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Off the Shelves: Imagination has a life of its own in Memoirs
imaginary

‘Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend’

By: Matthew Dicks
Price: $24.99
Rating: Five out of five bookmarks

Do you remember who your imaginary friend was when you were a child? Most of us had one, even if we don’t recall what kind of creature or person it may have been, or for how long we had one.

But what if imaginary friends weren’t imaginary at all? And what if a child not only depended on an imaginary friend for comfort and companionship, but to face the scariness of the world and even protect him from harm?

Matthew Dicks explores the unseen world behind a child’s imagination in his humorous, original, and surprisingly touching novel “Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.”

The novel begins simply enough: “My name is Budo. I have been alive for five years. Five years is a long time for someone like me to be alive.”

Budo was created by 9-year-old Max, who suffers from what appears to be autism (it is never clearly diagnosed, but Max has extreme difficulty interacting with others and must have things done in a very precise way, otherwise he gets “stuck” and cannot function).

Budo is a source of consistency and guidance for Max, but Budo is by all means his own entity, with his own personality, opinions, loves and fears. His greatest fear is of the day Max may stop believing in him, and he will disappear.

He can only be seen by Max and other imaginary friends (which many of Max’s classmates have, although they tend to disappear very quickly), so Budo often goes off to explore and observe other people.

But when Max is thrust into terrible danger and only Budo knows what really happened while everyone else is clueless, can Budo find a way to rescue his dearest friend?

How can he help, when he cannot touch the real world, and the only one who can hear him is the one he must save?

Dicks takes what may seem like a children’s story concept and presents it in a mature, thorough and clever manner. There is a good balance between the humor and the dramatic moments. And the author treats every character with empathy and fairness, so no one is solely “heroic” or “villainous.”

Even when the story ventures into darker territory where both the real world and the imaginary one become unsafe for Budo and Max, Dicks maintains a grounded, honest sense of things, without resorting to melodrama or clichés.

Budo is a perfect combination of the adult understanding and youthful wonderment. Much of the novel reveals how Budo mentally processes what is going on around him, the way a child slowly begins to comprehend what certain actions or words mean.

Yet, like Max, Budo sometimes also has trouble differentiating reality from make-believe. Much of what he learns comes from watching television, so often he expects people to act the way he sees them act on crime shows or dramas.

This is as much a coming of age story for Budo as it is for Max, and both must eventually learn to let go of the make-believe they each hide behind in order to do the right thing in the real world.

If you are able to, I recommend picking up the audio version of the book, narrated by Matthew Brown. He does a wonderful job bringing to life each character without resorting to cartoon-sounding voices or forced falsettos for child characters.

“Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend” is an endearing tale of loyalty, whimsy and courage, and it is amazing how Dicks can make readers feel so strongly for a figment of a child’s imagination.

Then again, we all have imaginary versions of ourselves, the people we wish we could be, and this story shows how our imagination shapes us just as much as our reality.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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