Imaginary friends. We all had them (or at least most kids did), but we don’t remember the roles they played in our lives, most of us outgrowing them by the time we were four. But, what about the imaginary friend? What did he (or she) look like? Did they feel anything? What would be their story?
Starting from there, Matthew Dicks has written an engaging novel entirely from an imaginary friend’s point of view. And, much in the way a fantasy writer creates a world, Dicks has created a whole world for Budo, nine-year-old Max’s friend, to reside in. First off: just because Max is the only one who can see him, does not mean that Budo isn’t real. He can see our world and experience our world; he just can’t interact with other people. He can, however, interact with other imaginary friends, and from doing that, he’s realized two things: 1) Max imagined him very well, because next to some of the other friends, Budo looks almost real; and 2) he’s quite old — being six — and that is unusual. Most other imaginary friends don’t last that long.
The beginning of the book is quite odd; as a reader, you don’t quite know where Dicks is going with this story, especially since it becomes very clear early on that Max has some form of autism, even though it’s never said outright. But as the story goes on, you realize that it’s because Max is autistic that Budo exists. And that fact becomes crucial to the plot.
I’ll be straight with you: I got to a certain point in the book, and I was afraid I’d have to abandon it because I thought one character was abusing Max. That is not the case. There are scary, and sad, things going on, but it’s not abuse. And I am glad I didn’t abandon it, because this book is truly remarkable. Not only for the world building, but for the heartbreakingly honest way Budo reacts to the situations with Max and ends up being the unsung hero. I rarely think books are “heartwarming,” but I do think that of this one. Heartwarming, creative, unique.
And most of all, amazing. It will make you want to believe in imaginary friends all over again.
Rated: Mild, for some intense situations.