Saturday, November 18

Follow the Lone Cry


What If Books #2
by Laurie B. Clifford
Regal Books 1983

I stumbled onto this a while back at a library sale and the curiosity factor was just too great. I remembered these coming into their own long after I was the target audience so I usually would glance through the ones my siblings brought home from the TAB or Scholastic Book Club sales. They seemed to go out of fashion as computer games and collectible card games like Magic: the Gathering took their place.

But this one was different, and the difference was apparent to me when I picked it up and gave it a quick glance. The "What If" series was apparently another take on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" type of books aimed at reluctant or low-interest readers, only this time it came from a Christian
publisher.

In Follow the Lone Cry you are "Bubba", the middle-school son of globe- trotting parents whose adventures take them deep into National Geographic country, this time in the Yukon. As with similar books, there is a basic two- to three-page premise and then several forks in the road buy way of narrative choices that lead you flipping pages toward one of the books 26 possible endings.

After a childhood of being dragged around the world his parents have finally bought a house and stayed put for two years. Bubba feels he's old enough to stay behind while his parents go off on their next adventure but the conflict tugging at him concerns is younger sister who sees Bubba as her emotional anchor. Through the various storylines Bubba is equally torn between making
the right choices and in choosing friends over family.

It's clear from the language used that the author of this book either has no children and learned everything they know about pre-teen behavior from watching television, or they are truly out-of-touch with their own children and believe they are hipper than they really are. That the ideal lead-in to a summer hanging out with friends is described as "working our bods off all year so we can pork out" at the local pizzeria should have turned off all but the most sheltered of readers.

The Christian message is found mostly in the types of choices the reader gets to make, and reinforces the idea that presumably good choices lead to happiness and bad choices lead to death. I kid you not. Of the 26 endings here, 6 end in physical pain or family misfortune, 6 are unsatisfying non-endings that leave you feeling like you've wasted your time, and 12 lead to death for the Bubba including (with their corresponding "message"):

Death by over-eating 3 pizzas and downing a pitcher of soda (gluttony)
Death by cobra in the cargo hold of a plane (disobedience)
Death by gold mine cave-in (greed)
Death by black widow spider bite (deception to alleviate guilt)
Death by plaster body cast (deception)
Death by drowning (arrogance, selfishness)
Death by falling off Mt. Everest (desire, covetousness)
Death by lying in the road to get run over (more deception), and my favorite
Death by having ones heart pierced with a lightning bolt by the spirit of
dream-killers and bleeding to death in bed at night. (guilt)

Ignoring the obvious messages about what a good, moral Christian would choose in any situation, to say nothing of the bizarre endings, is a very subtle message about what kind of a family this is and what sort of redemption is available to Bubba. It's hard to gloss over the very Oedipal flashback where Bubba helps his mother deliver his younger sister in the jungles of the Philippines during a monsoon, but it's easy to miss the message that parents like Bubba's are doomed to misfortune 75% of the time in these adventures because they allow their son the make (or have raised him to make) bad choices. In fact, if they remained a proper family rooted in one place, raising obedient children, giving the youngest the emotional sustenance she requires so that she doesn't rely on her brother to fill the void, none of this would have happened.

It doesn't seem too miscalculated a jump to suggest that these books weren't entirely aimed at the loyal Christian child but as missionary propaganda, adventure tales meant to cull wayward sheep from their heathen (liberal?) flocks and lead them to salvation. Not unlike the way I dropped a quarter on this with fond memories of something very similar but entirely different. To be on the safe side I tracked down a few of the original "Choose Your Own Adventure" books and where there is peril for miscalculations there certainly isn't death or the faintest whiff of a sermon.

Maybe that's all too much to read into a sub-par middle-school book series from the 1980's that appears to have stalled out after four titles. Oh, and as for the title, the lone cry is another lonely outcast child, this one stuck in the Yukon with her treasure-mad mountain of an uncle. If you get far enough along to find out who and what the lone cry is you'll wish you'd stayed behind and died a painful death-by-root canal.
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