Imaginary Friendby Stephen Chbosky Published 1 Oct 2019
|Publisher||Grand Central Publishing|
Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend.
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 in the town will never be the same again.
Soon Kate and Christopher find themselves in the fight of their lives, caught in the middle of a war playing out between good and evil, with their small town as the battleground.
The epic work of literary horror from the #1 bestselling author of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
"Imaginary Friend" Reviews
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Long ago, books stopped terrifying me in the way that people search out from the likes of gory, graphic horror films. Somewhere upon entering adulthood, the paranormal took a backseat to the chills provided by child abuse, sexual assault, and the murder of members of minority groups who never gain an ounce of justice, but this book terrified me in ways that I haven't experienced in over a decade, mainly due to combining paranormal AND realistic horror. I'll go into more detail at the end, complete with spoiler tags, but this book contained the one horror element that still manages to give me nightmares, no matter how many times I read a book that includes it. If you want to go into Imaginary Friend completely blind, I recommend stopping here, and not reading anything else surrounding the story until you've had a chance to pick it up for yourself. If you're the type of reader, like me, who enjoys knowing a bit more about a cryptically vague book to see if you're compatible with it, keep going. Either way, please take my thoughts lightly as the cause behind the commotion in this novel will be very polarizing, and most folks will love it or hate it.
"Don't leave the street. They can't get you if you don't leave the street."
The most common question I've received surrounding this novel is about the page length. "Was it really necessary for the story to be over 700 pages long? Who does this guy think he is, Stephen King?" Honestly? Yes. I had my doubts going in, but I almost immediately found myself entranced by the author's writing, and what would be described as a slow burning introduction to our characters became an unputdownable saga. There's a reason why Chbosky is a bestselling author, and while he did wait almost 2 decades to publish his second novel, it shows his incredible range of storytelling capabilities and otherworldly talent. The average rating is considerably lower than most popular books on Goodreads at the time of this writing, but I do think the page length is something that is possibly affecting this. If you're the type of reader that doesn't enjoy a meaty doorstop, you probably won't appreciate what this book has to offer. The page count will be a dealbreaker for about half of the readers out there, and that's ok, big books aren't for everyone. If you're still with me, let's continue on.
"Oh please don't let it be the hissing lady. Please don't let me be asleep."
While I hate comparing authors' various works amongst each other, I think it's helpful to note why this book is being pitched to fans of Stephen King and his older horror novels. This book appears to be set in the 90's, and it very strongly has the "kids battle evil entity" vibe that is so prevalent in many of King's past bestsellers, which automatically appealed to me. The beginning has a similar feel where, we get many details into a multitude of characters' lives, and after the foundation is set, the creepy instances start. It begins slowly, and almost seems to tip-toe around the horror aspect until well into the book, but it is beautifully done so. As a reader, I became invested in Kate and Christopher as humans, and the bond they created through shared experiences with poverty, abuse, and trauma was so necessary in transforming Imaginary Friend from a B-rated horror romp into a full scale terrifying masterpiece.
Alright, here's the meat of it. I'm going to put this next paragraph in a spoiler tag, and while there are no specific spoilers, I do discuss the theme of the reveal, and I don't want this to affect those readers wishing to go in blind. [spoilers removed] This part was so well done, for me personally, because I saw the initial reveal coming (the who not the what), and I was still found myself astonished once it finally came.
There is so much more detail I could go into, but I'd rather let you experience Imaginary Friend for yourself. This book would make a fantastic bookclub pick for groups who enjoy darker reads, as there is so much to be taken away from this. Beyond the horror aspect, there are so many themes surrounding sacrifice, hope, and love that will appeal to parents, caregivers, and members of small communities. While I found myself with questions after finishing, that was ok, because I enjoy when a book makes me think long past the turning of the final page. Imaginary Friend will rank amongst the most unique and memorable books I've ever read, and you can be sure I'll never forget it. Also, reader? Make sure you keep the lights on while devouring this book. If you fall asleep, you never know what may creep into your nightmares.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
I was so afraid of my contact lens numbers were going to be bigger than my irises after I finished this book (Give me a biggest Chardonnay break, my dear friends, this month I read “Institution”, “Gold Finch” and still working on “Priory of Orange Tree” which has also 800 pages. My red eyed image is still giving creeps to neighborhood kids and their mothers which is fine with me, I can eat trick or treat candies I’ve bough to serve them and I could also steal their M&M- only the red ones, they can have the others-)
I read too many bad reviews which gave me a little hesitation at first but come on, we’re talking about “Perks of Being a Wallflower” author! And horror is one of my favorite genre ( Before I got my caffeine intake in the mornings I look like Frakenstein’s bride with my all my hair in the air and raccoon eye make-up style so I get used to love horrific things )) Of course I was all in! I said bring it on this terrifying read. At least if I got bored, I could use it as dumbbell like I did with My KING’s “Stand” book. (Don’t get me wrong I love that book but after finishing it, I was looking like Dwayne Johnson’s big sister with my humongous biceps! My husband used them as pillows to rest his head and take quick naps!)
I can feel for the readers’ disappointment or frustration because of changing of writing, story-telling method of the author and focusing on different genre.
I actually confused too many times during my read and turned the cover to make sure that I was having the right writer’s book. Was I reading the right STEPHEN’s book? Was it not KING’s book, right? It is Chbosky book. I actually thought both authors were pulling a prank and at the end of the novel we could find an acknowledgment part confessing my KING pushed Chbosky away from his seat and started to touch the key pad like playing a horrific theme from Phantom of the Opera and wrote this book.
