As my third installment of my Childhood Challenge, I chose to read a book from the Choose Your Own Adventure series; the particular book I chose is Mystery of the Maya by R. A. Montgomery (book #5).
As a kid, I went to the library and excitedly picked out new Choose Your Own Adventure books; I don't remember any single book in particular that I enjoyed in the series--I just remember liking the series as a whole. I remember being enthralled with the idea that I could somehow influence the outcome of the story, and I would read the book as many times as it took to find all the possible endings. At a young age, I wanted to write, and Choose Your Own Adventure gave me the ability to help create a story without having to come up with any material on my own. For a kid like me, it was a win-win situation. I stopped reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books at a relatively young age; in fact, I don't think I can remember getting any past second or third grade, at the latest. And I never bought a copy of my own of any of the books until last night when I picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble.
I was so excited about the book that I started reading as soon as I got home. Within ten minutes, I had finished my first adventure and was left feeling . . . frustrated. The ending came quickly and cheesily. Because I had chosen to go directly to Chichen Itza to find my friend Tom, who had disappeared while researching collapse of the Mayan civilization, I was faced with the choice to join a mission with the aliens in the UFO perched above one of the great pyramids that had been used for human sacrifice. I didn't accept, so my story ended with "you missed your big chance." I went back to see what would have happened if I had accepted, and one short paragraph later, my adventure was again at "The End," but this time I was flying through space on a ride to an intergalactic conference with no idea what would happen next.
I now know why I stopped reading the series at a relatively young age and why I never bought any of the books for myself. While the idea is novel and I loved (and still do love) the thought of being a part of the construction of a story already printed, the outcome is not grand. The stories have interesting set ups and locations and characters, but the endings come too quickly and reach too far beyond anything resembling reality. I'm all for reading fantasy, but an intergalactic conference with aliens is a bit too much for me. I understand the necessity of having quick endings in a book that has so many possible endings but only so much space to write those possible endings (not to mention the different possible middles before readers even get to the endings). The quick endings make the books more suitable to young readers who don't mind quick resolutions and who, in fact, might want quick resolutions.
My adult experience with the series has been disappointing, but I still fondly remember my trips to the library as a kid to get a new Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you have a kid in your life who loves to read (or who might love to read if given the right book), I would suggest you take them to the library to check the series out. If you have a kid in your life that loves the series, you might want to encourage them to write their own endings to go along with some of the prompts; I think one of the best aspects to this series is that is allows young readers to start experimenting with writing on their own without needing to come up with an entire storyline. For that alone, I applaud the series (even after my disappointment as an adult reader).
Happy reading or re-reading!