The classic Choose Your Own Adventure books made some very strange decisions.
I was fortunate enough to be in elementary school during the glory years of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Sure, they kept going in the ’90s and actually seem to still be cranking out the occasional new book today — but the ’80s were the glory years.
We loved flipping pages through books. It was our version of a handheld video game.
For today’s list, I gathered 11 Choose Your Own Adventure books that cracked me up for one reason or another. Sometimes it was the cover art, sometimes it was from a review or excerpt I read, sometimes it was because the title developed a relevance decades later. Here we go…
1 | Rock and Roll Mystery (1987)
Rock music did achieve scientific perfection in 1987 after all. I know I personally was torn every day between listening to Steve Winwood or the California Raisins. The CYOA people hopped on that bandwagon for this book.
Where two members of your up-and-coming band have been kidnapped — either by anti-rock terrorists (I’m thinking from the tiny town in Footloose, or Libya) or anti-rock aliens (I’m thinking from the planet of Plutonedeaf).
2 | Vampire Express (1984)
This book takes place in Romania, which was the home base of vampires until they all decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest for some reason. Best I can tell, you use a flame shooting mirror to battle vampires, some of whom had their heads disembodied right after performing with the Chippendales.
3 | The Throne of Zeus (1985)
The cover puts it on this list. It was a very different world for kids in 1985, but even back then we all knew better than to let creepy men dressed as Greek gods give us sensual shoulder rubs.
4 | You Are A Shark (1985)
So the Choose Your Own Adventure series is rolling along, churning out high-stakes titles and big adventures — The Cave of Time, War With the Evil Power Master, Inside UFO 54-50, Journey To Stonehenge — and then, all of a sudden, a book comes out with the title You Are A Shark.
That would be like Sue Grafton making her series of books go ‘E’ is for Evidence, ‘F’ is for Fugitive, ‘G’ is for Gumshoe, My Husband Just Ate a Sandwich, ‘H’ is for Homicide.
The CYOA powers-that-be apparently liked the departure because, a few years later, they really started cranking out You Are A ______ titles. I don’t know. Seems like it kinda goes against the spirit of the series.
Though what do I know? They never made one called You Are A Blogger Writing About 25-Year-Old Books At 12:56 A.M. On A Monday.
5 | Statue Of Liberty Adventure (1986)
I picked this one because, according to the reviews I read, one of the adventures you choose makes you a turn-of-the-century immigrant who ends up falling prey to a slum lord who, quote, “beats you until your clothes are stained with blood.” That seems a bit aggressive for kids, especially in 1986. We weren’t even desensitized by video game violence at that point.
6 | Dinosaur Island (1993)
By 1993, it seems, the creative steam of the CYOA team had begun rapidly dwindling. For instance, this book came out shortly after Jurassic Park hit theaters… and was the story of a boy on an island where a scientist had cloned dinosaurs using their DNA.
That’s pretty blatant. (Although I did once do the list of 11 pairs of very similar movies released at the same time, so I’ve gone elbows deep in the plagiarism-lite world before. It’s just cowardly — instead of standing on your own and believing in your own talent you just follow the pack to try to pick up the spoils. The guy who wrote Dinosaur Island might as well go sign with the Miami Heat.)
7 | Prisoner Of the Ant People (1983)
Ant people, ant people! Look like ants, talk like people.
(Also, the cover makes it seem like a blond kid in skinny jeans, a shorts-wearing modest alien and R2D2’s jaundiced cousin are fighting Trapjaw from He-Man and some hairy ant giants, all while some Pixar-style alien insects are being led on an subterranean death march.)
8 | Smoke Jumper (1991)
I’m sure it’s more entertaining than the Smoke Jumpers movie from Entourage. Entourage would be a terrible choose your own adventure, what with it existing in a world with no consequences. Do you… A.) Blow off an audition to have sex with the next girl who enters your field of vision… B.) Run up $30 million in credit card debt buying cars and mansions… or C.) Have a stilted conversation with your pint-sized freckly best friend/manager about how things used to be back in New York and now you want to quit acting?
(No matter which answer you choose, you flip to a page where a famous director offers you an amazing part in his next movie.)
9 | Grand Canyon Odyssey (1985)
I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. I can assure you, nothing on this cover is anything close to that experience. There were no horses, no Native American girls with inflatable rafts and life preservers, no adventures on the rapids and, most of all, no random interactions with conquistadors. Mostly, it’s just a very large hole with a very large gift shop.
10 | Supercomputer (1984)
So in this story, you’re a computer programmer who wins a top-of-the-line computer. What you do with it sends you on a whole mess of adventures. The computer cliches within — you can start a nuclear war, computers develop a mind of their own and take over the world, you can hack into the school and have it do your homework — obviously feel very dated now. But since this book came out more than a year after WarGames, they might’ve even felt dated THEN.
11 | The Magic of the Unicorn (1985)
Ostensibly, the CYOA series was marketed to boys. So making a book that centers around a girl riding a magic unicorn trying to find a way to purify the drinking water for her village — well, it strays a little bit from the target zone. There’s a reason that BET didn’t bid on the syndication rights to Friends.
For an incredible encyclopedia on game books like CYOA and the hundreds of others, check out Gamebooks.org.