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To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Humor (2013)
To Be or Not To Be is a choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet by New York Times best-selling author Ryan North. Play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet--if you want to die on the first page and play as a ghost. It's pretty awesome! Readers can follow Yorick skull markers to stick closely to Shakespeare's plot, or go off-script and explore alternative possibilities filled with puzzles and humor.

Each ending in the book is accompanied by a full-color, full-page illustration by one of the 65 most excellent artists working today, so each rereading yields new surprises and rewards. Ryan's prose is, as always, colloquial and familiar but full of clever references, vivid imagination, and only the most choice of jokes. Inventive devices like a book-within-a-book (to mirror Hamlet's play-within-a-play) take full advantage of the gamebook medium and liven up the original story for even the most disinterested of Shakespeare readers!

To Be or Not to Be became a sensation when it launched: over 15,000 people backed the book in just one month, and it remains the number-one most funded publishing project ever on Kickstarter.com.

To be, or not to be: that is the adventure!

768 pages, Paperback

First published July 16, 2013

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About the author

Ryan North

542 books1,366 followers
Hi, I'm Ryan! I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in 1980 and since then have written several books. You can read my Wikipedia page for more, or check out my author site at RyanNorth.ca!

I'm the author of the webcomic Dinosaur Comics (that's the comic where the pictures don't change but the words do, it's better than it sounds and I've also done crazy things like turn Shakespeare into a choose-your-own-path adventure, write a comic for Marvel about a girl with all the powers of a squirrel, or mess up walking my dog so badly it made the news.

I'm working on more stuff as we speak, hopefully it's good

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 643 reviews
Profile Image for Kalin.
Author 71 books267 followers
November 18, 2017
1. Upon discovering this review, you are offered your first choice.

Would you rather be reading this:

Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour’s at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

> Turn to section 2.

Or this:

My name is Hamlet, yo, you better check this composition:
Just peeped an awesome army boat that of its own volition
Is led by my man Fortinbras (a man of great ambition)
Who lessens me whenever we’re seen in juxtaposition
And who’s taken for himself this chosen military mission
But also lacks my frankly odd particular condition
Of being told just who to kill by ghostly apparition
And being told to kill a man who by his own admission
Has sent my dear departed regal dad to the mortician
Now Fortinbras goes off to war and just to requisition
Land so sad and barren that any given tactician
Would think him crazy; well, you see that this new proposition
Suggests to me quite clearly my apparent opposition
To this Revenge Your Dad and Kill Your New Dad expedition
When I have motives valid, beyond any inquisition
Is weak and dumb, so I’ve got to end this predisposition
Towards inaction that I have; my stupid inhibition
Must be gotten over fast cuz I got to reposition
Myself to kill my new dad right away. And in addition,
And though I know this carries no small risk of repetition
And saying this out loud will only add to your suspicion
From now on the only things that I will bring into fruition
Are the bloody gory parts of my own personal cognition
That is to say: only thoughts regarding the commission
Of the brutal death of Claudius. No more exposition!

> Turn to section 3.


2. Suit yourself.



3. You have come to the right book. Rad!

Who* do you want to know more about?

Hamlet > turn to section 4.

Hamlet, Senior > turn to section 5.

Ophelia > turn to section 6.

The reviewer > turn to section 7.

* If you had chosen section 2 and if this** had been it***, this**** would have read "Whom".
** section 3
*** section 2
**** "Who"


4. An emo kid, fresh out of uni. With too much on his mind, including killing sprees. Totally not a decision maker. Woe unto Denmark should he assume the crown.

Odds increase exponentially if played as Ophelia's sidekick.

Kissing skills: Passable. But first make sure he hasn't cannibalized anybody recently. Also, beware morning breath.

> Turn to section 8.


5. A dead end. (Ha ha ha.)

Kissing skills: Dunno. Have you tried him?

> Turn to section 8.


6. The protagonist. (In case you wondered why she--the woman--was listed after them--the men: it was a gradation, a bottom-up ranking in Awesome, that's why.)

Ophelia is level-headed, scientifically-savvy (is that a word?), a quick study with the sword. (And, okay, a bit slow with chess.) She is bound for a glorious future, with or without a sidekick.

Kissing skills: You know what...this is PREPOSTEROUS. Next thing, you'll be asking me, "But is she pretty?" Stop reading this review RIGHT away. Get out of here. Do not come back until you've learned to treat women as proper human beings. Quit objectifying them. You're an insult to both mankind and humankind. GO!

