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Item - Seaside Mystery

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Series: Choose Your Own Adventure (1979-1998) — no. 67
Contained In: Choose Your Own Adventure Box Set (63-67) (Collection)
Translated Into: La sirena perdida (Spanish)
La sirena perduda (Catalan)
Author: Hodgman, Ann
Illustrator: Mitchell, Judith
Date: May, 1987
ISBN: 0553264710 / 9780553264715
Length: 115 pages
Number of Endings: 23
User Summary: Your boring summer is enlivened somewhat by the involvement of a mermaid.
Demian's Thoughts:

This is a decidedly bland and disappointing entry in the series. It takes all of the expected mermaid cliches, adds some "stuck with an impossibly unpleasant old lady" cliches and proceeds rather limply from there. Although the book follows one or two potentially interesting paths (especially one dealing with the dark side of mermaid culture), its overall predictability and lack of stylish writing prevent it from ever successfully engaging the reader. The book isn't notably bad, but it is so utterly forgettable that it's really not worth spending much, if any, time on.

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Jordashebasics's Thoughts:

The split review here, combined with my general disinterest in mermaids, made me hesitant to dive into this one. But I think the book is fairly good, and fairly unique among CYOA books.

What stands out in this title is how distinct the mermaids are. They are neither good nor bad, but they have a sense of morality very much outside of our own experience. This leads to a few endings that are very dark.

In fact, there's one of the darkest endings I've encountered in a CYOA book. You are killed, and turned into a stuffed mermaid for a sideshow attraction.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

Why was Seaside Mystery Ann Hodgman's one and only contribution to the Choose Your Own Adventure series? I'm not sure. As I see it, this is a fantastic gamebook, an excellent example of what can be done in the genre when an author plans well and executes the story at a high level. Possibilities abound in the pages of Seaside Mystery, giving the feeling there may be no limit to the adventures to be had. You can get caught up in a battle over the ethics of humane treatment against a sour old lady concerned only with making money and having things her own way; you could be drawn miles beneath the pulsating surface of the ocean blue, led below where even the sun's faintest rays tint the blackness of the deep sea, where ocean life you never dreamed could exist make their homes out of mankind's view and lurk in predatory wait for creatures upon which they can feed. Ann Hodgman presents the mystery and majesty of the deep ocean in eerie, almost haunting tones at times in this book, reminding us how little we know of what lies beneath the tempestuous ocean's waves, and rekindling the longing to explore it that has characterized scientific curiosity for generations. You might even find a most peculiar friend in this story, a friend whose attention can be hard to hold onto, but whose gratitude if you prove to be a genuine companion will shower upon you gifts of the most lasting nature imaginable. Where is Ann Hodgman prepared to lead us as we open Seaside Mystery and give ourselves over to the adventure of a lifetime? Come along and you'll see.

With your parents away on a trip to Europe, You are left to roam the vacant beaches in a place called Clams' Bay, as temporary resident of a small inn populated almost entirely by the elderly. It's not the vacation you'd imagined when your parents said you'd be spending a month at a hotel by the sea. You were looking forward to a lively, exciting atmosphere, but with the stodgy Miss Climp assigned to follow you around and make sure you don't find anything too interesting, you've resigned yourself to just getting through this month until your parents return. Your prospects for late summer take an immediate turn, however, when you hear the faint sound of crying coming from outside your window late one night. Quietly exiting the inn, you trail the sound to its origin, and find a mermaid weeping on the shore. Just like that, a summer in the doldrums becomes an unfathomable adventure of lost families and unscrupulous moneymaking schemes. Can you really ignore the forlorn creature on the beach before you, a hapless mermaid who has lost contact with her family and doesn't know where they could be in all the waterways of the world?

What you decide makes all the difference in this adventure. Unlike some gamebooks, Seaside Mystery isn't made up of primarily cosmetic choices, creating the illusion of controlling the story when the decisions one makes actually have little impact on the direction of the plot. You have a wide variety of ways to help Tana the mermaid rejoin her family, and any one of them may merit a try. You could wind up investigating the shady owner of a rundown aquarium for marine animals, whose star attraction to the exhibit seems to be a big secret he doesn't want you to see. Could uncovering the truth behind this secret exhibit be the key to reuniting Tana with her missing family? Alternatively, if you unintentionally lead the unsavory Miss Climp to find out about Tana and make a play for a piece of the money that would come from empirically proving the existence of mermaids, you may be required to take big chances on Tana's behalf to keep her free of captivity and deny Miss Climp her payday. How much are you willing to risk for Tana? Would you put your life on the line to save your new friend, even if she doesn't always act friendly toward you?

You could end up roaming the tropics or proceeding into steadily icier waters as you head up north in search of Tana's family, uncertain what the future holds for either of you but knowing you're not going to give up on her family now, after all the work you've put into locating them. Everyone needs a family, even flighty, irresponsible creatures who tend to get themselves into a boatload of trouble and can be quite careless about the people they hurt, especially if it's for the sake of entertainment. But if Tana has become your friend, then there isn't anything you wouldn't do to help her, right? And the rewards of success are perhaps as memorable as in any other Choose Your Own Adventure book I've read. Indeed, there are a number of truly touching endings in Seaside Mystery that show the real potential of what gamebooks at their best can offer, and these thoughtful endings are a large part of the reason I enjoyed Seaside Mystery so much.

Besides the cogently written, skillfully plotted story, I have to point out the nice illustrating job done by Judith Mitchell, whose whimsical artistic style I had already become a fan of in the Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Great Zopper Toothpaste Treasure. Judith Mitchell brings life to Seaside Mystery as I've rarely seen done in any gamebook, invigorating a varied assortment of storylines, none of which could have been easy to represent to their full potential. But her most impressive work is found on page six of the book, accompanying Ann Hodgman's mesmerizing description of the strange and sometimes frightening sea life you run into deep below the ocean's surface. The illustration has almost a spellbinding effect, and I think it's more than just the creatures we can see that causes it (even though there appears to be a gulper eel or two in there!). It's the hovering darkness that protects the creatures we can't see, in the realm where our imagination races unbound and makes us wonder if what's out there beyond the limits of sight could be ten times stranger and scarier than what we do see. The illustration is perfect for the book. Ann Hodgman and Judith Mitchell make a great gamebook writing team, and they sure collaborated on something special in this story.

Not all gamebooks are built as logically as Seaside Mystery, and fewer still are as engaging an adventure as this book, taking readers to so many different settings and fleshing out each story branch so well. In my estimation, this is one of the best entries in the Choose Your Own Adventure series, and I only wish Ann Hodgman had written additional books for it. If you're looking for a gamebook experience you'll want to come back to again and again and again, I believe Seaside Mystery may be the book you want.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

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