When’s the last time you read a choose-your-own-adventure book? I haven’t read one since I was a kid, and honestly I don’t even remember reading many of them. It was probably just one. And for that matter, it was probably something I killed 20 minutes in the library reading when I was little and didn’t even check it out.
Regardless, through the rest of my life I’ve always assumed these kinds of books were mostly for kids. Maybe they are. I don’t know. I’m not an expert or even very experienced in this kind of thing. But one of my friends recently picked up a new book, and when she told me it was a choose-your-own-adventure book of Romeo and Juliet where you can get entirely new scenarios out of these two Shakespearean characters, I honestly felt excited to borrow and check it out myself. It sounded like a really interesting idea!
I’m assuming everyone knows the basics behind Romeo and Juliet, even if they haven’t read it in a long time. And if you don’t, well… I haven’t read it in a long time either so I can’t tell you much. Didn’t really care for it back then, either. Even as a romantic daydreaming teen I could see there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. They fell in love on the spot based solely on appearance, decided to get married, then killed themselves because their families didn’t want them to be together. Yeah, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s basically the story in a nutshell. It definitely feels like it romanticizes toxic behavior and I always thought it was kind of bull that this was supposed to be a relationship we were supposed to empathize with.
So — surprise! I liked this book a lot better than the original play. For one, there’s a much more lighthearted tone. It’s very humorous and isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and even pokes fun at Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is played up as being obsessed with the idea of love and completely unrealistic. Instead of being helpless and unable to stand on her own two feet, Juliet is given many opportunities to take her life in her own hands, many of which involve not even dealing with Romeo.
Naturally there’s too many paths to realistically read at once. I’ve gone through four or five different readthroughs before deciding to give the book back. I cheated a little, too: I often kept a finger on a page that required me to make a choice, and if I chose a sudden ending I’d read that and then go back to choose something else rather than read through the entire beginning again.
In fact, if there was one thing I’d criticize, it’d be that rereading the book so soon after one path can get a little monotonous. While there are many creative options to choose from throughout the story, the beginning is always going to feel repetitive until you get to the more varied choices. You’ll always read the introductions to both Romeo and Juliet, you’ll always hear Romeo whine about Rosaline if you start with him (although to be fair, it always cracked me up when Romeo asks why a woman in her thirties doesn’t return the love of a 15-year old within minutes of meeting), and you’ll always go through Juliet’s mom telling her daughter about her plans to marry her off at a party being thrown if you choose to start with Juliet.
But honestly, given the nature of the book, I don’t think it’s really meant to be read repeatedly within a short time. This is a book that’s really good to pick up when you’re in the mood to read, but don’t want to start a new book or continue with one you’re in the middle of. It’s perfect for killing an hour or two when you want to read but only want your investment to last about that long.
Don’t let that discourage you from checking it out, though. Romeo and/or Juliet was a great experience and I’d like to pick up a copy for myself sometime soon. I think it’s great whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or just have casual knowledge of Romeo and Juliet. It’s also perfect for nerdier people like myself — there’s a lot of references to games scattered throughout the book. There’s even an option to go through a path where you take the role of Juliet’s nurse when she has to deliver a message to Romeo, and it plays out just like an old text-based adventure game. At the end of one path I even “unlocked” a new character to “play” as! I’m gonna keep that readthrough for whenever I buy the book, though. Gives me a little more of an incentive to pick it up sooner rather than later.
There’s also a lot of cool illustrations throughout the book, mostly accompanying each ending. If you’re a fan of comic books, you may recognize someone’s art here. There’s a big list of all the contributing artists at the back of the book in alphabetical order, so browse through it if you’re curious (especially if you’re a fan of the Adventure Time comics; a lot of that team has art in Romeo and/or Juliet, including creator Pen Ward himself!).
My friend found her copy in Barnes and Noble, so definitely go look for it and flip through some of it the next time you’re there. It’s probably not for everyone, but I think almost everyone can at least get a few good laughs just from sampling it. And if you like what you read, pick it up! I think it’s definitely worth it!
Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂
Info for my edition of Romeo and/or Juliet:
Published 2016 by Riverhead Books
Paperback, 400 pages