Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): Budo is Max's imaginary friend. But though only Max can see him, he is real. He and the other imaginary friends watch over their children until the day comes that the child stops imagining them. And then they're gone. Budo has lasted a lot longer than most imaginary friends - four years - because Max needs him more. His parents argue about sending him to a special school. But Max is perfectly happy if everything is just kept the way it is, and nothing out of the ordinary happens. Unfortunately, something out of the ordinary is going to happen - and then he'll need Budo more than ever...
And here's what I thought: When I first read a review of this book, I thought it sounded interesting; a story written from the perspective of an imaginary friend would be different, and it sounded a bit fun. I had no idea that this book would make me smile, but it would also completely break my heart a couple of times when I was reading it. After finishing this book, I wanted to find the author and hug him ... and then punch him on the arm for making me cry when I was reading.
As you can see from the summary above, the story is told from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of a young boy named Max. Budo's got an unusual and compelling viewpoint --- both on Max, and on the world around him. We get to know Max through Budo's descriptions, and it quickly becomes clear that Max is somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum, so he's a little boy who has a few more challenges at school than other kids (especially when it comes to dealing with some of the other kids). Budo knows that Max is different from other children that he observes at school, and he has some thoughtful comments not only on Max, but on Max's teachers and his parents.
Budo's observations can be a bit amusing at times, especially when he's commenting on Max's teachers, or some of the kids at school. Because he doesn't sleep, he stays up after Max has gone to bed, and watches television with Max's parents (who, of course, are completely unaware of him), and he also sometimes goes out walking in the neighborhood. He's pretty mature, and he's pretty smart ..... but he can't manifest as a physical presence --- and this is a big deal when something really bad happens to Max. No, I'm not telling what that is, because it'd be a spoiler.
When Budo is placed in the position of having to try to save Max, he has to really be creative and think of what he can do, since he can't physically manifest. He does know of other imaginary friends he can ask for help, like the ones at the Children's Hospital. However, the other huge challenge that Budo faces is the possibility that when he saves Max, that Max might find at some point that he doesn't need Budo .... and Budo will disappear.
Matthew Dicks does a wonderful job of making Budo not only a sympathetic character, but also a character whose observations make you think. I believe many of us had an invisible friend at some point when we were little, but how many of us remember them? Or ever thought about what would happen to them when we didn't need them any more? When Budo visits the children's hospital, and says how these children really need their imaginary friends (see the part below), I got completely choked up. I found myself thinking about how for these kids, an imaginary friend would be the one who comforts them in the night, when no one else is around. But I also got a lump in my throat when Budo talked about imaginary friends disappearing ---- "It's very strange to be an imaginary friend. You can't suffocate and you can't get sick, and you can't fall and break your head, and you can't catch pneumonia. The only thing that can kill you is a person not believing in you. That happens more than all the suffocating and bumps and pneumonia combined." (p 140). The part in the story where one of Budo's other imaginary friends begins to disappear is heartbreaking.
This is an unusual story, and I never imagined that reading it would have the effect on me that it did. I think the author does an outstanding job with both the storyline and the characters, and some of the observations made in this book really made me think about children, and being a child, and what life would be like if your existence depended on whether or not someone else believed in you.
First lines: I am lucky as imaginary friends go. I have been alive for a lot longer than most. I once knew an imaginary friend named Philippe. He was the imaginary friend of one of Max's classmates in preschool. He lasted less than a week. One day he popped int the world, looking pretty human except for his lack of ears (lots of imaginary friends lack ears), and then a few days later, he was gone.
And more writing that I liked: Some of the kids are pale and skinny and have no hair, and some wake up in the middle of the night crying softly so no one will hear them and worry about them. Sick kids know that they are sick, and really sick kids know they are really sick, and all of them are scared. So lots of them need imaginary friends to keep them company when their parents go home and they are left with the beeping machines and flashing lights. (p 140 .... which takes place in a children's hospital)
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