Here is what I know:
My Name is Budo.
I have been alive for five years.
Five years is very long for someone like me to be alive.
Max gave me my name.
Max is the only human person who can see me.
Max's parents call me an imaginary friend.
I love Max's teacher, Mrs Gosk.
I do not like Max's other teacher, Mrs Patterson.
I am not imaginary.
So begins one of the most unusual and frustrating books I have ever read, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
by Matthew Green.
Many kids have imaginary friends, who last for varying periods of time, disappearing somewhere along the way as their creators grow up. What if they are not imaginary, but inhabit a strange twilight world where they can be seen only by one another, and the children who created them? The author builds his tale on this intriguing premise, and creates a fantasy world which is unique.
In Budo's world, imaginary friends are built the way their creators imagined them to be: Budo is luckier than most, because he is of normal size, can talk, and can pass through closed doors and windows (many imaginary friends are mute, some are tiny and one is even shaped like a spoon). Max, an autistic child, cannot interact properly with the world. All his suppressed creativity has gone into the production of Budo, and it is Budo who sustains him through difficult situations. And it is through Budo's eyes we come to know the world of Max.
So far, so good. But having built this beautiful fantasy world, Matthew Green lets us down with an almighty thud by turning it into the story of a kidnapping and rescue.
In my opinion, this was a wasted opportunity. Using the medium imaginary friends, the author could have told a more significant story, especially about the claustrophobic world of an autistic child. But instead, what we get is a suspense tale. It is well told (though the suspense factor could work better in the case of young adults than mature readers-to me, it was very clear how it was going to end), and the "child's eye view" narration is easy to read and fast-moving (In this sense, there is a similarity to Room
, but I felt that that novel explored deeper issues). Max's rapid growth to self-sufficiency when faced with a real crisis is attractive, and Budo's prompting him at each and every step underlining his status as Max's alter-ego is well done, but the novel quickly loses whatever depth it had towards the end. And the ending, I felt, was extremely trite.
Still, an enjoyable read if you are not having any great expectations.