CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 27. . . .March 24, 2017
Bullet Train Disaster. (Countdown to Danger).
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2017.
139 pp., trade pbk. & html, $7.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4431-5774-2 (pbk,), ISBN 978-1-4431-7557-9 (html).
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Beth Wilcox Chng.
The train swerves left up a bend in the tracks. Some commotion up the front of the car catches your eye. The kid wearing ski clothes evidently wasn’t buckled in properly. The turn has knocked him out of his chair, and now he’s clinging to the seatback as the train goes faster and faster. His eyes are wide with terror. If he loses his grip, he’ll go flying through the car.
“Help!” he screams.
One of his hands slips off the chair. He’s going to fall.
The guy seated next to him grabs for the boy’s hand, but the angle isn’t right. He can’t quite reach with his seatbelt fastened, and he isn’t willing to release it.
You could catch the boy as he hurtles past but you’d have to unbuckle your own seatbelt to stretch out far enough. What do you do?
You release your buckle to catch the falling boy, go to page 14.
You stay belted in while you reach for him, go to page 17.
This choose-your-own-ending book has readers flipping through pages to piece together one of several alternative adventure stories. Of the 30 possible endings, 10 have the protagonist survive his or her ordeal safely. The others are almost all horrible deaths, with a few exceptions, such as being kidnapped by bandits.
The story starts with a young person and his or her friend boarding a new bullet train for its first trip up a mountain. The story is told in first person, and one of the first decisions the reader makes is if they are male or female. This decision leads to two different conversations before bringing both characters back to the same place and continuing on with no regard to gender.
As the reader flips the pages and reads their chosen story, there is a countdown happening on the top corner. Each story is supposed to take place within 30 minutes. This 30 minute time frame is a stretch for some of the storylines, including ones of bandits and police helicopter rescues.
The book is intended for young readers, and the deaths are not necessarily gory but may make the reader squeamish, such as when the protagonist is eaten by a bear, burned to death by lava, crushed under a derailed train or bitten by giant poisonous ticks. The endings seem completely random, and the morality and logic of the reader’s decisions leading up to that point do not frequently affect the survival of the protagonist.
The logic and conditions of each adventure story often have no bearing on the decisions. For instance, if you drag another boy into the bushes to hide from a car, the mountain turns into a volcano and instantly lava begins flowing. If you are seen by the car, there is no volcano.
Although the story is basic and the plot twists are not always logical, many young readers will enjoy the surprises found in this book as they choose their own endings.
Beth Wilcox Chng is a teacher-librarian in Prince George, BC. She is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia.
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