... You're back? Wow, that was fast.

> Turn to section 8.


7. What do you wanna know?

> Turn to this page.


8. Shall I tell you about the book?

"Yes please" > turn to section 9.

"No, I'm off to read it myself" > turn to section 10.


9. To Be or Not To Be is a long-overdue update of a certain classical play. This new, definitive edition reveals the plot for what it is: a schizophrenic, misogynist splatterfest. (Incidentally, things literally splatter in seven of the endings--and counting.) After spending half of my conscious life recovering from the trauma of perusing the original (and dissecting it in high school ... ewwwwwww), I'm finally as good as new. To Be or Not To Be has proved to be the best antipsychotic, tranquilizer and emetic that human progress has attained. All in your face, Author Number Two!

Additionally, this version is much radder than the old one because it lets you choose what happens. For instance, you get to pick from a dozen different deaths once you have wrongly murderized Polonius. ("Wrongly" refers to timing only; as we all know, Polonius MUST die. Stabbing creeps listening in on you is totally the right thing to do.)

"Yay! Can't wait to try it" > turn to section 10.

... Still around? Looking for more? Okay, I'll let you in on another secret. But this one is a SUPER spoiler. You have been warned.

... Still around? Here goes:


10. Good for you. I mean, turborad!!


P.S. Ryan North, thank you so much for helping me let off some steam writing this bit of silliness. You get an extra star, just for that. <3

P.P.S. A note to my future biographers: This is the first time I've used the <3 emoticon in public. My manly pride put up quite a fight--but I was manlier.
Profile Image for Christy Hall.
284 reviews67 followers
August 6, 2022
To Be Or Not To Be: a chooseable-path adventure by Ryan North is a fun read! Seriously, so many paths you could choose. You can play as Ophelia (clearly the favorite), Hamlet, or the ghost of Hamlet Sr. There are times you can portray other people. There’s even a book within a book (haha - play within a play). I loved playing as Ophelia because she has the best lines and plots. Hamlet’s adventure as a pirate was fun. Ryan North has a great sense of storytelling, creating so many different ways for the characters to end up. He loves using sarcasm to give commentary on the choices you make, which just adds to the enjoyment. His really bad puns and dialogue are hilarious. Great way to spend a few minutes a day immersed in a fun-loving and comedic (albeit, still murderous and bloody) version of Hamlet.
Profile Image for Sara the Librarian.
774 reviews366 followers
March 10, 2018
After joyfully frolicking through this hilarious book my only question is why the hell did it take someone so long to write a Shakespeare choose your own adventure?

I know, I know, I know if there was one thing missing from your life it was the chance to determine the fate of Shakespeare's Hamlet for yourself all while enjoying illustrations from a wide variety of super talented cartoonists and artists! Me too!!! Well Ryan North has answered our collective pleas and to this I say I am but mad north by northwest!!!!! when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw!

Get it? That was from Hamlet? Okay look its hard to quote Shakespeare in daily conversation so I gotta take my opportunities where I find them.

Seriously this book is such a trip. To over explain an obvious concept this is a very hip, very goofy send up of Shakespeare's classic where you the reader may "play" through as either Ophelia (who according to North is a super smart, assertive, grab 'em by the balls heroine) Hamlet I (he likes to start wars) or Hamlet (a 30 year old emo kid) and either send them to their respective deaths as quickly, violently, and hilariously as possible or see if you can get them through to a happy ending Shakespeare may not have actually written but dammnit should have at least considered.

At one point the meta reaches such an insane level that you actually find yourself reading a "choose your own adventure" novel WITHIN the one you're already reading! Take that "play within a play" theatrical device! Booyah!!!!

My husband and I traded this back and forth for a good hour reading various endings to each other. The illustrations are terrific and I was thrilled to see two of my favorite artists; Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant fame and "The Oatmeal" creator Matthew Inman were contributors. I could even see this as being a treat to throw your surly teenager when they don't want to do their English homework. North may overdue it a tad with the whole "hey young people I'm down with your jokes!" thing but by and large this is whip smart and funny as hell. You can tell North appreciates and totally understands his source material and honestly this whole thing is clearly a tribute to something he obviously holds very dear.

