Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

My little jaunt to the Redneck Riviera required a thousand plus miles of driving.   What I needed to help pass the time was a great audio book.  Luckily, I picked up an audio version of Matthew Dicks' Memoirs of an Invisible Friend when I was at the Book Expo.   It was an amazing "read" and made me want to get in the car and go so I could find out what happened next in the story.

Budo is the narrator of the story.  He is the imaginary friend of a boy named Max.  Budo has been alive for five years, which is an eternity in the world of imaginary friends.  Although the story doesn't come right out and say, "Max has Asperger's syndrome," it's clear from Budo's insights into Max's world that this is the case.  Max has no friends and, as Budo tells us, "lives on the inside," so Budo is his only companion.  As an imaginary friend, Budo has only the characteristics that Max envisioned for him.  Fortunately, Max has a good imagination and conceived of Budo as more or less a real person. (Budo is quite lucky in this regard.  Some imaginary friends are one dimensional; some are the size of a pop bottle; most don't have eyebrows as this is a feature that slips the mind of the human friends that create them.)   Budo can learn and reason and help Max navigate difficult situations.  Max did not imagine Budo as needing sleep, so Budo is free to wander during Max's night time hours.  This allows Budo the opportunity to hang out with Max's parents (who of course can't see him), watch a lot of TV (crime shows are Max's father's favorites), and even roam the town (the local convenience store and the hospital are two of Budo's favorite spots).  It also makes Budo wise beyond his years, which turns out to be quite important.

Budo tells us what it's like to live in this world:

 "I live in the space in between people.  I spend most of my time in the kid world with Max, but I also spend a lot of time with adults...except they can't see me.  Max's mom would call this straddling the fence.  She says this to Max when he can't make up his mind about something, which happens a lot.

'Do you want the blue Popsicle or the yellow Popsicle?' she asks, and Max just freezes.  Freezes like a Popsicle.  There are just too many things for Max to think about when choosing. ...'Which one is colder?  Which one will melt fastest? ... Do different colors taste different?'

I wish that Max's mom would just make the choice for Max.  She knows how hard it is for him.  But when she makes him choose and he can't, I sometimes choose for him.  I whisper, "Pick blue," and then he says, "I'll take blue."  Then it's done.  No more straddling the fence.

That's kind of how I live.  I straddle the fence.  I live in the yellow and the blue world.  I live with kids and I live with adults.  I'm not exactly a kid, but I'm not exactly an adult, either.  I'm yellow AND blue.  I'm green. I know my color combinations, too."

Budo loves going to school with Max, and they both love Mrs. Gosk, Max's teacher.  She is funny and caring and shares her own life with the kids.  (I didn't realize it when I was reading the book, but the author is an elementary school teacher, and I bet he's a good one.)   School is hard for Max, though, since he sees the world in black and white.  He doesn't understand nuances.  He doesn't get puns.  He knows the rules, though, and follows them to the letter.  When Tommy Swinden, the school bully, brings a knife to school, Max knows that this is a terrible rule to break and tells on him.  Max doesn't know how to do this in a discrete way, though, so Tommy Swinden is now out to get even with him.  Budo helps Max level the playing field--at least a little.

Tommy Swinden is not the worst of Max's worries, though.  I don't want to ruin the story by telling you what happens, but Max ends up in a very dangerous situation that he has no idea how to extract himself from.  Budo has to call on all of his powers--and the powers of some of the other imaginary friends--to help him.

Since I listened to the book rather than read it, I don't have all my usual flags of passages that I want to share to give you a sense of the writing.  (Happily, I did pick up a hard copy of the book at the Expo also, but I haven't sat down to read it yet.)   All I can say is that this is an incredible book,  In fact, I'd go so far as to put it towards the top of my list of all time favorites.  It's a wonderful story about a friendship between two characters who don't quite fit into our world.   Jodi Piccoult says that Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is "a novel as creative, brave, and pitch perfect as its narrator...It has been a long time since I read a book that has captured me so completely, and wowed me with its unique vision."   I couldn't agree more.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend hits the bookstores in August.  Read this book.   It will stay with you long after you turn the last page.



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