I mostly enjoy the writing even it was soooo looonnnggg and I dropped my dried contact lenses into my wine glasses and coffee mugs (of course drink choices changing daily and nightly!) and when I was multitasking like biting a scone and flipping the pages, I may have consumed some book pages as well and feeding my dogs with scone (they somersaulted and danced all day, like dogs like owners!)
But Christopher’s age is a little concerned me. At least he could be around 10- 12, maybe this age is a little old to have an imaginary friend but his age is too young to endure and fight against all those scary and haunted things he’d met. It hurt me to see him suffer too many times. (I was thinking I couldn’t see anything disturbing like Joker movie but those parts of the book really agitated me as well)
And the good and evil’s never ending fight, all those biblical references, the parts about the way of people’s atonement of their sins were too compelling subjects in this young and innocent child’s world.
I think with omitted parts ( especially the last parts of the book were too long and they kept repeat themselves) and a simpler boy and his imaginary friend’s story not about heavy biblical subjects, but a story about a boy’s loneliness and naivety to imagine wrong kind of best friend would work better for me!
But as a summary, my 3 point 5 stars eventually rounded up to 4 because I love spooky, haunted, nail biter, dark stories and I enjoyed most part of the book. It’s a thrilling, entertaining but also exhausting reading. I hope I don’t scream too much in my sleep this night (Don’t worry, this book didn’t scare me like that but my husband learned to imitate Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker laughter and as soon as I close my eyes at night, he performs very same laughter in the silence of the night like a heartless creature. So this month I decided to read more horror books because real life and vengeful husbands who were dissatisfied with my cooking performance were scarier than the books! Trust me! I learned from the hardest way!)
how in the world did stephen chbosky go from writing 'we accept the love we think we deserve' to an entire book dedicated to a child haunted by horrifying imaginary people?!
i guess 20 years between books is enough time for an author to change. and in this case, 20 years to plan stephen kings demise. because holy crap. this is the creepiest thing ive ever read, in the most bizarre way possible.
this actually reminded me a lot of ‘stranger things’ - strange things happen, its a little spooky and im not sure i entirely understand everything or if i even like it, but it is ever so slightly addicting.
↠ 3.5 stars
"We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us."
Imaginary Friend feels very much like a classic horror novel which is both a good and a bad thing. To begin with, we have a group of young kids, an unknown evil that fills them with fear and despair, a small town on the brink of chaos, and missing dead children from 50 years ago. And it is terribly creepy. When I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower I remember feeling underwhelmed. I didn’t get why people loved this story so much. Neither writing nor plot managed to catch my interest, but maybe I wasn’t ready when I first read it. Rewatching the film years later showed me what a beautiful and moving story Chbosky had created.
But with IF I was immediately drawn into the world of Christopher who vanishes into the woods for six whole days just to turn up again unharmed, but with a desperate need to build a treehouse in the middle of the Mission Street Woods. And something else has changed: his dyslexia is gone, he is suddenly the best kid in his maths class, and he seems to know what people feel and think.
It was creepy as hell, I had goosebumps 24/7 and no clue about what was happening. Never did I think that I would devour these 700 pages in three days but that’s exactly what happened. The writing was compelling, the characters felt real, and I really needed to know what the fuck was going on or I would DIE. So far so good, but things changed around the 500-page mark. There was a big twist, which, although I didn’t see it coming, didn’t catch me unaware. Mainly because it felt too simplified and unoriginal. It wouldn’t have bothered me much, though, if the story had been taken to a clean and satisfying ending. But what followed were 200 pages that should have been 100 pages, or maybe 70. You know when there is a final battle with the biggest bully on the lot and you know this is it, it’s live or die? That didn’t only happen once, it happened three times. It wasn’t just repetitive at this point, it was a big mess. And even though I had really enjoyed – loved – the story until that point, it couldn’t hold my attention and fascination any longer.
It was made even worse by Chbosky’s use of redundant tropes that put female characters in over-sexualised and violated roles. I honestly expected better of him. Chbosky is a great storyteller who proved repeatedly that he has what it takes to tell heartfelt stories with characters that feel real, that are relatable. So why did he suddenly feel the need to make use of tropes such as the prude catholic girl tempted by sin, why did he have to degrade most of his central female characters by ripping off their clothes, violating their bodies, by turning them into madwomen haunted by unfeeling or violent men? I’m not criticising the fact that he made violence and abuse part of a female character’s story. Sadly, that is far from unrealistic. But he exploited them and used their pain for shock value like countless male authors have done before him. It’s a limited and frankly antiquated way of writing female voices.
Overall, this novel would have been a new favourite if it had paid more attention to plotting and characterisation.
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Perks of Being a Wallflower was not part of my adolescence and I’m not much of a horror reader although I do enjoy it every once in a great while. So, I’m not quite the right reader for this ambitious novel. Needless to say twenty years after the publication of Perks, Imaginary Friend is quite a departure for Chbosky. As is fairly typical of horror novels, the main conflict is good vs. evil, God vs. the devil and so on and so forth. The kids-in-jeopardy trope is in full swing which echoes King but with less success. I found the kids to be too young at seven years old; perhaps eleven years old would have made it a bit more palatable. This is a long novel and there is a lot that should have been cut due to an overload of repetition. I was about to tear my hair if I read “…like baby teeth” one more time. This is just one example. In its favor, it reads fast and is action-packed. Will it sell in the marketplace? Yes, like green wildfire.