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Review: Twisted Journeys, No. 17: Detective Frankenstein

The first Choose Your Own Adventure novel was published in 1976 by Vermont Crossroads Press. Though Sugarcane Island sold only 8,000 copies, author Edward Packard was convinced that interactive novels could be a big hit with proper marketing and distribution, and spent four years shopping the concept to major publishers. In 1980, he signed an agreement with Bantam Books to produce a line of Choose Your Own Adventure books. With titles like The Mystery of Chimney Rock and Your Code Name is Jonah, these books allowed young readers to dictate the direction of the plot by making frequent choices about what the lead character would do next, e.g. “If you think you can outrun the ninja bear, turn to page 8. If you stand your ground, turn to page 54.” Not surprisingly, the concept proved enormously popular with young readers, spawning over 180 novels, several spin-off series, and a Choose Your Own Nightmare franchise.

Twisted Journeys, No. 17: Detective Frankenstein
By Alaya Johnson, Illustrated by Yuko Ota
Ages 9-13
2011, Lerner Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-8225-8943-3
112 pp., $7.95

In 2007, Lerner Publishing launched its own interactive fiction line, Twisted Journeys. The books adhere closely to Packard’s formula: the stories are told entirely in the second person, with frequent opportunities for readers to choose the story’s direction as they tangle with ghosts, pirates, aliens, mummies, zombies, and mad scientists. What distinguishes Twisted Journeys from Choose Your Own Adventure books is the addition of pictures: the stories straddle the fence between novel and comic, with pages of straight prose alternating with pages of sequential art.

Detective Frankenstein, the seventeenth Twisted Journeys title, takes place in London in the 1890s. The hero and his friend Eleanor, both orphans, work for Master Igor, a scientist whose experiments frequently involve human cadavers. When Eleanor goes missing, the hero must decide whether to team up with legendary sleuth Lance Crossdale to solve the mystery of what happened to her, or embrace Master Igor’s dark mission and forget about his friend.

Writer Alaya Johnson draws the reader into the story with crisp dialogue that nicely sets the table for Yuko Ota’s comic-book sequences. Those sequences — usually just two or three pages at a time — are effectively staged, with smart-looking character designs that make it easy for readers to keep tabs on what’s happening, and what’s at stake at every decision-making juncture in the story. The only quibble I have with Ota’s artwork is the lack of attention to background detail; too many of the scenes appear to be taking place in the same room, with only a single prop (e.g. a shelf, a desk) to distinguish it from other locations. Perhaps that’s intentional — a deliberate artistic decision that allows the reader greater freedom to imagine the exact circumstances of his own adventure — but a story as macabre as Detective Frankenstein cries out for more imaginative settings.

Still, that’s a minor criticism of a briskly paced, entertaining book that will appeal to grade-school readers. Johnson has provided over a dozen possible outcomes for the story, encouraging kids to re-read the book until they achieve their desired ending. For reluctant readers, the stories’ length and hybrid format may help overcome resistance to the idea of sitting down with a book for fun. Best of all, the stories are just spooky enough to engage the imagination, but not so gory or grim as to be genuinely upsetting. Recommended for readers in grades 2-5.

Review copy provided by Lerner Publishing.

Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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