Absolutely worth a look even if you hate Shakespeare.
Profile Image for Maria.
105 reviews69 followers
June 15, 2021
RIP Shakespeare, you'd have hate it :3
Profile Image for First Second Books.
560 reviews560 followers
September 4, 2013
One of my friends and I endeavored to thoroughly read Ryan North's TO BE OR NOT TO BE: A Chooseable-Path Adventure over the weekend, and we were bemused to find that when we tried to make sensible decisions, TO BE OR NOT TO BE provided us with a very sensible ending (Hamlet Sr. didn't try to make his son into a murderer! Ophelia invents the barometer instead of dying!), which was great.

But! Even when we tried to make not-sensible decisions (yes, let's have pirates!), TO BE OR NOT TO BE seemed reluctant to push its reader into terrible life choices! So that's good, I guess?

Three cheers for books that promote sensible decision-making!
Profile Image for Sunil.
947 reviews120 followers
December 18, 2013
I am writing a review of this book even though I have not finished it. Well, I have finished it multiple times, but I have not read every page of the book. I don't know how to get to the chess game!

Welcome to To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure, Ryan North's amazingly brilliant interpretation of Hamlet. It is hard not to use hyperbole when describing this book, but it deserves it like Claudius deserves to die.

At a social gathering, I often pull out the book and ask, "Who wants to play Hamlet?" Because that is what you do. You can play Hamlet. As Hamlet! Or Ophelia. Or Hamlet, Sr. Wait, doesn't he die before the play even starts? Yes. Yes he does. Welcome to this book.

As the name implies, the book plays like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of yore, but with a twist: Ryan North is your tour guide. This book has no fourth wall, and North will mercilessly mock you for choices and sometimes choose for you because you're clearly bad at this. Even if you choose the options marked with a skull, the options that allow you to go through the actual events of the play as written (mostly), he will look at you askance because DUDE THAT IS SOME SEXIST SHIT MR. SHAKESPEARE. (He makes Ophelia a science nerd because WHY NOT WE NEED MORE SCIENCE GIRLS.) The entire book is like a conversation between you, Ryan North, the CYOA format, and William Shakespeare (not literally, Dinosaur Comics-style).

The truly astounding thing about the book is that it actually made me understand and appreciate Hamlet better. I am not even joking. Ryan North unpacks the language of the play and conveys the meaning in a modern, casual way. He comments on the characters' motivations and highlights their flaws. He takes offhand references and expands them into huge action scenes, and then he reiterates that, seriously, THAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE PLAY.

In addition, there are over a hundred endings, and each one is beautifully and hilariously illustrated. Sometimes you die, sometimes you end up King of Denmark, sometimes you are a ghost and you fight a ghost army, WHO KNOWS. (I am not making the ghost army up. I thought that was the best ending and then I found one with ghost dinosaurs.)

I have rarely had so much fun reading a book. I laugh out loud constantly. To read To Be or Not to Be is to experience Hamlet like you've never experienced it before: sitting on a throne rapping the lyrics of the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

To read this book, buy this book.

To not read this book, buy this book. Look, you didn't think I would let you get away that easy, did you.
Profile Image for My_Strange_Reading.
533 reviews87 followers
December 28, 2019
How do you write a review about a book that has SO MANY varying storylines and SO MANY choices? You don't really. You just tell everyone why it's awesome:

💀Every single varying plotline/choice is thoughtful and inventive.
💀 All the 'additions' to the original story are hilarious and somehow perfect.
💀It all allows you as the reader 'to fix' all the issues you saw in Hamlet when you read it in high school. (Seriously, I was so pissed at how dumb they all were)
💀 It's fun.
Profile Image for Kate O'Hanlon.
336 reviews32 followers
August 15, 2013
I've played through several times, gotten a few grizzly deaths and even a couple of happy endings. Unlike the choose your own adventure books I read as a kid this seems to have inexhaustible options and endings to delight and amuse. I'm waiting for my physical book to arrive before going through everything because, though the ebooks are quality productions it's becoming a little tedious jumping around to find different endings. It's just going to be easier with real bookmarks.

The book is hilarious, my first play through I mirrored Shakespeare's decisions. North's narrative commentary on the play's failings, potholes, and gender politics are a delight.
Beyond the confines of Shakespeare's story, your different choices open up a multitude of posbility, it's incredible the options North has considered.

