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.
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.
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!
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.
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.