Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by: Matthew Dicks
My Review: "I wish there was a Heaven. If I knew there was a Heaven for me, then I would save Max for sure. I wouldn't be afraid because there would be a place to go after this place. Another place. But I don't think there is a Heaven, and I definitely don't think there is a Heaven for imaginary friends. Heaven is only supposed to be for people who God made, and God didn't make me. Max made me." I normally don't start my reviews with a quote, but there are so many great, thought provoking lines like this in which Budo delivers throughout Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, that I just had to share one of my favorites. And some people call this book, or the writing of this book, insipid and facile? Yeah, I'll get to that later.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks is quite an ambitious novel. My initial first thought? How the author was going to differentiate between "imaginary friends" and "ghosts". After all, on the surface they do have some similarities...or one might think. But I soon discovered I had nothing to fear. In fact, the difference between ghosts and imaginary friends does get addressed in the book by Budo himself. He says, "Ghosts were alive once. Imaginary friends are never alive in the real world."
Dicks did a great job building the world and mythology of "imaginary friends." Every child has a different way of coping with the uncertainties of life, whether it be parents that argue on a daily basis, a life threatening illness, starting school and the social anxieties that comes with it, etc. Perhaps the easiest way to conquer these fears is to share the burden with someone and what better way to do that then to create an imaginary friend. In Matthew Dicks' world, these "friends" can come in many different shapes and sizes and can disappear as quickly as they are imagined. That is why Budo is so very special. Not only does he look like a real human but he is over 5 years old which is unheard of in the world of imaginary friends. This is all thanks to Max, the 8 year old boy who created him.
As the synopsis states above, Max is different then many of the children he goes to school with. While it is never stated what Max's diagnosis is, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that he has a form of autism or Aspergers Syndrome. While this causes turmoil in the lives of his parents, teachers, and even some of his classmates, Budo is the only one who seems to accept and understand Max for who he is. In fact, I originally thought that the book's agenda was to find out what's "wrong"with Max. I couldn't have been more wrong. This is Budo's story and it is told in his perspective. And while he loves Max and knows deep down that Max being "different" is the reason he has been alive for so long, he still fears the day when Max will stop believing in him. Because when that happens, Budo will start to fade away like so many imaginary friends have done before him.
The whole concept of a child's imagination reminds me of the Romantic poets, most specifically William Wordsworth. He believed that children were the closest to God because the depths of their imagination and innocence hadn't been tarnished by the realities of adulthood. But the older a child gets, the more responsibility is placed on his/her shoulders, and the child is forced to "grow up." By the time a child reaches adulthood, he/she has forgotten about imaginary friends, instead replaced with work, paying bills, and trying to fit into society's standards. We see the beginning stages of this theory in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. The reason many of the imaginary friends Budo knows disappear before him is because the children that created them are growing up, therefore, they are no longer needed.While Max is very intelligent, he also is introverted and struggles with social skills. This is why Budo is needed, to help Max with fending off bullies like Tommy Swinden, or to stand guard in the bathroom while Max makes a "bonus poop" as Budo likes to call them. Yes, I did say "bonus poop". Did I forget to mention this book is also hilarious??
Now to clear up some things. First and foremost, some people have been confused as to the genre and reading level this book should fall under. Some reviewers have given Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend a 2 star rating because they felt it "struggles to find an audience". This is an ADULT novel that just so happens to have a 5 year old imaginary friend as a narrator. I would go so far as to say that mature young adults would enjoy this novel as well. I'm not sure why people automatically assume that if a child is the narrator or if the language is simple then it is considered a young adult novel.
Speaking of "simple", let's talk about the writing style of this book. Some have complained that the story and writing is "babyish", "insipid", and "facile". Umm...did they miss the fact that the narrator is a 6 year old imaginary friend that was created by an 8 year old boy??? What do they expect, Budo to start talking in flowery Shakespearean prose??? If anything, I think Matthew Dicks did an amazing job creating Budo's voice and making it realistic. And I am confused as to how someone could think the story is shallow or that the author ignores the complexities of the issues. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I wonder if they realize what the "issues" of the story actually are. I think people are going into this book thinking it is going to be all about Max and his "condition" and how the people around him deal with it or try to "fix" him. While Max is vital to the story, it is NOT HIS STORY. Budo is the narrator and this is about his journey as an imaginary friend, his fears as to where "friends" like him go when they fade away.
I will say I agree that some of what Budo says is repetitive and somewhere in the middle, the story does lose a little steam. But as you can see by my rating, it didn't bother me enough to take away a whole star. The ending makes up for the little dry spell and somehow the repetitiveness fits, probably because it is never far from my mind that Budo was thought up by an 8 year old boy with limited social skills. But some of the things Budo ponders are questions that sometimes kids ask that we as adults don't have the patience to answer. It reminds me that sometimes the most honest answers come from small children because their responses aren't clouded with the complexities we are used to as grown-ups.
The last thing I want to point out is my love for Oswald, the only imaginary friend that Budo fears. Without spoiling anything, Budo must find the courage to go to Oswald in order to help Max. The reason I am bringing Oswald up is because I couldn't help but think of the movie Ghost starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. Remember when Patrick Swayze sees the ghost on the train that can actually touch and move things? Well that ghost reminds me of Oswald, and Budo in that moment reminds me of Patrick Swayze. Pretty interesting parallel and I have to wonder if the author was or is aware of it!
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a rare breed of novel that can affect a person on so many different levels. Read it if you want to laugh. Read it if you want to be moved to tears. Read it if you want something to think about long after the last page has been read. Just remember to go into this story with an open mind, remember that this is Budo's story, not Max's, and this is not a doctor's manual on autism or Aspergers. This is a great book for teachers that will prompt many discussions with your students. This is a great book if you are a parent with small children or if you vaguely remember your very own imaginary friend. Whatever the case may be, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a book with heart, and Budo is one character that I will never forget. Well done, Matthew Dicks.