Multiple Choice by Janet Tashjian; Henry Holt
and Company: New York, 1999; $16.95
"I wish my brain were a toaster." That's how Monica Devon feels about the way she obsesses over everything— from the amount of beans in a beanbag to the word she spelled incorrectly in a spelling bee three years ago. Multiple Choice, by Janet Tashjian, is the story of Monica Devon, a fourteen-year-old girl whose one wish is to stop obsessing. Although she has always been a perfectionist, her condition seems to be getting worse. Since Monica has had a passion for word games and anagrams for most of her life, she creates a game, Multiple Choice, with Scrabble tiles. It's supposed to help her become more spontaneous by making decisions for her, and for a while, it does. Monica feels as if she can do anything without having to worry because she can't go against Multiple Choice's solutions. However, when one of the game's decisions results in a young boy getting hurt, Monica knows she has gone too far.
One aspect I particularly liked about Multiple Choice was the creative way in which the author explained Monica's feelings. At the beginning of many chapters were word games or anagrams which set the tone for the events to come, such as
(I'm on top of the world!). These titles, as well as Monica's general sense of humor, ". . . and the whole point of this stupid game is to liberate me. Liberate me straight into a padded room is more like it," result in a lighthearted tone even as Monica's problems develop.
Reading this book made me realize that obsession can be as much of a disorder as anorexia. Although everyone worries about problems they face throughout the day, some people spend so much time analyzing that they become depressed, constantly thinking about mistakes that were made years ago. Small problems that might be viewed as meaningless become monstrous ones that must be tackled, no matter how insignificant they may appear. Monica, for instance, tries to scoop beans from one beanbag to another to try to equal out their sizes.
Although Monica Devon is a fictitious character, there is a little of her in all of us. There have been times in the past year when I became obsessed over my schoolwork and other things. For example, once our social studies class was assigned a report on a country in South America. I wanted to do a perfect job on the report, so I collected pages of research. By working nearly constantly on the report and staying up late on the last night, I felt that my paper would be pretty good. When I printed the report out, however, I wasn't satisfied. I then printed out as many pictures of the country as I could find to try and make the report longer. When everyone else handed in five- and six-page reports, I might as well have made a whole book—I had twenty-one pages of text and nine of pictures! While my experiences have never been as dramatic as Monica's, I can understand why she felt compelled to try and break out of her usual perfectionism—even if that meant hurting her family and friends.
Overall, I think Multiple Choice should be a top pick for kids, particularly ones who like realistic fiction. Janet Tashjian is a talented author who makes the characters in this story seem lifelike and the many anagrams Monica includes with her humor, such as
Maybe the letters in Lynn's name saved her—that since Lynn can't be rearranged into something else, she's destined to live a simple, easy life without complications. I, on the other hand, have IN COMA to deal with, among other things.
are both amusing and give readers a sense of her desperation. The undertones of Monica's disorder are balanced by this story's lighthearted feel, which come together nicely at the end of the book, along with Monica's realization about who she is inside. Readers will find themselves, as I did, both sympathizing with Monica and feeling angry with her as she unknowingly loses control of her life. All of these elements mixed together make this story an excellent read for kids and adults alike.