Children's Review: Meanwhile

The subtitle of Jason Shiga's (an Eisner winner for Bookhunter) fabulously inventive comic says it all: "Pick any path. 3,856 story possibilities." You know that kid, the one who'll tally up the 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 book is for that kid and for everyone else, too. It transcends the idea of appealing to readers vs. nonreaders, logicians vs. those who go with their gut, child reader vs. 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: the killitron 2000 ("my untested doomsday device"); the 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 traces 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 could 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.--Jennifer M. Brown


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