Book review: ‘Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend’ by Matthew Dicks

For 8-year-old Max, Budo is the world. His closest confidante, co-conspirator and assistant, Budo helps Max decide whether to wear a red T-shirt or blue one and warns him when a playground bully is approaching. Not content to simply follow in Max’s footsteps, Budo has a mind of his own — and frequently steps in when Max is in trouble.

Anyone would see the pair and assume they’re best friends. If anyone could actually see Budo, that is.

Max Delaney relies on his imaginary buddy to help him make sense of a world that is often confusing. As an autistic young man, Max frequently gets “stuck” in situations and grapples with the real-world problems others tackle with ease: like making friends, completing assignments, bonding with his dad through a shared game of baseball. What comes easy to others often seems impossible or pointless to Max, and it’s Budo who operates as a guide through life’s messy situations.

But Max has finally gotten himself into a scrape even Budo can’t fix.

Matthew Dicks’ Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend was an emotional rollercoaster. Touted for fans of Emma Donoghue’s Room, I can see why readers would draw parallels between the two: Room’s narrator is a child with limited exposure to the world, describing simple things we experience every day — watching TV, turning on the vacuum, walking outside — in unusual ways. Dicks’ narrator, the imaginary Budo, describes the real world in much the same terms, grappling with why “human persons” operate as we do.

Though Budo’s speech patterns seem simplistic on the surface, I found that deceptive; we have to pay attention to what he’s describing, piecing together the saga as it unfolds. Budo is innocent and kind. All he knows of heartache is what he’s learned by watching crime shows with Max’s parents after hours, and trying to comprehend “evil” is tough. Having accompanied Max everywhere for years, Budo has seen more of the world than most imaginary friends — the ones discarded by kindergartners as soon as they make “real” buddies at school.

I loved that Budo is the one giving us Max’s story, explaining how “the bravest little boy in the world” faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles to do what other children accomplish without thinking. Being teased, taunted or — worse — ignored completely, Max presses on. His favorite teacher, Mrs. Gosk, stole the show in every scene — her hilarious turns of phrase, uttered to third-graders, had me cracking up.

But for all the humor present in Memoirs, the story was laced with suspense. I couldn’t believe how stressed out I got waiting to learn what would become of Max in the latter half of the book, racing through the story (on audio discs for me!) to figure out how he would save himself. Because that’s what he must do: save himself. Budo was so real I kept forgetting he was a figment of Max’s imagination. That in the end, it was up to Max to deliver himself from evil. For as much as I wanted Budo to be real, he wasn’t. (Or was he? I could see how this debate could rage. And make for excellent book club discussion.)

My only gripes concerns the story’s villain and the pacing in the second half. Though we get a bit of the villain’s back story, we’re never inside her head — and I wanted more. Unlike Dicks’ other characters, she doesn’t feel three-dimensional. I found myself constantly questioning her motives and her sanity, which was distracting. I wish we’d gotten more of a glimpse of her “backstage,” so to speak, when she talked with coworkers and police. And the pacing? I felt like I was constantly waiting for something to happen once the main event took place (sorry to be vague – trying to avoid any spoilers!). I didn’t feel disappointed by the ending, per say, but it was something akin to that. I guess the build-up felt a more exciting than the resolution.

Still, Dicks has crafted a unique, thought-provoking and memorable work in Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend. Exploring social issues regarding autism with a light hand and highlighting what it means to be loyal and selfless, Dicks’ book pushes readers into a special boy’s life and makes it hard not to care about him — and Budo, that unforgettable ally.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 125000621X ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review


A word on the audio narration: Narrator Matthew Brown did a fabulous job portraying Budo, who is described as being “sort of” a teenager — older than Max, anyway. His voice was just the right touch of child-like and mature, and I loved his impersonations of Mrs. Gosk and Max’s parents. He blended Budo’s innocent wonder and keen observation beautifully.

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No one forgets their first love . . .

. . . and mine was Peter Brady.

Listening to Matthew Dicks’ Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend on audio, I’m reminded of all the places I took my own imaginary friend as a kid. In Dicks’ novel, main character Max has a buddy named Budo, his protector and watcher of all things, and I felt like that about my own friend . . . although he was rather familiar-looking to many of us: Peter.

I was probably around 5 when the Brady family came skipping into my life. Spending summers at my grandparents’ house, my sister and I watched nightly re-runs of “The Partridge Family” and “The Brady Bunch” (this was the early ’90s, after all). Having decided I wanted a brother, Peter became his immediate stand-in. As the boys at school and I got older and paid me no mind, Peter was the one who made me feel accepted. He was a little mischievous, much like his character, but he never led me into any trouble.

In Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend, Budo’s protective nature and understanding of Max is written incredibly well — and Budo definitely reminds me of Peter. He’s sweet, kind and supportive, and I can’t help but want to hug Budo for the way he makes Max feel loved. Listeniing to Dicks’ novel, I have to keep reminding myself that Budo isn’t real. He’s a figment of Max’s imagination: the representation of something he deeply craves. But given how human he seems, I can’t process that Budo doesn’t exist.

Or does he?

I’m only on disc three, so we’ll see.

—–

Did you have imaginary friends growing up? How old were you when you “outgrew” them? Do you remember much about them?

 

Why do you hurt me so, Peter?

Growing up, my sister and I had incredibly active imaginations — to the point that we could literally amuse ourselves for hours with a few Barbies, possibly some crayons and coloring books, and a board game or two. But mostly we developed large, elaborate “imaginary games” — we were princesses; we were drifters stuck in the middle of a hot, scary volcanic eruption. The space around my grandmother’s porch was a lava pit, and Kate and I had to leap across it in order to reach safety and save our young lives. Good children of the ’80s that we were, we shared the requisite G.I. Joes with Matthew, a neighborhood friend, when staying with our grandparents in the summer. We always had a lively game of something lined up — be it Uno cards, Monopoly, coloring time, craft time, etc.

And going along on all of these escapades with us? My imaginary friend, of course.

peter_brady Peter. As in, Brady.

Yes, I was in love with Peter Brady. And not a little — a lot in love with Peter, my first celebrity crush! I was probably five or six, I guess, when Peter and I first met. Grandma would put on re-runs of “The Brady Bunch” in the afternoons, and I don’t think it took much time at all for me to memorize most of the episodes. Though I don’t remember him being particularly mischievous, my dear friend “Peter” went with me everywhere!

Although I had my dear sister and plenty of friends at school and in the neighborhood with whom to play, Peter was still my buddy of choice. Sometimes I wonder what ever became of the cute, floppy-haired boy constantly in Greg’s shadow, and then I remember . . .

He “grew up” to be Christopher Knight,  serious and unabashed reality TV “star.” And he’s married to Adrianne Curry! Seriously — Adrianne Curry?! Did anyone ever watch “My Fair Brady” a few years back on VH1? Why do you have to break my heart so, Peter?

christopher_knight_curry