The biggest change to the narrative is in Ophelia's character.
This brings me to the larger problem with Ophelia, North has turned her into a kick ass female character but she's not that fun to play. Hamlet and Hamlets ghost are figures of fun but Ophelia's too cool for that. She's the sensible level headed character, North's wish to correct Shakespeare's sexism is admirable, but here it feels like an over correction.

If all this is too serious for what is a very fun and incredibly funny book, my apologies, and it's a minor complaint.

Props also to North for including original passages from Shakespeare, both well known and less so. And a very special mention for Hamlets take on the Fresh Prince of Bellaire.
Profile Image for Aya.
410 reviews511 followers
August 11, 2016
Not my cup of tea.
I didn't find it that funny but the concept of it is brilliant. It is just not for me!
Although this book is humongous, I flew through it. I finished it in an hour.

This is a "Hamlet" adaptation but a very different experience. Here, you can choose which character you want to be. It also has illustrations.

If you are familiar with Hamlet, you will enjoy it.
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,160 reviews210 followers
February 22, 2022
Featured in a grandma reads session.

February's theme is Shakespeare, so we are doing our darnedest to embrace all we can find to read about - kid-level - Shakespeare-edness and so far have been rather successful! As for Mr. Ryan North's contribution to our endeavors - he is SPOT ON!

We've found he only took on two of Shakespeare's plays, this one and Romeo/Juliet, and wish he'd do more, but if wishes were horses. . . .we might get a ride. . .anyway.

These are choose-your-own-adventure books, trying the play out in a myriad of different conclusions and situations. My reading group has had the BEST time with these. I must admit there are some spicy-er than should be for my group at least, but I'm the reader-out-louder, and have been known to make up lots of stuff on the fly, so there you go. We've had a blast with this book and worn it out.

Go, go, Gadget on this book!
Profile Image for David.
391 reviews25 followers
March 26, 2017
These books are so clever and make Shakespeare so much more accessible. I also have a feeling that Shakespeare might have really approved of their tone. There is no doubt that this book will raise student's interest and understanding of Shakespeare. The one drawback is that Shakespeare's perversions that are typically veiled from many in his language are front and center in this format. It is reflective of Shakespeare, but it might be a little much for some. I know this book makes me want to read Hamlet to see the path the characters really choose and I think it will have the same effect on others as well. I hope this is the beginning of a long and successful series because this format definitely makes learning fun.
Profile Image for Rob.
351 reviews20 followers
March 17, 2017
I had high hopes for this book. A Choose Your Own Adventure story around Hamlet is a great premise. However the book is sophomoric and patronizing. I wouldn't be surprised if the author read the play via Cliff Notes. It is written by a politically correct frat boy who can't see beyond his own time. He spends his time mocking Shakespeare in the most juvenile and ignorant fashion, all the while writing literally how great he, the author, is and how amazing his story is.

If you enjoy Shakespeare and are interested an intelligent parody, I highly recommend anything by Ian Doescher. Steer clear of this steaming pile.
Profile Image for Lara.
4,152 reviews340 followers
June 9, 2016
OMG, hilarious. HILARIOUS!

My husband got this through the Kickstarter campaign and was sooo excited when it finally arrived. He's been reading it off and on for the last week or so, every now and then quoting parts at me, and I was kind of like, "Ha. That's amusing. Now back to whatever I was doing before you started reading this quote at me." Okay, not quite, but...I don't know. I wasn't totally convinced.

But this afternoon he pushed it at me right before lying down for a nap, so I picked it up to just take a look and see what's so funny about it. And then I had to leave the room because I couldn't stop laughing out loud and, you know, he was trying to take a nap and all. So I went and sat in the living room and laughed out loud for several hours.

Yeah, I guess I get it now.

So, yes, you do definitely need to have some familiarity with Shakespeare's Hamlet to enjoy this, I think. A lot of what's so funny about it is the way North makes fun of it or turns various events on their heads. Also, enjoying absurdist humor probably helps a lot, cause there is a LOT of absurdity here! Wonderful, wonderful absurdity...

The best thing, to me, is what North did here with Ophelia. I mean, she is awesome. And super smart. And gets a lot of happy endings. In fact, there are happy endings available for everyone, which is a nice change from the bloodbath at the end of the original play. There are also a number of bloodbaths of various sorts available here too though--have no fear, if you're into that sort of thing!

