Choose Your Own Death
by Marianna Shek
Goultown. The sort of place where kids could walk down the street in the middle of the night. Or accept sweets from strangers because strangers were just friends you hadn’t met yet. A place where grown-ups got tattoos of smiley faces and if kids graffitied, they were sure to do smiley faces too.
That was before the murders began. After Sally Ellerson drowns at the chocolate factory, you know there’s something weird going on. It’s time to take charge.
Choose Your Own Death is a path-picking adventure where every wrong turn unleashes an eldritch evil. If you don’t solve the mystery soon, the next death could be yours.
Read an excerpt:
Jessica draws back with a look of hurt in her eyes. You feel bad but instead of apologising, you slide open the drawer. Something leaps onto your face. Your cheeks are burning. You reach up and touch something smooth and hard as a nut.
One look at Jessica’s horrified expression and you start screaming, ‘Get it off! Get it off!’
You pinch at the nut-shaped creature and hurl it across the room with all your strength. Wisps of spun glass tangle in your hands. Angry welts appear where the fine threads touch your skin.
It hits the wall and slides to the floor leaving a black smear on the paisley wallpaper. It looks like a prehistoric beetle, with golden pincers and bronze plates down the length of its body. For a moment, you think it’s over. You’ve killed it. Then, its spiny body rolls over and scuttles towards you. The others scream and leap out of the way. There’s no time for bug spray. You grab the scissors from the sewing kit and run towards the creature with a battle cry. There’s a loose nail in the floorboard.
You hold out your hands to break your fall. The scissors drive up into your stomach. As you lie there wheezing and gasping your last breath, you hear a reproachful voice.
‘Mummy doesn’t like it when you run with the good scissors.’
I absolutely ate up Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. I mean, what could be better than a book you can read again and again and have it be a different story almost every single time? My favorite took place at a creepy carnival funhouse.
I haven't seen these books in years, so was very excited to see the idea resurrected by a new author. It does follow the basic format. You're introduced to the storyline, make a grisly discovery, and then have to make a choice about what to do. Choose wisely, and your story continues. Choose the wrong path, and you find out about your demise. There seemed to be countless ways to die.
A few things in this version were different than the ones I remember. While most of the book is written in second-person, addressing the reader as "you," sometimes the characters do call you by name. The main character, yourself, is called Drew. I always liked it better where there was no name attached, because then I really felt like myself going through the adventures. Other readers are going to enjoy becoming this other character.
Another difference is that when you reach your death, you are referred back to the page where you made the deadly choice, instead of being sent back to the beginning. That struck me as a bit odd, because I would prefer to go back to the beginning and try to make better choices. Then again, after you have read the beginning a certain number of times, being referred back to that page does save you some time.
I also thought that I remember the other books having much longer, varied paths throughout the story. With this one, the story gets longer and longer as you figure out which paths lead to certain death and avoid them in future readings.
So, while this book isn't exactly like those adventures that I so fondly remember from the 1980s, it is still a fun throwback that some kids are going to enjoy.
And now a word from the author... on the appeal of scary books for the middle grade reader.
No one can answer this question better than Anne Shirley. I’ve taken an extract from the movie script based on Lucy Montgomery’s book Anne of Green Gables. In this scene Anne and her best friend Diana are walking through the dark woods…
ANNE: There's supposed to be a white lady who walked along the riverbank by Mr. Hammond's sawmill, wringing her hands and wailing. The men never actually saw her.
DIANA: Oh, Anne, don't.
ANNE: Perhaps she is now accompanied by Mr. Hammond who is looking for his lunch. No, I shouldn't have said that. He may follow me here.
DIANA: Oh, Anne, I'm scared.
ANNE: So am I. Deliciously scared.
There lies the answer. Kids love being deliciously scared. Then somewhere between being a kid and being grown up lurks the horror genre. Horror films, horror games, horror books. This sort of fear is not delicious. It’s adrenaline pumping, it’s terrifying, it’s horrible!
There’s a line between enjoying macabre, gothic, dark humour and horror. Neil Gaiman is one. Stephen King is the other (although of course Stephen King writes for other genres as well). As a reader and a writer, I never wish to cross this line.
Marianna Shek is a writer, reader and ideal eater. She took a ridiculously arduous route to get there, dabbling in pharmacy before switching to animation and finally settling down as a writer. She has a wonderful day job as a researcher and producer. You can follow some of her crazy art and film projects at: www.theunreliablenarrator.com.au
She rambles specifically about books and creative writing at:
Marianna Shek will be awarding 1 Choose Your Own Death book mark and 4 postcards by the illustrator Tara Brown (can be sent internationally) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and 1 Choose Your Own Death book mark and 4 postcards by the illustrator Tara Brown (can be sent internationally) to a randomly drawn host. Follow the tour for more chances to win!
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