The Scariest 'Choose Your Own Adventure Books' That Terrified You As A Child
For '80s and '90s kids suffering in a pre-Xbox world, Choose Your Own Adventure books were godsends. The best Choose Your Own Adventure books made readers feel like they had real agency to meaningfully impact the story and lives of their favorite characters. And although many of those books were delightful, the series was also crammed with terrifying and legitimately scary adventures.
Choose Your Own Adventures were ostensibly written for middle school kids, but several included themes well beyond the scope of an average seventh grader's mental capacity. Deciding how to best survive the Holocaust or whether or not to join terrorists in a bid to end the planet are weightier decisions than the usual middle school dilemma of deciding between chocolate and strawberry milk.
- Photo: Doug Wilhelm
Look, kids need to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust. It's probably a little less important that they live through it, though. It's more than a little unnerving to put children in charge of a Jewish family about to be murdered by Nazis. One false step could mean death for an entire family. Shadow of the Swastika really presses the limits of what's acceptable.
- Photo: Edward Packer
Being kidnapped by a vicious drug cartel is terrifying enough on its own, but choosing to join them in their quest to end all human life? That's next level. Hostage! lets young readers indulge in their rebellious fantasies. Instead of thwarting the terrorists, you can actually attend a special terrorist school. Depending on what you choose, your character can take classes on bomb-building and eventually assist in unleashing a virus that kills everybody on the planet. Happy choosing!
- Photo: Doug Wilhelm
It would appear that Gunfire at Gettysburg author Doug Wilhelm is just a tad bit racist. The big dilemma in the book is whether you should help end slavery, or take pity on the rebels who are just defending their homeland. No matter what, you get conscripted into the Confederate army. If you try to do things like free enslaved people, you actually lose and get a bad ending. Eventually you and the Confederates lose the war, but the character still pines away for what could have been if only slavery remained legal.
- Photo: Richard Brightfield
Hijacked! explores what might happen if a massive group of terrorists decided to set up camp in rural Colorado. Oh, and the group decides to kidnap a bunch of children on a school bus. As if that's not weird enough, if you manage to escape, you'll inevitably run into a little person named Thur who lives in a cottage next door to the terrorists. He claims to have always known those guys were up to no good. But now that they've kidnapped schoolchildren, Thur thinks something should be done.
- Photo: Ellen Kushner
You might think a book about exploring 20th century New York City via time travel would be mostly delightful, but you'd be wrong. In Statue of Liberty Adventure, one less-than-cheery ending involves escaping Ellis Island and reaching the mainland. Your little teenage character is excited to be in the big city, until he runs into a local slumlord. He's even less excited once the slumlord “beats [him] until [his] clothes are stained with blood.”
- Photo: R.A. Montgomery
When Behind the Wheel begins, readers probably expect a fairly straightforward adventure tale about racing a cool car across Europe. Then halfway into page one, our protagonist sees a bloody, massacred mechanic working on a car. The walking corpse tells readers that they were in a car crash and, in fact, the dead guy is the same person as the main character! It's like Sixth Sense if the kid saw dead versions of himself. Eventually, you get to the road race, but the whole time you're driving, voices in your head tell you the other racers are plotting your murder. One of the "happy" endings involves selling your car and working for the UN, but it's hard to be excited about working in global politics.