It doesn’t look like any train you’ve ever seen.
It has the usual parts – sliding doors, plastic windows, massive grinding wheels – but it’s facing up. The mountain is so steep that the rails are almost vertical. How is that supposed to work? It’s only one carriage long, but still. Can trains even go uphill?
Despite the strangeness, it seems familiar. As if you have taken a ride on it before. Unsettled, you glance at your watch. Wasn’t the train supposed to depart an hour ago?
‘Countdown to Danger: Bullet Train Disaster ’ happens over the space of 30 minutes. A 30 minutes that stretches and contracts depending on the actions of the viewpoint ‘You’. ‘You’ are taking a ride on a prototype almost vertical bullet train in an unnamed but obviously mountainous location. Your friend Pigeon is there, and as the train takes off, a boy named Taylor comes hurtling down the central aisle, headed for injury or death. Like a puzzle, your decisions may lead to survival, but other paths may lead you to very different (and less pleasant) outcomes. In total there are 30 paths that you can take.
‘Countdown to Danger: Bullet Train Disaster ’ is the first title in a new series from Jack Heath and Scholastic. It is told in the second person so that even the gender of the main character is not fixed. Readers can choose to follow different paths – and predict which way to proceed. Instructions at the end of each chapter direct the reader, or offer them options. With thirty paths – only ten of them leading to survival – and a digital clock countdown as chapter heading, the pace accelerates, no matter which option you follow. The chapters also become shorter as time ticks away. Great for critical thinking, also ideal for reluctant readers and those wanting to control their progress through a story. Recommended for mid-primary readers.
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller