To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North (and William Shakespeare)

10/10

I am a Shakespeare enthusiast, so when I caught wind of this book I was ecstatic. Then, when I actually picked up a copy I was even more thrilled. The story is a choose-your-own adventure telling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where you can either read through the story as The Bard himself told it, or you can take any one of North’s own spins on the story.  The very first choice is picking your character: you can play as Hamlet, Hamlet Sr, or Ophelia (there’s also an ‘secret’ option to play as Mr. North), but I’ll leave you to discover the rest of your wacky options.

I haven’t read every possible version of the story that North has created, but after several read-throughs I am still confident in my praise, and in my recommendation for anyone who wants some well-written Shakespearean-style reading. Of the handful that I did read, my personal favorite was following along with the Bard’s original story, although purists beware: still departs from the Hamlet you read in high school, most memorably with an entire scene consisting of a pirate battle on the high seas. Even so, the book is hilarious, well-written, and perhaps might bring Shakespeare to the attention of some younger folks, so how can you say anything bad about it?

There’s certainly a nostalgic element for this rating, as I grew up on R.L. Stine’s choose-your-own-story Goosebumpsbut even without the nostalgia or my love of Hamlet this book stands on its own merit. North deserves credit for combining this not-so-serious story-telling technique with ‘serious literature.’

Another great thing about this novel (activity book?) is the art— a whopping 65 artists (for 65 endings) contributed to the illustrations that litter the pages of the book, adding to the reading experience.

AND WHAT ABOUT ROMEO AND JULIET? North has also written a similar choose-your-own-adventure adaption of Romeo and Juliet (although I’ve yet to read it), which led me to think about what other Shakespearean classics could be adapted this way.

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Macbeth, in my mind, would make an excellent candidate, although the cross-dressing shenanigans of As You Like It and Twelfth Night could also lead to some interesting choices. So then I started to think that any of The Bard’s plays would be a good candidate, until I remembered Pericles. That one is crazy enough as it is (and the characters already make such ill-advised choices) that it might be worse-off if the reader is left to their own devices (either that, or the conflict would be resolved MUCH sooner). If North keeps writing more of these, maybe someday he’ll prove me wrong. In the meantime, happy reading!

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