I was never really into “choose your own adventure” books as a kid. I always liked the idea, they were cute and seemed like a fun concept, but the execution just never seemed to live up to what I wanted the story to look like in my head.
Sometime in high school or college (probably college, but I smuggled some pretty raunchy novels into my house in high school–sorry, mom), I picked up Pretty Little Mistakes. Heather McElhatton’s novel marketed itself as a “choose your own adventure” book for adults. Given that this was back in the days of brick-and-mortar bookstores and the cover caught my eye (definitely do judge books by their covers, kids!), I flipped open to give it a shot, hoping it would be more interesting than the ones that floated around my middle school library.
Fifteen minutes later, my novelized self had gone from a high school student deciding whether or not to go to college to a member of a secret cartel of nun assassins in Rome. Hello, adventure!
I’ve carted Pretty Little Mistakes along with me from apartment to apartment over the years that I’ve had it, and every now and then, I take it off the shelf for a bit of bad decision-making. It’s a fun book to read when I don’t have an entire afternoon to devote to a novel but just really want to get some reading in, but it can just as easily be an entire day’s worth of fun and frivolity. The book has one beginning and one hundred and fifty possible endings, and after however many years and multiple readings of this book, I still haven’t gotten through them all. This particular week, I picked it up again because I needed a book to write about for this post and didn’t have the spoons to start one of the new novels on my to-read list, but in all honesty, I found myself as sucked in as ever. (In case you were wondering, I married my jewelry-designing female lover. The ceremony was lovely. We adopted dogs.)
I’ll be honest: as fun a read as I find this book, it’s definitely not for everyone. The title proclaims the choices in the book to be pretty, but in all honesty, a lot of them really aren’t. Some of the stories are fantastical and just plain weird, but a good chunk of them are creepy, dark, gross, or straight-up triggering, and the nature of the book is such that you really can’t “plan” for when you might find yourself face to face with, say, sexual assault or drug addiction. That being said, and as frustrating as it can be to make the “right” choice and still find your character raped or murdered or in prison, the novel does speak to the chaos of life. Sometimes you make the “good” choice and you still get the shit end of the stick. Maybe it happens a bit more often in this book than it does in real life, but let’s be real: if you wanted a book with a guaranteed happy ending, you wouldn’t be reading the sort of thing where you get to choose how your story ends.
Pretty Little Mistakes is a fun read, a ridiculous way to spend fifteen minutes or five hours, and a chance to make the kind of choices that most of us just don’t get (or wouldn’t want) to make in real life. For that, if nothing else, I’m glad I picked it up off that bookstore shelf however many years ago.
Time for me, at least, to start another life on the page. Maybe this time, I’ll try traveling in Europe.
Hopefully I don’t get pecked to death by ducks in London again, though. That ending sucked.
Now, choose your own adventure!
For more adventures in Shelly’s reading, check out my reading wednesday category.
For fun conversation, comment on this post with a story about a book that surprised, amused, or took you on an unexpected adventure!