Who Killed John F. Kennedy? is the first Lose Your Own Adventure from Justin Sewell and the gang at Despair, Inc. If you have absolutely no idea what a Choose Your Own Adventure novel is, then you either grew up in the wrong decade, or the wrong kind of school. They were a staple for me back in elementary school. I remember one teacher who had a basket of them sitting at the back of the class, just waiting for somebody to brave the Journey to Stonehenge, face off against the Space Vampire, or risk their lives on the Planet of the Dragons.
They were incredibly fun, but it wasn't long before you learned to hold several places in the book, dog-ear others, and cheat your way through to the only 'successful' ending. It also became something of a challenge to find the fewest number of bad choices it took to finish a book, and a badge of honor to be the first to experience the 'worst' end.
That's brings us to Who Killed John F. Kennedy? . . . where there are no 'successful' choices, and a whole host of challengers for the 'worst' end. It's a fun concept, and one that I expected to wear thin as soon as the novelty wore off, but I have to admit this has kept me entertained. In fact, I've left it on the table behind the couch, and have dusted it off to play the game on a regular basis over the past couple of months.
Part of what makes it so fun is just how perfectly Justin and team have captured that sense of nostalgia. This looks, feels, and reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel of old. The language, the writing style, and the illustrations are bang-on. As for the characters, they're perfect parodies of the heroes and villains we remember, pushing things to the limit, and embodying our childhood opinions as to just how 'cool' we were and just how 'stupid' some adults could be. The other part of the fun is the wackiness of the various JFK conspiracy theories themselves, which hardly need to be parodied, but which still make for some great dead-ends.
It's not great literature, and it's not the next great American novel, but it is nostalgic fun. Give it a read, and if you have half as much fun as I did, consider supporting the kickstarter for book #2, The Glass Ceiling, next month.
Paperback, Retro-sized Edition, 190 pages
Published July 21st 2013 by Despair, Inc.