I was excited to get a chance to look at a preview of this book by Choose Your Own Adventures after I had written about the Black Mirror movie, Bandersnatch, a CYOA type of interactive movie, which was a bit meta because that movie was about a guy who was writing a CYOA-type of game based off of a book. And, well, it made him crazy.
I was wondering what it was going to be like to read about an enslaved person (and then free Black person) in colonial America. But I had confidence that reading about Lafayette’s life through a Black woman’s eyes would be a great experience. And it was.
I grew up reading CYOA books and they were a bit somber, mainly because there were so many way you could die. And mind you — I didn’t mind the serious tone. It made me feel like I was a grown-up reading, making serious choices. It’s one of the things I love about this book series. So when I started reading this book, I was expecting that same sort of serious tone.
It was still serious, but Jones weaves some humor and lightness throughout the book. There’s a bit of speculative fiction elements in the book, which I didn’t expect but definitely appreciated. I think younger readers will also love all the squirrel references…which are a bit squirrely! 🐿
For example, there’s a moment that Lafayette meets General George Washington and he’s noticing his teeth. I thought, oh boy, here we go. You probably know by now that Washington’s teeth were not wooden but human. As a reader, you have a choice to ask Washington about them or to talk about something else. Jones handled this moment well, with a bit of dark humor, but also unflinchingly honest.
Jones doesn’t shy away from the realities of being an enslaved person, from the moment Lafayette is able to escape the plantation. But if you’re concerned if this book is violent, the violence comes from being in war. So yes, there are places where the endings involve death.
You’re able to witness Lafayette’s “double consciousness,” knowing that although he had been freed by his owner (in this story, but not in real life), he was still a Black man in 18th century America where freedom for his family and friends would come for another 80+ years. That tension is played out in the book, even though General Marquis de Lafayette was against slavery.
Lafayette’s spy work effectively ended the Revolutionary War, and in the book, you get plenty of chances to spy and get the intel needed for the American forces. There’s also a bio of Lafayette in the back of the book, along with a timeline of enslavement in America, from 1619-1865.
For readers young and old, if you want to learn about a key person in the Revolutionary War in a fun, engaging way, then SPIES: James Armistead Lafayette is a great book to pick up.
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