Anyway, I totally got sucked in, and spent waaaaaaaay more time with it than I thought I would ever possibly want to. I don't think I've managed to come across every choice in this chunker of a book yet, but I've come across enough to know that pretty much every one leads to me giggling like a goon.

Profile Image for oscar wilde’s bitch.
68 reviews10 followers
August 2, 2021
just one passage to sum it up :

“The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals — and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me —”
You break off as Guildenstern interrupts you.
“Gayyyyy,” he says.
“I said man delights NOT me, idiot,” you say. “Nor woman neither, though you seem to think —”
This time you’re interrupted by Rosencrantz.
“Asexualllll,” he says.
You look at your friends.
“Anyway, whatever,” you say. “I’ve been depressed but it’s great to see you guys, homophobia and asexualaphobia aside.”
Profile Image for Serena.. Sery-ously?.
1,093 reviews179 followers
January 3, 2019
Ho ucciso Claudio (un sacco di volte!)!
Ho giocato a scacchi e battuto Gertrude!
Ho inventato il termostato!
Mi sono sposata!
Ho preso le redini del paese!
Ho fatto una strage (un sacco di volte!)!
Mi sono ritrovata in vicoli ciechi (un sacco di volte!)!
Ho imparato l'arte del disfarsi di un cadavere!
Ho fatto un sacco di figli!
Sono morta di una morte orrenda (un sacco di volte!)!
Ho sbattuto la porta in faccia a Laerte!
Ho pedinato Claudio (e di solito poi lo ammazzavo!)!
Ho fatto un sacco di coccole ad Amleto!
Sono diventata pazza e ho finto di esserlo!
Ho sgominato bande di terroristi!
Ho preso il posto di Claudio, Amleto Sr, Amleto Jr e Ophelia (grande Ophelia :D)!
Ho deciso che non valeva la pena tramare contro Claudio e me ne sono andata in vacanza!


Hah hah, wow! You've barely made one choice so far and you're dead already. Way to go, champ! You're really good at books, huh? It's just a stellar job you're doing reading here, Chuckles.

Profile Image for Ric.
1,050 reviews115 followers
February 9, 2021
Choose your own adventures aren’t normally my thing but I had a blast reading this (not quite as much as Romeo and/or Juliet but that’s my favorite Shakespeare play). Because Hamlet is such a recognizable story that so many people have read in school at some point, so everyone is able to at least know the main outline of the story before you choose for it to go completely off the rails. I think the thing that I loved most was the modern and sarcastic reimagining of classic lines from the story. And that you can make a happy ending for Ophelia, because she deserved better.
Profile Image for Daniëlle Van den Brink.
377 reviews4 followers
August 1, 2022
Fan-tas-tic!! I was sceptical at first, as these choice adventure books can (at times) be a real let-down but I had such a fun time going through the stories with a close friend. We took turns making the choices and reading out the outcomes to each other. It was hilarious, especially the sideplots that had very little to do with the actual play. It is a shame that there is only one other shakespeare-version made by North because I imagine this could really take off!

Do this with someone else! Don't read it by yourself, it is so much more fun to struggle to get the words out when you've already read the punchline and then spend a good few minutes attempting to stop laughing so you can continue. It is honestly that funny. Shoutout to Tamara for one of the best Christmas presents anyone has ever given me! :)
Profile Image for Ana Mardoll.
Author 7 books381 followers
August 20, 2013
To Be or Not To Be / B00ECJN7T6

How much do I like this book? I will tell you. I like this book so much that even though I participated in the Kickstarter for the book and got a paper copy AND an electronic copy in four different electronic formats, I still bought the Kindle version before writing this review just to make absolutely sure that this book will follow me around on my Kindle account for the rest of my life or until the heat death of the universe (whichever comes first).

If you like the fun and zany humor in Ryan North's "Dinosaur Comics", you will probably love this. It's not just that the idea of a Choose-Your-Own-Path Hamlet re-telling is delightful to me (though it truly is), there's also a wonderful amount of off-the-wall humor that tickles my funny bone to the core. I haven't read through the entire book (I think there are officially 3,001,181,439,094,525 different paths through this amazingly-densely-packed adventure of awesomeness), but I have read through huge chunks of the Ophelia adventure, and I loved every moment of it. Seriously.

