Did you know that Shakespeare has completely plagiarized 'Hamlet' from 'To Be or Not To Be'? True Story.
This is basically how the novel starts, and it has captured my attention ever since. The concept of a choose your own adventure book has always appealed to me, but the books have always been too small, not very funny, and most of the choices end abruptly. Ryan North's 'To Be or Not To Be' is a completely different matter altogether.
Like many, I was one of the over 15,000 backers from the Kickstarter campaign who helped get this book published, so I received an early copy. After several months of waiting, I was simply ecstatic to receive 'To Be or Not To Be' in the mail. It is a heavy, thick tome that I can only describe as "juicy". Not only is it huge, it is also hilarious, extremely thought provoking, captivating, filled with beautiful illustrations from my favorite artists, and, most importantly, fun!
The fun part is that you can either make your own choices and read the ensuing hilarity, or you can follow what Shakespeare did, and laugh at how Ryan North pokes fun at his choices. I highly recommend reading/watching Hamlet before reading this, so you can fully understand all of the humor.
Did you know that Ophelia is truly a strong, smart, and independent young woman who in her free time thinks of ways to regulate air circulation, measure the temperature of a room with alcohol, and other simply brilliant ideas ahead of her time? If you choose to be Ophelia you realize this early on, and get to see what is truly going on in her mind while everything is happening. With this knowledge her death feels 10x worse. What would have happened if Hamlet had not acted crazy? If he had confided in her? You can find out if you choose the right options. You can also choose to start off as the ghost father and mess around with everyone with your ghostly ways, or be Hamlet and finally overcome your state of perpetual inaction!
After reading this book over and over, there seem to be an endless number of choices and hundreds of different endings. Even better, each ending is accompanied by a beautiful color illustration by some of the best artists of our era. I love flipping through the book and seeing the various images and trying to figure out what the heck had happened for it to get that bad/good/random. One of them even shows Hamlet turning into the Hulk!
Also as a person who took a course on Shakespeare and learned all the underlying themes and motifs of Hamlet, I found this book extremely accurate. It highlights the important quotes and explicitly points out and pokes fun at the different themes. I wouldn't be surprised if middle school students read this book instead of the original for the more accessible language, and actually do better on their exams.
At the end of Shakespeare's Hamlet, after all of the misunderstandings that lead to so many tragic events, you cannot help but be left with the question "What if?". Ryan North's novel is finally granting readers the opportunity to answer those questions and see how things could have been better, or worse, or just really random.
Overall, this is a vastly entertaining novel that I will re-read many times and keep forever.
Update: Ryan North is now working on his next choose-your-own-adventure novel called 'Romeo and/ or Juliet'! Look forward to the sequel!
I also wanted to mention that the kindle edition is amazing as well. Personally, I have both. The kindle edition makes it easier for the reader to backtrack, and save spots. Also since the book is kind of big and heavy, it's nice to have a version a little more portable in size. But I love my paperback, and I enjoy the weight, the colors, art and everything about it.