Ryan North has revived an often overlooked storytelling form in his choosable-path book Romeo and/or Juliet. And it’s about time. North uses his trademark silly and sophisticated humor to great effect in this narrative adventure featuring William Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers.
Choosable-path books faded out of mainstream popularity sometime in the late nineties, and the concept seemed to only live on in the fond memories of former enthusiasts. The last time I read a choosable-path book, I got most of my reading selections from a rotating rack of books in my middle school commons area. At the time, I was intrigued by the idea of a single story having multiple resolutions. It was exciting to go on a kind of treasure hunt as I paged through the book, linking up each bit of the narrative.
Romeo and/or Juliet is a bit different than the choose your own adventure books from my youth. It isn’t just a straight-up adventure tale starring me, the reader. North lets you choose to read the story as either Romeo or Juliet. In addition, he’s made it into an approachable introduction to Shakespearian language as he’s included much of the Bard’s original lines from the play.
I’ll admit to feeling ho-hum about reading yet another re-tread of Romeo and Juliet, because, come on, do we really need another version of this teen angst Shakespeare play? Plus, Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s least interesting heroines. Couldn’t we get a funny retelling of Twelfth Night with the clever, cross-dressing Viola, or The Merchant of Venice with the super smart Portia?
Fortunately, North assuaged my fears early on about having to experience the story as a dull, dainty Juliet. He took some creative license with his description of Juliet’s character making her “super ripped,” listing kissing boys and getting muscles as some of her top interests. Juliet is the character you pick if you want to “solve your problems with muscles,” while Romeo is the more sensitive option and should be your selection if “you think your need to recite poetry in this adventure.”
If this kind of creative license with a classic work of theatrical literature pains you, you can read the book straight through with the canonical story line. North has thoughtfully provided hearts for the narrative choices that move you along the traditional tale. But, I encourage you not to stop there. The places Romeo and/or Juliet shines is in the crazy new directions North takes the story.
North breaks the fourth wall repeatedly throughout the book, providing instructions for how to read a choosable-path book for the uninitiated, as well as hilarious asides making fun of the high-flown Shakespearean text. He also tempts the reader with cool artwork at the different endings to get them to continue with the sometimes tedious flipping back and forth.
There is great artwork in Romeo and/or Juliet. North collaborated with dozens of artists for the book, including luminaries like Natasha Allegri, Kate Beaton, Erica Henderson, and Noelle Stevenson. Each of the over 100 different endings get their own illustration. I encourage reading and re-reading Romeo and/or Juliet so you can see all of them in their contextual glory.
Romeo and/or Juliet isn’t only for people like me looking for a little choose-your-own-adventure nostalgia. North gives this well-known story a new, more hilarious lease on life. If you dig this kind of Shakespearian take on a choosable-path adventure, be sure to check out the first book North and his team of artists created with Hamlet as inspiration, To Be or Not To Be.
//Images via romeoandorjuliet.com.