Imaginary Friend is the second novel from writer Stephen Chbosky, but it can’t be called a follow up to his first. This novel is nothing like his breakout smash success The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But it is somewhat similar to a few of the things he has written for the screen.
I was a big fan of Perks, more so the movie than the book, so I had high hopes for Imaginary Friend. I knew going in that it was an entirely different story, but I trusted Chbosky as a writer and a storyteller.
I finished this book a few weeks ago and I’m still slightly confused about it. I’m still trying to parse my thoughts into anything coherent as I approach reviewing this book.
The characters are an interesting thing for me to discuss. I didn’t love the characters in this one, which shocked me. The strength of Perks was the characters: their relatability, their humanity, their reality. I didn’t see a lot of that in Imaginary Friend. The characters didn’t feel one dimensional but at times they didn’t feel real either.
And, well, some of them weren’t real.
But I try to keep in mind that I fall smack in the middle of the age groups talked focused on in this novel. The main character are a group of kids and then their parents. More specifically, one little boy and his mom. I am no longer a kid and I am not yet a parent. So maybe these characters didn’t feel as relatable to me because I am not one of them. Whereas when I read Perks, I was a teenager so it felt more real.
Regardless, something felt off about the characters and it’s hard for me to explain. Which is a rough spot to be in as a reviewer. These characters were dealing with something fantastical and otherworldly, so it’s hard to say they didn’t act correctly. Although the mother did seem to accept something absurd rather quickly.
I can’t say these characters were bad. They weren’t bad. But, at the same time, they weren’t quite great either. They were somewhere in the middle.
But it didn’t feel like the characters were the point of this book. They won’t make or break it. This book revolves around its world and its plot. The characters exist to fill out that world and live that plot. So by not having strong characters, you aren’t missing much.
The world is where this book shines. Although it can get a bit confusing, the mystical, dreamlike imaginary world was super fascinating. It was an interesting take on the low fantasy elements of bringing something mystical to this world. Basically, there is an imaginary world operating parallel to ours that we can’t see full of tormented monsters and evil with, known as the hissing lady. This world can touch ours in harmful and impactful ways, but we cannot see or interact with that world.
I really liked the times where we got to see more about that world. Also, we got to see how that world touches our own. At least at the beginning, this world operated with a full set of rules that made sense and Chbosky stuck to those rules.
Until he didn’t.
Towards the end of the book, the world started to unravel a bit. Chbosky bent the rules to serve the plot. He started to do things in the imaginary world that didn’t make sense and didn’t seem to mesh with what he previously told us about the world. Several times I thought “Oh, you can do that? Ok.” I’m willing to forgive a couple instances of this, but, as we reached the climax, it became too much. At some point, Chbosky needed to be kept in check by the rules he created.
Chbosky wanted the plot to be the strength of this story and that is evident. He took special care to build a full, thriving plot. Most of the time, it worked. For three quarters of the book I was hooked on this plot. The end got a bit…iffy.
This book had phenomenal pacing. Even during the periods of time when not much happened pacing wise, Chbosky still made it feel exciting. It seemed like some danger or some plot point hovered continuously over the horizon. Anything could happen at any moment. And when we got into the action sequences, they were long and fast paced. Chbosky did a great job keeping the plot interesting.
The twist at the end wasn’t entirely unexpected, but still felt shocking. At least on the surface. If you stop to think about the twist and the implications for the rest of the story, you start to wonder how it is possible. But it’s hard for me to speak more about that without spoiling anything.
Chbosky has described this novel as a love letter to Stephen King. I cannot tell you how accurate that is. This novel feels derivative and massively inspired by King. But I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. I have no issue with writers wearing their influences on their sleeves. But I will say that if you don’t like King, you might not enjoy this story. And, like any good Stephen King book, the ending left a lot to be desired
For most of the book, I enjoyed the plot. I was invested. But the end left me feeling flat. It felt like Chbosky let the plot slide in order to squeeze in some sort of theological point he wanted to make. It was an interesting artistic choice, but I don’t think it worked. I respect what he was going for, but it felt forced and felt like it broke the world and the plot, two things that I really loved about this book until the end.
This was such an interesting book, one that I don’t know that I fully understand yet. If you asked me at any point before the end of the book, I’d say this one was on pace to be a 4 star read. But now…I don’t know.
It seems like Chbosky had an agenda, something he wanted to get to, and couldn’t find a good way to get there. So he forced it in. I didn’t like it. The ending turned me off of this whole book. I left with quite a few questions and confusion and I don’t think that’s a good way to leave a book.
With all things considered, I have to give this a 2.25 out of 5. But I do think it is worth the read, since this book will absolutely hit people differently.