As a kid I was obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure books. I loved how they were interactive stories, where my choices decided the fate of the main character. And the main character was me! The book would ask me what I would do and then explain what happened to me as a result of my choices. And often, things didn’t turn out so well. My bad decisions would lead to grisly depictions of my death and thinking about these moments still gives me chills. They were great books that I will always remember fondly.
Meanwhile is a choose your own adventure book, but it’s a story like no other. It’s a full-colored graphic novel that follows the adventures of Jimmy and what happens after he chooses an ice cream flavor. This simple decision leads to either a normal day or a series of events that unravels the entire Universe. Lines guide the reader through the story, branching when a choice needs to be made, and leading to tabs that open different parts of the books. This makes every page filled with different parts of the story, some of which you are following, some of which you won’t discover until the end. And unraveling Jimmy’s story is not easy. The choices you make aren’t just right or wrong; you unlock the story by following a particular sequence of events and figuring out that sequence can be quite challenging. I spent at least half an hour in a time-loop, repeating the same events over and over again. But with some thinking (and sticky-notes) it can be figured out, and when you do your mind will be blown! I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is a puzzle that’s definitely worth solving. As the author also suggests, resist the urge to cheat! That “eureka” moment of discovery is well worth it.
That said, Meanwhile isn’t perfect. It has a somewhat amateur feel, not quite as polished as many other graphic novels. Sometimes there’s so much going on in a page that it’s easy to follow the wrong line and lose track of where you’re supposed to be. Also, some of the plot lines are a little too weird (like a Killetron 3000 that also makes ice cream!). And I would be lying if I didn’t say I sometimes got frustrated with repeating the same few panels over and over again. However, none of this really detracted the value of the story for me. I found the amateur style of Meanwhile to be kind of charming, and I am also a big fan of all that is weird. I also really appreciated the challenge and, like I said, the payoff is well worth it. I’d recommend Meanwhile to anyone who is a fan of Choose Your Own Adventure Stories, is up for a good challenge and who enjoys having their minds blown.
Review by Simon, CLP-Knoxville