Readers get a taste of life as a black spy helping the colonists fight the British in 1780s Virginia.
James Armistead Lafayette, a real-life figure, was born into slavery and was recruited to join the colonist army, in which he served as a spy. This slim Choose Your Own Adventure volume lets readers ponder decisions Lafayette might have faced as they navigate his world and alter his trajectory. Early decisions include whether or not to enlist in the Revolutionary Army and how to react when white soldiers taunt “you.” Later decisions involve when and how to infiltrate the British army and whether to help a runaway slave. Black-and-white full-page drawings are interspersed throughout the book. Despite the story’s historical basis and high stakes, the narrative is little different from others of its type: fast-paced and simplistic, neither delving into nuance nor effectively conveying what is at stake with each decision. At times things move so quickly that facts are disorienting (for example, Lafayette’s wife and children are mentioned in the opening pages and never again), and the multiple endings are abrupt. The feeling of life in the Colonies is basic and may disappoint readers seeking immersion in the setting, but none of this is surprising given the limitations of the format. For all its flaws, bringing the life of an enslaved person within reach for modern young readers is a feat.
For fans of Choose Your Own Adventure books, this historical drama is worth having on the shelf. (Historical fiction. 8-12)