The thing I like most about Ryan North's writing style is that he manages to hit that perfect zany-random-Monty-Python style humor that I love while still being progressive and not relying on tired old sexist stereotypes or gross-out humor. Not only does the reader get to go through as Ophelia (AWESOME), but she's also a "capital-s Science" major (Hamlet is, of course, a "capital-u Undeclared", natch), she's taller than Hamlet, and she also (if you take the appropriate path!) manages to invent thermometers and central heating, all without feeling like a gimmick or a 2-dimensional character. It's really amazing to see someone write a humorous strong female character who also comes off as totally real and delightfully relatable. I DEMAND THAT MORE HUMOR AUTHORS DO THIS! But in the meantime, we can all read Ryan North's masterpiece and stew at that jerk William Shakespeare for ripping Ryan off so badly. (Like, seriously, I don't think Shakespeare included the science major stuff at all. Boo.)

Back to the book! The PDF version of this baby has 768 pages, and it's jam-packed with gorgeous full-color illustrations. (These are rendered in black-and-white on my Kindle Paperwhite, but they still look detailed and beautiful.) And speaking of eReaders, this is the cleanest, bestest formatted ebook I have ever owned, bar-none. I was really concerned about how the Kindle would work with a Choose-Your-Own-Path book, but it works even better than paper -- Ryan and his team of professional formatting ninjas have linked everything beautifully in a visual style that works intuitively well, and also the Kindle's "back" button lets you skip back not just to your previous choice but to ALL your previous nested choices, one by one. I can't say how awesome that is when you want to go back to five choices ago to try something else, so instead I will just say that I have now experienced save-scumming while reading a book in order to beat Queen Gertrude in a deadly chess match. Aw yeah.

I don't want to spoil too much of the book, but some passages just beg to be shared. So I will leave you with my favorite-so-far ending just for hilarious audacity, and that would be the ending where I-as-Ophelia convince Hamlet that murdering people for revenge is a vicious cycle and instead we should put Claudius in prison for regicide, which netted me THIS ending: "So! Turns out you scored a possible 100 out of 100 in LEGAL JUSTICE POINTS but unfortunately you only got, like, a 3 in ADVENTURE POINTS. Man, that's baloney! That's what you get for working within the pre-existing legal system instead of employing unpredictable vigilante adventurism, am I right??"

This is an awesome book. If you like Hamlet or humor or zany Choose-Your-Own-Path books or would just like to see an example of a strong female character not only DONE RIGHT but done right in a humorous setting where she is just as awesome and funny and real as all the other characters, then YOU WILL LIKE THIS BOOK. And if you have any reservations about getting a CYOP book on the Kindle, I can officially testify that this book is well-formatted like the crown jewels are shiny, which is to say VERY.

~ Ana Mardoll
Profile Image for Briana.
662 reviews12 followers
February 8, 2015
To Be or Not To Be is—well, it’s the question—but it is also a supremely clever book, a success both in the choose-your-own-adventure genre and in the Shakespeare adaptation genre. Author Ryan North first gives readers (interactors? Actors?) three character choices, and they’re the good ones: Hamlet, Ophelia, and the ghost. North covers the main character, the female character, and the supernatural character, all tempting options. Sure, someone will always have wanted to be Horatio or Claudius, but the book can’t be 1000 pages long. As things stand, the choices are pretty awesome, and from there things only get better.

To Be or Not To Be is not one of those sad choose-your-own-adventures where you frustratingly die no matter what you do, or where your story ends after two minutes. Dying is still a possibility, but so are awesome things like becoming the monarch, having a happy life, or having a mediocre life. Some storylines offer sweet surprises, like momentarily getting to be a different character, and most of the storylines are a satisfying length. The options are also good ones. There is no making simple decisions about whether you are going to walk left or right when you go to take a stroll about the palace; instead, most of the options make you feel as if you can actually put some thought into what you’re going to do and have some real agency over where your story goes.

There is some “leading.” The author has a particular brand of humor (and it imbues enough of the book that I can imagine readers who dislike this brand of humor will quickly become frustrated with the book), and he occasionally offers commentary on whether he thinks you are going to make a silly decision or whether he thinks Shakespeare’s characters made silly decisions. This is an author who has a lot to say if you play Ophelia as a meek young woman submitting to her father and brother’s commands. However, the commentary does not feel overly pushy. I can’t imagine someone not picking an option just because the author poked fun at it a bit. In fact, it might inspire some people to pick that option anyway.

