more effort to make things make sense so I can make informed decisions. This has bled over into my reading, and I’ve gotten a lot better at soaking in the details of the story that I would otherwise have dismissed. It’s led to a much more fulfilling reading experience and has helped me remember the book after I’m done reading it much more clearly than I typically did before.
Another benefit of reading these books has been my own work as a writer. I’m thinking a lot more about character motivations and developing my story in an authentic way. I’m able to put myself in the story now in a way I hadn’t been able to before, and it’s been a blast.
If you haven’t read any Choose Your Own Adventure or similar books, I recommend giving them a try. Even if they don’t end up a favorite, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.