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Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel Paperback – May 1, 2007

3.2 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Adults who remember the Choose Your Own Adventure YA novels are the target audience for this debut from Public Radio International producer McElhatton. The book opens with a female second person's high school graduation, which leads "you" to two possible choices: travel or college. Each succeeding section (mostly between one and four pages) similarly offers two options for proceeding, leading to an impressive array of possible developments, from a trip to Rome that can result in a live-in Italian artist boyfriend, to a dead-end job as a phone sex operator with the moniker of Stormy Sioux. Situations include the playfully surreal, such as a stint in a German circus as a nude ice dancer, and the tender, as in a life lived on the Iceland coast with a lovely, seal-obsessed child who has Down syndrome and a devoted scientist husband. There's also crystal meth addiction, rape, death by explosion, bursts of salty humor and moments of descriptive lyricism, especially in McElhatton's many vivid imaginings of the afterlife ("heaven is a junk shop... broken beauty everywhere"). Nevertheless, many situations are cartoonish; some of the events repeat or overlap; and "You" remains a cipher, making this "Do-Over Novel" more role-playing for the rut-stuck than a good read. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Remember the day of your high-school graduation, when the future positively percolated with possibilities? That's the moment of truth independent radio producer McElhatton seeks to recapture in this do-it-yourself debut boasting "one beginning, 150 endings." Like the Choose Your Own Adventure novels for young adults, this interactive offering puts readers in the driver's seat from page 1, when they must decide whether to attend college or travel. Wanderlusts might find themselves shacked up with an Italian sugar daddy or operating an award-winning Sicilian B and B. (They might also get knocked up by a swarthy janitor at a seedy Santa Monica motel or killed by a pipe-bomb while working as a relief doctor in Chad.) The academically inclined can wind up a successful feminist jeweler or a Denny's waitress felled by a piping-hot bowl of pea soup. In the end, McElhatton's first offering (inspired by failure to get her first novel published) reads more like tongue-in-cheek career counseling than serious literature. Still, dabbling in thoughts of one's destiny proves amusing in small doses (most entries are just a handful of pages). Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: A Do-Over Novel (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061133221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061133220
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

(McElhatton rhymes with TACKLE-LATIN, if that helps.)

Heather McElhatton is a writer and independent producer for Public Radio International. Her commentaries and
stories have been heard nationally on This American Life, Marketplace, Weekend America, Sound Money and The
Savvy Traveler. She also produced the radio literary series Talking Volumes. Heathers audio archive can be found at www.mpr.org

She has had several short stories published, including 'Red Shoes' which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2001. Writer/publisher Joyce Carol Oates published the story in
Princeton's literary magazine, The Ontario Review thatsame year.

Heather's new radio show is called STAGE SESSIONS and is held in front of a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul, Minnesota. The show is aired on Minnesota Public Radio a week later. Guests have included Sebastian Junger, Ann Bancroft, Bill Holm and Robert Bly. Their work is combined with other musicians, poets and humorists.

Besides ongoing reporting and radio commentary, Heather will appear on Ira Glass's television version of This American Life, which is slated to premiere on Showtime this winter. Her debut novel is a choose-your-own-ending book for adults called Pretty Little Mistakes and will be published by HarperCollins in spring 2007.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I used to like the Choose Your Own Adventure books and thought that Pretty Little Mistakes would be a fun, light-hearted read. It started off as such, but it became tedious pretty quickly.

I do give both Heather McElhatton and whomever was her editor credit for handling so many story lines in one novel. Keeping track of that alone had to be a monumental task.

Every page or two, the reader is asked to make a decision. It could be something like go to college or travel. Or have sex with a mechanic to pay for your car or not. Or manufacture methamphetamine or not. At first it's fun, but it gets old. Because of the constant decision-making, there's no real character development so you don't really give to shakes what happens.

Some of the scenarios are fairly salacious, but I felt like the author didn't quite have the chops to pull it off. Reading it all felt to me like she was saying "Lookee here, I can write about having anal sex with your cult leader." I have nothing against salaciousness, but it just felt gratuitous. After the monkey-rape scene, I had to just quit reading.

I've heard that the author is writing an even larger collection as a follow-up. I won't be reading it.
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Format: Paperback
When I was younger, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books. So when I found this book sitting in my local Borders, I decided to go for it. But when I got home and started reading it, I was disappointed. The idea is a great one, but the writing is LACKING. Very much so. I don't think the "you" point of view is very interesting, and the book tries to move along each little plot too fast to make it fun and compelling to keep reading. I'm not done with the book, but I don't think my opinion will change very much. I would like to see some other authors try a grown up "CYOA", because it could easily be done better than McElhatton did.
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Format: Paperback
I happily remember "Choose Your Own Adventure" books from my youth, so I was in love with the idea of such a novel for adults when I purchased this book. After reading it, however, I wouldn't recommend it to others. McElhatton claims to have written death into every ending in the novel in an attempt to keep the book "real." However, a combination of laughably un-"real" plots rule that possibility out before the inevitable deaths ever occur. There's nothing wrong with camp, but perhaps it's just that the novel doesn't know what it wants to be that causes it to miss any target mark. Among the problems:

(1) The pace of the novel is a big mismatch: all sections of the book seem to cover a span of perhaps several years at the most, until the final sections, which usually cover multiple decades of life with no possibility to make further choices. Since you never become emotionally enaged with the "you" protagonist, those summaries of entire lifetimes are dull to the point of irrelevance.

(2) Since the life choices are often so unrealistic, the lack of emotional connection with the second-person narrator also makes all choices you can make very random. Choosing well vs. badly loses meaning when you're not choosing as a persona with a defined personality.

(3) With the youth novels, some choices would lead to immediate endings, whereas others had plots that would grow and include many more choices, which kept things interesting. In this novel, if one choice leads to a final episode ending in death, the other possible choice also leads to a final episode ending in death. The act of making a choice seems almost irrelevant, since you can be guaranteed that you won't "make it any further" by choosing well (or even luckily).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As soon as I found out about this book, I had to have it. I'm a little young to remember the whole "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel fad, but I've always loved stories I've seen set up like this online. And the cover art is so beautifully colorful: I didn't want to get rid of this book just because it looked pretty on my bookshelf.

But I've only read through a few different paths and skimmed through the rest of the book to know that I'm done with it entirely.

I'll start off by saying that I'm not a conservative or so religious that it makes me a prude. But the fact that two options in, I WAS HAVING SEX WITH SOME HAIRY, POT-BELLIED MECHANIC IN FRONT OF HIS CREEPY DOG JUST TO GET MY CAR FIXED (!) really bothered me. (And no, that isn't one of the choices that I made.) All of the outcomes that I explored ended up like this (or worse!).

And yes, I fully understand that I wasn't going to like every outcome, but come on! The whole point of this book is to make decisions! And even in a fictional life, I wouldn't decide to be a completely one-dimensional, shallow idiot who would have sex with anyone (ANYONE) and only cares about the size of a man's junk. (I'm not lying; the author goes far enough to print `SIZE MATTERS' on one of the pages. Thirty-eight times in a row. Yes, I counted.)

And a very minor thing: You can only be female. That bothered me at first, but now it doesn't. Because I don't feel bad for the half of our species that doesn't have to suffer through this.

So, yeah, two stars.
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