Review: Truth or Dare (Scenarios 1)

Truth Or Dare , the first in Nicole O’Dell’s new Scenarios series from Barbour publishing,  has a wonderful premise and concept: allow the reader to make a key decision for the main character and choose between two different endings based upon that decision. Most curious souls will end up reading both of course; at least I usually exhausted all the possibilities in the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

The Scenarios series features young heroines whom middle school age girls will easily relate to and has enormous potential to help today’s youth make better decisions by showing them the consequences of choices they may have to make themselves someday.

However, I fear it may not get that chance, as in my opinion O’Dell surrendered a tad too often to the temptation to tell them as well as show them. Kids today are savvy; they know when they’re being lectured and they don’t like lectures in disguise. In Truth Or Dare , several characters stop the plot to outright sermonize.

Now, lest there be confusion, I am not one prone to complain that message-oriented books are too preachy. So long as you keep me entertained, I don’t mind a lesson. But even I found myself skimming over the preaching and I fear the target audience will feel talked down to. For most readers, if we want a sermon, we’ll go to Sunday Morning Worship, and this is no less true for children than it is for adults.

In contrast, the Choose Your Own Adventure books’ decision making process  showed clearly the results of one’s actions without any preaching at the reader, that I can remember at least, and allowing us to both learn and have fun, which is the stated goal of the Scenarios series.

I feel a bit uncertain in terms of the writing. It is a juvenile book, but O’Dell’s style seems to me  reminiscent of books intended for 7-10-year-olds and the topics are definitely geared for the 10-15-year-old age bracket stated in her promotional material. Truth Or Dare features four eighth graders playing truth or dare at sleep overs. One poor girl is repeatedly dared to embarrass herself to a crush (call him and say, “I like you,” and “will you go out with me?”) One girl is dared to drink a can of beer and the decision the reader has to make is whether or not to accept a dare to buy a beer.

So it’s not a middle grade book, and the POV choices and the amount of telling convey a maturity level not up to the standards of  the other YA books I’ve read, and I wouldn’t expect such a severe drop in maturity from books aimed at high schoolers versus middle schoolers–it is highly unlikely that the freshman and sophomores included in her target audience will pick up a book about middle schoolers.  So she might want to use older characters in future books and a more mature voice. A middle schooler will usually be happy to read about high school students, but high school students are far more likely to read books about college students than middle school students.

So it comes down to this:  regardless of age, if you feel the topic is one your child is ready to think about, this is a series you would want them to read. And the attractive cover and the compelling, relate-able characters will probably be enough to get your child to open the book. Unfortunately, with the amount of preaching, I am unfortunately not confident your child will read it all the way through. Honestly, it surprises me that O’Dell’s editor didn’t catch that, as it is common knowledge in this industry that kids don’t like to be lectured anymore than adults.