Each week for Paperback Throwback, I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in between— you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.
Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.
This week’s throwback relies entirely on You.
Most readers at one time or another have bemoaned the poor choices of a main character, the underlying sentiment being, “Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way.” But starting in 1979, readers were given the opportunity to show off their decision-making skills with the publication of Choose Your Own Adventure #1: The Cave of Time by Edward Packard. The series featured a new unique adventure each book and placed You (yes, You!) center stage as the main character. After a few pages of setup, the reader (You!) was prompted to make decisions on how the story should progress, turning to specific pages that corresponded to each choice. It proved wildly successful, resulting in 184 total books before the original series was discontinued by publisher Bantam in 1998.
However, there were plenty of spin-offs for readers who craved more control over their plots. One of these, Choose Your Own Nightmare, tapped into the growing children’s horror market sparked by Goosebumps and ran from 1995 to 1998.
In the third book in the series, Island of Doom, You (that means You) go on a vacation to a small Caribbean island with your family. But when You (literally You) and your sister head to the beach, it becomes clear that this vacation is going to be anything but relaxing.
This series is all about the adventure and, in turn, the locales— the idea being to drop the main character into places and situations they would normally never see. So a Caribbean island vacation seems like a perfect addition. Here, some of the elements are obvious, but they’re still fun for setting the action— an empty hotel, a mysterious beach, odd animals, and macabre demises all make appearances. However, the use of a cannibal tribe that’s prevalent in most story paths feels tired and bungles some of the narrative.
But primarily, this addition to the series suffers due to a lack of choices. Many paths can be completed by making only two or three decisions, and a full third of each story is the set-up. In these sections, the reader (You!) is still prompted to flip to different sections of the book but without much say in the matter. When a choice is finally presented, it usually leads to cannibals.
These books can still be a lot of fun, though You (!) would do better to start with one of the other titles.
Title: Island of Doom
Series: Choose Your Own Nightmare #3
Author: Richard Brightfield
Publisher: Gareth Stevens Publishing
Publication Date: 1995
Classification: Horror, Middle Grade