Thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: October 1st, 2019
Synopsis: Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend. The epic work of literary horror from the #1 bestselling author of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with Christopher at her side. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed, but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone else in the town will never be the same again.
Soon, Kate and Christopher will find themselves in the fight for their lives, caught in the middle of a war between good and evil, with their small town as the battleground.
Imaginary Friend is probably one of the most anticipated books of 2019, as it’s the first book written by The Perks of Being a Wallflower author, Stephen Chbosky, in twenty years. Given how much I loved POBAW and the film adaptation, as soon as I found out about it I contacted the publisher and begged for an eARC. Grand Central Publishing was already one of my favorite publishing houses, but now they’ve gone to the top of my list thanks to their generosity.
Chbosky’s first book as well as its film adaptation has an enormous cult following, so his second twenty years later, is a dream come true, particularly as it’s so different. If you look on Goodreads you’ll see a lot of mixed reactions to it. After spending the last four nights reading, I can say that while I did have a couple of issues, for the most part I really enjoyed it.
One of the chief complaints seems to be the length. Yes,720 pages makes for a long story, but this didn’t bother me until the last 200 pages. At that point I think the battle between good and evil goes on a little too long and could have been pared down some. One saving grace is that Chbosky and his editor were smart when they decided to make the chapters short because this helps keep the pace going even during the slower sections. The actual horror portion doesn’t truly kick in until a little past the first quarter. Instead, this first part is spent introducing the characters which I didn’t mind at all because I loved them, especially Christopher, a seven-year-old boy who literally winds up having the fate of the world resting on his tiny shoulders. Having a small child be the main character in an adult novel carries quite a bit of risk, but Stephen Chbosky successfully pulls it off. He perfectly captures Christopher’s feelings of confusion, frustration, and fright, as well as his love for his mother and friends. The bond between Christopher and his mom, Kate, is beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the story.
The story itself is a creative spin on the familiar good vs evil theme. There’s a ton of religious symbolism which may not appeal to every reader, but I thought was entirely in keeping with the storyline. There’s some awkward and repetitive phrasing scattered throughout which was occasionally distracting, but it didn’t substantially detract from my enjoyment. In addition to the main story with Christopher and his family and friends, there are others centered around secondary characters which blend intriguing layers into the larger picture. There are quite a lot of twists, and one in particular that I thought particularly brilliant. The ending perfectly wraps all the plot lines up yet leaves the door open a crack for a possible sequel.
Imaginary Friend may not be the same generation-defining literary achievement as its predecessor was, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable horror story that’s perfect for fans of books like The Stand, by Stephen King. One word of caution. There are quite a few themes here that may be triggers for some people. These include: child abuse, domestic violence, suicide, torture, substance abuse, and extreme violence and gore. Also, I am now terrified of deer!