In addition to providing pervasive commentary on whether North thinks Shakespeare’s characters are logical or progressive or whatever, North also throws some attention to the original Hamlet by marking with a little skull the actions that Shakespeare’s characters would have taken. So readers can interact with the play how it generally unfolds in Shakespeare’s world, or they can “rewrite” the play by taking new actions. North also gives a clever nod to the play-within-the-play by including a book-within-his-book. This is a mini choose-your-own-adventure, though as far as I can tell there aren’t too many paths to take in order to get to it.

Overall, To Be or Not To Be is both entertaining and education. I imagine someone would have to already be familiar with Hamlet to really “get” it—to enjoy the allusions, in-jokes, etc., but it functions well enough as a choose-your-own-adventure and gives enough clues as to what happens in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that familiarity doesn’t seem strictly necessary. Recommended for both Shakespeare fans and people who are sick of dying in choose-your-own-adventures.
Profile Image for Sara Bakhshi.
1,065 reviews206 followers
December 12, 2018
It was funny reading Hamlet in this way!!!
and maybe I haven't got all the endings but I enjoyed reading it a lot!
It's so good that you can choose your path in the book.
Profile Image for Dawn Livingston.
750 reviews39 followers
August 6, 2017
This is a choose-your-own adventure book like the kids books. You start with the first page than are given an option and the choice you make dictates which section you go to next so you can reach the end then start again making different choices and therefore having read multiple stories in just one book.

I rated Ryan North's other choose-your-own adventure book, Romeo and/or Juliet, five stars so I feel I can't rate this book any less. But with this 2nd book the amazement at such a fantastic format has dimmed a bit, the novelty has worn off a tad and that's not the book or author's fault. Also, flipping back and forth between pages started to get a little annoying.

I liked the story of Hamlet more than that of Romeo and Juliet so was more involved in the twists and turns. As with the previous book I was inspired to look up the details of the original but not inspired enough to read it.

I don't recall if there was a lot of illustrations in Romeo and/or Juliet but there are in this book and I really don't like them. The artwork is just flat out unappealing at worst and just okay at best.

Fun book with the same usually amusing colloquial language as the previous. I prefer this book to the other despite the newness of the format wearing off and not liking the illustrations. Worth reading, definitely. Not necessarily worth buying.
Profile Image for Eric Mesa.
729 reviews17 followers
April 7, 2014
The book was a fun read. I first did Hamlet Sr, then Ophelia, and then Hamlet. I decided to go with the Shakespeare option each time, essentially turning the book into a modern English version of Hamlet (with commentary). The main thing I learned is that Shakesspeare relies on a lot of silly tropes that only worked because they were new back then.

As I said, it was a fun read, but I have the feeling that 14 year old me probably would have loved this book and found it hilarious.
Profile Image for Trevor.
566 reviews14 followers
April 30, 2017
This book is just one excessively long joke. And it's not a good joke.
Profile Image for Kendra.
602 reviews32 followers
January 3, 2017
So many happy endings, man! Everyone gets one! Even the GHOST! I loved it :D
Profile Image for Arundhati.
158 reviews43 followers
April 12, 2021
This was so so much fun. This was my first chooseable path adventure and boy I had a great time. So for those who are not familiar with this concept, this book is not to be read as a normal book. The reader gets to choose the character at the beginning of the story which then follows up with multiple decisions which the reader gets to make to make their own story. It's like one of those games where you based on your choices a story unfolds, but in a book. This book lets you pick up from Ophelia, Hamlet and Hamlet Sr. There are litreally so so many ways the stories can go and I kept on going back and forth and different ways to see what else is there. I think I might be a little too obsessed with it? It was so damn addictive. I could not help myself going back again and again. The whole tone of the book is super snarky and funny. Loved it totally. Anyone looking to have some fun time do check this out.❤
Profile Image for Jerzy.
492 reviews108 followers
August 9, 2013
What a fun idea, especially the extended pirate scene that was glossed over in Shakespeare's version.

Shakespeare's act 4, scene 6:
"Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase. Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valour, and in the grapple I boarded them: on the instant they got clear of our ship; so I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy: but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them."
...and that's it about the pirates.

