Meanwhile
Meanwhile
Jason Shiga
ISBN 9780810984233
Amulet/Abrams, 2010.
4 ½ stars
Keywords: adventures comics graphic-novels jason-shiga meanwhile

Meanwhile
by Jason Shiga

Remember the choose-your-own adventure books from the 1980s? I was teaching then, and there were no books more popular in my classroom. This book takes that concept one step further. The subtitle of Jason Shiga’s fabulously inventive comic says it all: “Pick any path. 3,856 story possibilities.” Luckily, the laminated pages allow for lots of exploration. Maybe your child is the kind who tallies up story lines--not to make sure he or she got them all, but to make sure the author really did flesh out 3,856 possible story endings. This title is for him or her, but for everyone else, too. It transcends the idea of appealing to readers versus nonreaders, the logical thinker versus the one who goes with the gut, and child reader versus adult reader. Who wouldn’t want to follow Jimmy, the wide-eyed child on the book’s cover, into an ice cream shop? Your first choice is chocolate or vanilla. (Eventually you’ll choose both.) This seemingly innocent start leads Jimmy into Professor K’s laboratory and the man’s three key inventions: a killitron 2000 (“my untested doomsday device”); a SQUID, a beanie-like cap “which can transfer memories between people”; and a time travel machine. No matter which you choose, you must follow hundreds of tiny tubes that connect the comic panels in unorthodox ways; your finger follows a color-coded tube from right to left, bottom to top (and sometimes through elaborate knots), then onto a tab that juts out from the spread, pages away from where you began. “So be sure to keep your eye on where the tube is taking you,” suggests the helpful note at the book’s beginning. (My favorite line in the preface trumpets the temptation to look through the book out of order to uncover secret codes: “Cheaters only cheat themselves,” it states.)

 

The preface also warns that of the thousands of different adventures, “most will end in DOOM and DISASTER” (who can resist?), and that “only one path will lead you to happiness and success.” Hmmm. After you’ve read it we can discuss which path he might mean. The vanilla ice cream choice that leads Jimmy quickly home? Probably not. This book made me behave as a reader in ways I never have before. Following the story line tubes the way I’m supposed to, yes, but then retracing to see how I can get a different alternative that looks more interesting—which led me to discover two exact duplicate spreads (except for one tiny detail, okay two, which I won’t give away), as well as a salmon-colored spread with Jimmy riding a giant “SQUID” (the kind that lives underwater), that is in no way connected to any of the story tubes. The combination of the time travel machine and the ability of the characters to adopt other people’s memories brilliantly allows Shiga to close all of the alternate loops. And you can just imagine how the killitron 2000 factors into the equation. Perhaps my favorite moment is the coin toss that leads Professor K to explain to Jimmy the “Multiple Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics,” in which the universe splits in two (“in one universe, the coin landed on heads. In the other, tails”), a perfect analogy for this multiple-possibilities plot line.

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