Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CBR V Review #4: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

“You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.” 

This was another of my audiobook endeavors, and a fairly successful one in terms of that.  The gentleman doing the reading does a nice job, and the end of the book is sufficiently fast paced that I sat in my driveway to hear the last 15 minutes.  That being said, I feel very lukewarm about the book in general.

Memoirs is the story of Max Delaney, but really it's the story of his imaginary friend, Budo.  Budo narrates the tale, and Dicks does a nice job of capturing the voice of a child, but altered with the experience of an imaginary friend that can learn more than his human pal can.  Budo is one of the oldest imaginary friends there is - he's been with Max for 4 years.  Max is a special needs kid, though the exact nature of that is left vague.  Because he's a little bit different, he's needed Budo for longer than most kids keep their imaginary friends around, and as such, Budo has come to really value his existence in the world, and fears the day when Max stops believing in him and he ceases to exist.  However, something in Max's world, a world occupied by a boy terrified of any small changes, is about to change monumentally, and Budo is the only one who can help.

I don't want to delve too much into plot here, as I feel it spoils the story in this case.  However, outside of the actual plotline, there's a lot of material.  Unfortunately, I think there's *too much* extra material.  The story sets up nicely, with Budo giving you a really great understanding not just of how imaginary friends work, but of the boy we're meant to care for as much as Budo does.  There are a number of stories of how Max goes about his day, and the way his parents are, both with and without him around.  Budo is a special kind of imaginary friend, because he has the freedom to walk around and see things Max can't.  He also doesn't sleep, so he tends to wander at night to the gas station or the hospital to entertain himself.  We get to see what it's like to travel around without Max, as Budo does.  We interact with characters like the bully Tommy Swindon, even as Budo stands helplessly by, as he cannot touch anything in the human world.  We learn to love Mrs. Gosk like Max and Budo do.

However, there's a really great, compelling story in there, and it gets buried by a lot of rambling storytelling.  As my mother would say, Dicks "wanders down a few too many bunny trails" for my liking.  When the story jumps around before the essence of the central plot takes place, I'm down with that.  It's important to establish the characters and the world we're in, and most importantly, its rules.  But Budo tends to travel down these winding paths of storytelling even when we have something more interesting to focus on, and those diversions get annoying rather than interesting.  There's a subplot involving the gas station, for example, that exists only to set up the completely unnecessary and ridiculous epilogue - I could have done without both.

It's a good book, and if you are an educator, or a parent with of a kid with special needs, I'd be interested to see your take on this story.  And as I mentioned before, the climax is so effective that I refused to get out of my car so I could hear the end without waiting.  But I don't think it's one I'll go out of my way to recommend, despite the parts of it I truly enjoyed.

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