Choose Your Own Adventure books were a literature mainstay for children during the '80s and '90s. The books were unique in that they were told via the second-person perspective and peppered with narrative choices for the reader. If you wanted to do X, turn to page 90; if you wanted to do Y, turn to page 30. The branching narratives would lead to a variety of endings, some good and others bad. Though these were children’s books, there were quite a few nasty endings. The original run of Choose Your Own Adventure books was published by Bantam from 1979 to 1998 and totaled 184 titles. The series has been revived in the past few years, with Chooseco (who now owns the trademark) reprinting some of the classic books from the original run, as well as releasing new stories.
Dinosaur Island is a curious entity in the CYOA line in that it is one of the only entries in the original series explicitly written to cash in on the success of another property (in this instance, Jurassic Park). While the CYOA brand has had tie-ins with other properties, such as Young Indiana Jones and Star Wars, for the most part, the series focused on general speculative fiction topics: ninjas and martial arts, time travel, spies, aliens and space travel, and so on. Dinosaur Island deviates from this trend in that it not only borrows specific plot points from Jurassic Park, but it seems to be poking fun at the Spielberg film, as well.
Even with the variety of branching narratives in Dinosaur Island, the overall plot is easy to discern. The story stars . . . well, you! - an American Caucasian male (Books in the CYOA series either catered to one gender or the other and rarely folks of other ethnicities) that was an exchange student in Australia. On your plane ride returning home, your plane crashes into the ocean, leaving you and your friends, Kyra and Todd, as the only survivors. Eventually, you all wash up on Kirin Island, an active volcanic island that is run by Claude Lebeau who is cloning dinosaurs. Elsewhere on the island, two scientists, Arturo and Rosanna, are scouting the island and recording footage of the dinosaurs with the intent to foil Lebeau’s plans. Depending on your choices, you usually wind up being captured by Lebeau who tosses you into the fenced-off areas, hoping dinosaurs will chow down on you, or you meet up with Arturo and Rosanna and perhaps assist them in their efforts or ask for their help getting off the island. Regardless of choices, the bulk of endings either have you eaten by dinosaurs, escaping the island (with or without evidence of dinosaurs), or dying as the volcano erupts.
The dinosaurs in Dinosaur Island are brought back to life exactly the same way as they are in Jurassic Park: Dinosaur DNA is extracted from mosquitos encased in amber; however, Lebeau is bringing back dinosaurs for other reasons. He wants to create a movie of his dinosaurs in order to make a billion dollars in the box office. It’s an outlandish jab at the film, and yet it perhaps hints that the only way to compete with what Spielberg was able to accomplish using amazing special effects is to do it via the “real deal” (i.e., with live dinosaurs). Arturo and Rosanna’s plan to foil Lebeau’s scheme is to film the dinosaurs before he does and release it to the public, in effect rendering his potential film moot.
Despite Lebeau’s dastardly plan being rather lackluster, the man himself runs a tight ship on his island, unlike Hammond in Jurassic Park. One of the primary differences between the two characters is that the hubris in Hammond’s character is missing from Lebeau. The ultimate downfall of the island isn’t anything human related as it is in Jurassic Park with Dennis Nedry deactivating the security systems. Instead, it’s simply the erupting volcano. When the volcano finally erupts, there’s no last stand or captain going down with the ship, Lebeau and his men simply flee, leaving the cloned dinosaurs (and you, if you happened to be captured) behind.
Aside from the motive of Lebeau’s character, there’s another ironic twist in Dinosaur Island when compared to Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park accomplishes so much, but it will always be known for bringing dinosaurs to the big screen in such an epic and wondrous way. When the T-Rex steps out of its enclosure and roars at the audience, it’s a goosebumps-inducing moment. Jurassic Park delivered dinosaurs ,and it delivered them in spades. Conversely, in Dinosaur Island, depending on the choices made, it is entirely possible your contact with the dinosaurs will be minimal at best. In fact, one path has you see a plesiosaur briefly stick its head out of the water, while another path has you use a pair of binoculars to look at two baby brachiosaurus in a cage at a distance. While Jurassic Park bombards the audience with dinosaurs, Dinosaur Island actually has paths that will reward readers with only a token, non-interactory encounter with a dinosaur. On the other hand, there are paths that have you square off dodging attacks from a T-Rex. The re-readability of Dinosaur Island, like other Choose Your Own Adventure books, invites readers to experiment with the narrative and eventually realize a more satisfactory ending.
Dinosaur Island is a fun entry in the Choose Your Own Adventure canon, and for younger readers, it certainly capitalizes on the dinosaur trend. The character motives are certainly outdated (After all, superhero films are the new billion-dollar films now.), but the child-like sense of adventure (with a hint of peril) is still there. There are a plethora of other dinosaur-centric interaction books that came out before Dinosaur Island, such as Search For Dinosaurs and Last of the Dinosaurs from the Time Machine series (also published by Bantam) and A Day with the Dinosaurs from the Choose Your Own Adventure for Younger Readers line. Unfortunately, with Dinosaur Island being penned by Packard, it doesn’t look like it will see a re-release anytime soon under the Chooseco banner, as that company focuses on reprinting titles penned by R. A. Montgomery. (Packard releases his work under his own U-Ventures company.) This arrangement restricts purchasing Dinosaur Island, as with many classic titles from the CYOA line, strictly to the secondary market, but it is certainly worth tracking down and traveling back to 1993 when “dinosaurs ruled the Earth.”