Stranded! (Choose Your Own Adventure: Young Readers, #50) By Sara Compton

I bought this for nostalgia and I remember these being more intense, but it also didn't give in to some problematic tropes that it could have. Sara Compton Rare is the gamebook series that reaches fifty volumes, and rarer still that book fifty be one of the best in the series. Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventures tend to lack internal logic while featuring narrative threads too short for their own good, but Stranded! avoids these pitfalls. The logic is consistent, the endings are mostly satisfying even when they leave what happens next to the imagination, and there are subtle strands of wisdom woven into the storylines.

Cruising the Pacific Ocean on a luxury ship sounds like a dream come true, but you aren't having fun with your aunt Rose and cousin Lydia. Your cousin is less than a year your elder but micromanages every aspect of your cruise experience. You finally create some temporary separation by convincing Lydia to play hide and seek—you don't intend on looking for her hiding place, which should get her out of your hair for a few minutes—but you have no chance to enjoy the peace and quiet. A massive wave materializes on the horizon, approaching the ship. The wall of water blots out the sun an instant before sweeping you off into the turbulent ocean.

Just surviving the initial blast uses almost all your energy, and you helplessly watch the boat and its passengers disappear from sight, unaware they are minus one young passenger. Crawling onto a wooden crate that was washed overboard, you eventually float ashore on a large island. At least you have solid ground under your feet; you couldn't have survived long on the open ocean. You're so sick of the crate that you'd rather not even open it in hopes of finding supplies, and if you indulge that feeling, you're soon exploring the island. A path leads into the lush jungle, promising fresh water and food, but you aren't the only island inhabitant who realizes that. In the middle of a fertile clearing you face an aggressive gorilla, but will you challenge his authority over the food and water, or submit? Your fate depends on how you negotiate the situation. Rather than taking the jungle path in the first place, you could climb a sixty foot cliff to improve your vantage point, but cliffs can be treacherous. You might be better off giving up and sliding back down, where you'll meet a native boy from the island. You can't be sure trusting him is smart, but you won't survive indefinitely without help. The boy, Utu, doesn't speak your language, but goodness and generosity is a universal tongue, and you might be surprised to discover you aren't the only person here who speaks English. Persevere to the top of the cliff and you never meet Utu, but may engineer a way of your own to signal that you're stranded and in need of rescue.

What if you pull the crate ashore as soon as you reach the island, and look inside? An unexpected asset will join you on the island, not an entirely welcome one. Aunt Rose should notice you're missing soon and begin the search, so waiting right where you are isn't a bad idea. You'll need food, however, and the chocolate bars you have won't fill your nutritional requirements. If you investigate the shoreline, you spot a super tanker ship in the distance at the same time you see an empty dugout canoe much closer, but both are rapidly drifting away. Should you make a longshot attempt to hail the tanker, or prioritize corralling the canoe? You'll need to be smart and resourceful to attract the tanker's attention, but if anyone aboard sees you, your nightmare will be over. The canoe's benefits are less immediate, but its presence suggests natives nearby. If you meet them and establish a cordial relationship, might they be able to return you to modern civilization?

Stranded! doesn't hit you over the head with its wisdom, but lessons are there if you look closely. Lydia seems awful when she's bothering you every day on the luxury ship, but after you wash up alone on the island, you'd be glad to have almost anyone as company. Being cautious what you wish for is a sound principle to abide by. More than once on the island you are tempted to follow impulsive feelings, but you're better off listening to your rational side. Time and again, careful thinking puts you in position to be rescued, and sometimes means the difference between life and death. If you're diplomatic enough to be accepted by the gorillas so they share resources, you find that even under less than ideal circumstances you're able to fashion a life of comfort and meaning, at least until opportunity arises to pursue something better. Fate can be cruel, and adaptability is key to lasting happiness. Similar lessons are reinforced when you interact with Utu and his tribe. You can spurn his companionship because you miss the society you know, but those who reject kindness will likely have a long wait before another chance comes. You're bound to feel more at home in contemporary civilization than with the island's primitive accommodations, but immerse yourself in Utu's world for now, and you may learn that a found family has its own beauty and value. You won't be the same after your experience on this ocean isle.

I rank Stranded! among the best Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventures; I'd go so far as to say it's better than all but a few entries in the original Choose Your Own Adventure series. The story has surprises that caught me off guard, a variety of paths to choose from, and its gracious wisdom raises the book to a higher plane of literary accomplishment. Leslie Morrill's illustrations are good, as I've come to expect from him. I'd rate Stranded! at least two and a half stars. Sara Compton

In the latest edition of Skylark adventure game novels, the reader is crossing the Pacific on an ocean liner when a gigantic wave sweeps him or her overboard. Washing up on a tropical island, the reader is faced with many exciting adventures before being rescued. Stranded! (Choose Your Own Adventure: Young Readers, #50)

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