treasure diver

After a long hiatus, my Choose Your Own Adventure reviews are back! Treasure Diver by Julius Goodman is the first CYOA book I’ve reviewed for my blog that I have absolutely no experience with from my childhood. A bit of a sleeper in the series, I did not read it when it first came out, and in fact bought it only a few weeks ago at a used bookstore. It’s actually a very interesting entry in the series, if slightly uneven, but it’s certainly worth a look.

Treasure Diver by Julius Goodman (illustrated by Paul Granger)

Published: May 1984

Number in the CYOA Series: 32

By this, his third book for the series, Julius Goodman had a very checkered record. His first book, Space Patrol, was a total dud, and his second, The Horror of High Ridge, though an awesome story, was so bloody and horrific it was banned from many school libraries. My guess is by his third time around the pressure was on to do something a bit more sedate. Underwater adventures had been a staple of the CYOA series since the second book, so Mr. G decided to take us beneath the waves with Treasure Diver.

The title basically explains the scenario. “You” are a scuba diver hot on the trail of a Spanish warship lost in the Gulf of Mexico in 1698 with millions in doubloons, and you’ve chartered a boat, the Ocho Reales–“Pieces of Eight,” get it? NYUK NYUK NYUK!–to go after it. Your milquetoast colleagues (are there any other type in these books?) are Kate, Beech and Macaulay. As you and Kate are underwater searching for the Spanish wreck, you look up to the surface and see another boat coming unexpectedly alongside your dive ship. Is something wrong? Your first choice is whether to continue exploring on the bottom, or surface and investigate.

This is a fairly solid first choice, and it leads to two reasonably co-equal and well-developed plot branches. As you might expect, there are dangers both above and below the water. Topside you could run into boorish fisherman–more dangerous than they sound, because while diving you could get snared in their lines and drown, which happens to you in one ending–or the infamous Captain Jack, a pirate and smuggler who is rumored to have a hideout near here. Underwater the hazards are mostly technical. You could run out of air, you or your friends could get sucked down by an underwater current, or you could run into hostile fauna such as tiger sharks or, quite inventively and gruesomely, a Portuguese Man-of-War (that’s a giant jellyfish, for those not in the know). Every single one of these hazards appears somewhere in the plot.

I was rather surprised that Treasure Diver focuses so heavily on what are relatively standard underwater perils–by that I mean, situations you would encounter in real life any time you’re doing intensive scuba diving. It doesn’t really matter that you’re diving for treasure, and while I totally expected that 50% or more of the plot would center around villains trying to steal the treasure for themselves or preventing you from getting it, in fact neither of these things happen in the book. Even the Captain Jack storyline turns out to have little to do with your own search, as the pirate, who rather unbelievably has a steel pressurized underwater hideout (right out of a James Bond movie), is targeting gems, not your treasure. I can’t decide whether this was a missed opportunity or a pleasant change from the routine type of stuff you would expect from a CYOA book, though I lean toward the latter.

Some of the choices you encounter are genuinely agonizing. Treasure Diver features more than the usual CYOA book’s complement of “playing God” choices, where a choice you make determines the life or death of someone else–for example, when your friend Kate gets swept away by a current with her air tanks running out, you must decide whether to go after her on your own or abandon her temporarily to go back to the boat for more tanks. All the technical details of scuba diving seem very accurate. The plot where you get nitrogen narcosis–“the bends”–is especially harrowing. This is on the graphic side for a kids’ book, but at least it’s honest.

There are a few corny moments. Your companions talk in a lot of “Gee whiz!” type speak, and even some of the villains do. The revelation of Captain Jack’s hideout is groan-inducing, as you find sacks marked “Bogota, Colombia” which turn out to contain…gemstones? I guess depicting cocaine smuggling was taboo in a children’s book, but couldn’t Julius come up with something better than this? Smuggled microchips or something? Ah well. At least he’s come a long, long way from Space Patrol.

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. It’s not a classic, but it’s a pretty good read.

Grade: B+

Next up will be a CYOA debut author and one of the truly classic books of the series, the beloved Vampire Express.