Vanished! by Deborah Lerme Goodman is a very enjoyable Choose Your Own Adventure book despite some unevenness and fairly glaring shifts in tone, character and genre, especially when plot elements get really outlandish. That’s not necessarily bad–R.A. Montgomery would throw in as many fantastic elements as he could, with pretty good results in books like House of Danger or The Abominable Snowman–but it takes skill to pull it off. Goodman isn’t as good at it as R.A., but Vanished still comes across as one of the most enjoyable of the recent books. I just wonder why it took them 60 books to use the Bermuda Triangle as a plot element.
Vanished! by Deborah Lerme Goodman (illustrated by Frank Bolle)
Published: September 1986
Number in the CYOA Series: 60
In this book, “you” are from a rich family–in one of the plots you specifically state your parents are millionaires–and you’ve just earned your pilot’s license. You’re ready to fly around in your parents’ plane from Miami, but you hear that your friend Jill has vanished with her family while sailing around Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Your friends, Tony and Andrea, suspect they’ve vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. You must set out to find them, and you first choice is whether you take your parents’ plane or Tony’s grandfather’s boat. With only two pages before the first choice, this is a satisfyingly rapid, no-nonsense injection into the heart of the story, with a clear objective. Great way to start out!
The plots meander through various adventures, and the sea chase vs. air chase are essentially co-equal, though I found the airplane adventures a bit more fun. Choices usually revolve around things you find, like a clump of flotsam on the horizon, that circumstances often make dangerous to investigate (it’ll be dark soon–investigate the wreckage, or head back?) Invariably you are accosted by pirates who lay a decoy derelict to sucker you in. The dangers of the Bermuda Triangle themselves are plot elements: the strange yellow mist often reported by observers, sudden waterspouts (p. 22), or a wave condition called a seiche (p. 46). Finding Jill and her family serves as the McGuffin but Jill herself figures in only a very few of the plot threads. Most of the time you’re just trying to stay alive and avoid the various dangers you encounter.
Since this was a story about the Bermuda Triangle, I kept waiting for a plot involving the USS Cyclops, one of the most famous ships that vanished in the region, in March 1918. Alas, no dice. Clive Cussler did one, though.
The tricky stuff comes when the story branches off into supernatural or science fiction directions, which is inevitable in a Bermuda Triangle story. One of the less satisfying plots involves you washing up on a deserted island (no, not Meeks Patch, unfortunately) and finding a treasure chest buried by 17th century pirates, who of course turn up in ghost form. You could also be kidnapped by aliens from planet Vaena (kind of dull), or, in an inventive twist, by a race of bizarre fish-like people who hail from the Lost Continent of Atlantis. As I said Ms. Goodman isn’t quite as skilled at going in these outlandish directions as other CYOA authors, and the transitions from nominally real-world, if slightly paranormal, situations involving the Bermuda Triangle to full-on SF adventures involving aliens, time travel and fish people are a little clunky. Still, in the scheme of things this is a pretty minor nit-pick. Some of the time travel endings are quite fun, such as one (p. 29) where you end up only two years in the past, living with your family and a duplicate “you” two years younger than yourself.
Overall I enjoyed Vanished!. It’s a page-turner, it’s interesting, and most of all it’s fun, which is all the mostly child audience of these books would ever ask of them. Of Deborah Lerme Goodman’s books so far that I’ve read, this is the best. Reccommended.
Grade: A minus
Next up: Ellen Kushner gives us a Mystery of the Secret Room.