Ryan North's version, instead, has a ton of pages (and choices) describing the chase, the battle, and Hamlet's return, ending with:
"This was a really amazing part of your adventure, Hamlet. You're sure that, should you ever one day write a book about this story or perhaps a stage production, you'd DEFINITELY include this scene. Why, you'd have to be literally crazy to write a story where you journey to England, get attacked by pirates-—actual pirates!—-but then just sum up that whole adventure in a single sentence. Hah! That'd be the worst."

Other fun parts include the ... tons of good stuff to entertain you for a long time.

And all the endings' illustrations are particularly awesome. Half the fun is noticing an eyecatching illustration as you flip through the book, then trying to see if you can play to that ending.

However, I have to admit that North's writing tone/voice gets tiresome after a while. Lots of ALL CAPS, and whoa informal exclamations like seriously dude, and sentences ending in question marks? Such effects work really well when you're reading one or two of his Dinosaur Comics at a time, but it started to grate on me when I read page after page after page of it. (Also, I recognized a few of the jokes are clearly recycled from Dinosaur Comics---perhaps unconsciously, given how many he's written, but still.)

So, just use a bookmark or three and dip into it a bit at a time.
198 reviews
November 7, 2013
The idea behind this book is fantastic. Hamlet is all about choices--or the decision not to make choices. And some of the characters--as North makes sure to point out--make really terrible choices that have, not unexpectedly, really bad consequences. Think about all the better choices these characters could have made! Or, you know, the worse choices they could have made. Then think about the terrible choice Shakespeare made--specifically his decision to whittle a fantastic sea battle with pirates down to a throw-away line. North thought he could rectify all this. And then he, unlike Hamlet, executes his plan. And its great. The artwork is amazing, the endings are wonderful, his commentary on Hamlet is hilarious (if you want to follow the exact plot of the play, there are helpful little Yorick skulls by the proper choices to guide you on that journey). I loved his commitment to the bizarre avenues these characters could go down--Hamlet trying to get rid of Polonius' body and Ophelia's various serial killer moments being the best (there are a lot of murders in this book). And then there are pirates! And ghosts! And math! And Macbeth shows up! And ghosts go off and have underwater adventures! And Ophelia invents central heating or fights terrorists or murders everyone! And lots and lots of exclamation marks! And so many other endings that have characters doing all sorts of awesome things or stupid things that were clearly in the early drafts and, for some reason, thrown out by Shakespeare's editor.
Its hard to say this is a fast read--it is really hard keeping track of the options--but it is a really fun read. Dive in, make your way through it, and as a final note, when you think you've finished every possible ending, flip through the book page by page. And don't ever, ever try to escape a tower where you've left a murdered body using balloons. It almost never works out.
Profile Image for orangerful.
948 reviews47 followers
May 2, 2016
This book is ridiculous and I love it!

Whether you know everything there is to know about Hamlet or you maybe read it once when you were in high school, there is plenty to love about this silly retelling.

North does give you little *clues* as to which choices match the original story, though that doesn't necessarily guarantee this book will take the same paths.

I was laughing out loud as I read this during my lunch break (note: this is a hard book to read during lunch break because you're flipping back and forth between all of the 700+ pages) and even though I am marking it as "done" I have barely scratched the surface of the endings and paths that I can take. But I think i will return this copy to the library and purchase it for myself later on down the road because this is a keeper!

Can't wait for the next book, Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 30 books80 followers
January 9, 2017
Every English major should have a child who is an English major so that Christmas comes with gifts like this book. A choose-your-own-adventure Hamlet!

In truth, I've only "read" one adventure so far, and it wasn't as easy as you might think to make the choices Hamlet did in the Bard's story--partly because Ryan North's commentary on Hamlet's idiocies makes it hard to remember what originally happened. But no worries, whatever pages you turn to come with great illustrations, the sarcastic comments you've longed to hurl at the stage, and a few choices you'd secretly hoped the Prince of Denmark would get on with.

But now the book lets me go back and be Ophelia. Or Hamlet Senior. High replay value. How many books have that?
Profile Image for Brendan.
678 reviews
April 24, 2014
I'm not sure I gave this book a fair read through, but I did try a handful of stories. The concept is brilliant. I love the concept. The implementation was bad. North tries too hard to be amusing. His constant jokes and parody of Choose Your Own Adventure stories just fell flat (and obnoxious). I only tried 3-4 stories because North's writing was so off-putting it made the experience tedious.
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