A twisty app with a choose-your-own-adventure–style conceit surprises as a fully realized, memorable fantasy novel.
Nine-year-old Roland Bartholomew Dexter III lives in a home that’s part barbershop, part jail. His clothes, his bedding and even his food are made of hair, a circumstance his loving, fearful parents have never adequately explained. As Roland begins to explore his origins, he learns that his dreams, which vividly show what would have happened if he’d made other decisions during the day, may be the key to freedom for his whole family. The many short pages of the app make up a gigantic grid; the endless strands of Roland’s hair weave through it, and at any time, readers can view the map to “see” where they are in the story. Readers make choices by navigating one way or the other, and they can use the map to revisit pages. When a choice is made, pages that no longer apply are blacked out, a nod to one of the story’s themes: the destructiveness of censorship. It seems gimmicky at first, but the writing is wise and witty, even Snicket-y. Roland’s choices in the story are limited and sometimes lead to dead ends, but the story overall is clever enough to sustain any backtracking. By its final sections, when stakes are highest, the way the app balances an engaging interactive experience with a deep narrative becomes truly impressive.
Fantasy readers who love to explore will have days or weeks of entrancing material to obsess over. (Requires iPad 2 and above.) (iPad fantasy app. 9-14)