I read this book months ago. I’ve tried writing a review for it a couple times and end up with the book report style review I hate. You know the kind – the ones that trudge through the characters and events pretty much as they happen, without adding anything about the reader’s connection to the book. If you want to know exactly what happens, read the book – that’s my opinion. But maybe you like those types of reviews – and that is your prerogative. So, why can’t I write this review? I think it was originally because I was trying to fit into some box of how a reviewer is supposed to write. Well, I’ve been at this blogging thing for several months, and I’ll write the kind of reviews I want to write. And the review I want to write about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is about loneliness.
I’ve never had an imaginary friend. At least I don’t remember having one and my parents have never mentioned one, so I’m going with never. I always had friends living just a few houses away, and siblings, and books, and family game night, so no need to make anything up. There’s this idea that kids that have imaginary friends are super creative. But I don’t totally buy that. Most of the creative children/people I know have other outlets for their creativity – writing, telling stories, painting, sidewalk chalk, etc. I’m not saying there’s no link, but the imaginary friends portrayed in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend suggest something different – these friends are created by loneliness and fear. These are kids that can’t find another outlet for their anxiety. They need someone to talk to. They need someone to make their decisions for them. And for most kids, they eventually need a scapegoat for their deliberately bad choices. Imaginary friends are a developmental tool more than anything else. And once the kids figure out that they have to/can take responsibility for their own actions, these friends fade away or are replaced by new, real friends.
Max is autistic (is that ever actually stated? I can’t remember, but it’s clearly what he had), so he uses Budo to keep him company in a safe/predictable way. Max doesn’t like change. Budo ensures he doesn’t have to experience it. What could have been a straight forward mystery novel of Max’s experience told from Budo’s perspective turns into something different when it becomes Budo’s experience. There are huge chunks of the book where Budo is separated from Max. It’s a perspective that shouldn’t exist but does.
The times when we get to see Budo without Max are the times when Max doesn’t need him. The times when Max is either content or taking care of himself. After he’s kidnapped by a teacher who’s gained his trust, he’s given a room containing all his favourite toys and everything is orderly – exactly the way he likes it. When Budo finally gets into the room, that’s when things start to go wrong and Max is forced to take action. He justifiably freaks out, but eventually, evades capture and finds his way home. He’s able to let Budo go when he loses some of his anxieties.
There’s a mystery aspect to the story that makes it entertaining and drives the plot forward, but it’s the horribly sad subtext about growing up and leaving behind innocence that makes the story connect. Dicks’ book balances the sadness of loss with the stability of growth. This exists beyond the imaginary friends. Max’s parents experience it in their relationship with their son. They’re desperate to connect with him, but their attempts are futile. No matter what they try, they can only get so close to Max. The kidnapper (like I said, it’s been a while, I can’t remember her name) is desperate for a child. So much so that she resorts to hurting other parents in order to get what she wants. Budo is desperate not to fade away into nothing even though he knows Max forgetting him would be good for Max.
Desperation hides under every second of this story, but there’s also hope and confusion. It’s a good touchy feely story without being overly mushy.