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Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

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 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.

Expected publication date: 1st October 2019

My thoughts:

I’m a huge fan of horror or thriller type novels and the fact that this book was written by Stephen Chbosky aka author of one of the most life changing books of my teen years, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, encouraged me to request this book. I was so excited to see it land on my shelf on NetGalley and equally excited to dive right in.

The first thing I have to mention is how vastly different this novel is to Perks. Not only is the genre and story itself worlds apart but it feels significantly darker and delves far deeper into the human psyche. There are a lot of heavy issues covered within the book from domestic violence, infidelity, rape and bullying to name a few. So I would definitely not recommend this to readers who may be triggered by this type of content.

The novel focuses on Christopher Reese, a seven year old boy and his mother who move to the sleepy town of Mill Grove. It seems like the ideal place for their fresh start as they run from Kates abusive ex boyfriend Jerry. Little do they know what is about to take place and how it will truly change their lives as well as the face of the entire town…

One of the novels greatest strengths is the bond between the characters, specifically Christopher and his mother, Kate. I loved the way Chbosky portrayed the intense and unconditional love between mother and son and how thoroughly they understood each other. Despite having such a rough life so far, from dealing with her husbands suicide to trauma in her childhood, Kate is such a resilient character and such an incredible mother to her son. It felt good to read a story where a survivor of trauma like Kate, succeeds and gets a happy ending.

Although at times it definitely feels like Christopher is way older than seven as he has an emotional intelligence and behaviour that surpasses the average seven year old. He really reminds me of Cole, Haley Joel Osments character from The Sixth Sense.

Imaginary Friend covers so much ground. It’s rather long at roughly 700+ pages and because of this, there is room for multiple character pov’s as it switches in and out between the key players in the narrative. I think these multiple viewpoints work in a really effective way to build tension as the story progresses and the evil spreads through Mill Grove.

Now the things I didn’t enjoy so much:

There were a lot of moments particularly in relation to one female character, Mary Katherine, where I was stuck between disturbed and puzzled at the way her ‘character arc’ developed. I get the kind of commentary Chbosky may have been trying to make about religion or repression of female sexuality but it just felt quite bizarre and the ending left me a bit at odds too.

Tying in to the characterisation of Mary Katherine, the novel was like an allegory for a theological argument of some sort and like an epic battle between good and evil, God and the devil. Now, there’s no problem with this per se but it just felt somewhat clunky at times and this whole theological undercurrent didn’t add anything for me, I would have preferred it just be straight up horror or thriller without the whole moral argument.

As well as the above issues, there was so much repetition throughout the novel, it started to get on my nerves. If I never read the word ‘deer’ or ‘plastic bag’ again then I’ll be perfectly happy! I totally understand that it can be an effective tool to emphasise etc but in this case it was overkill.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Imaginary Friend, especially the horror elements as well as the relationships between the characters, however it definitely had some issues which stopped me from rating it more highly. If you’re a fan of Stephen King and thriller novels in general then this book will probably be the right fit for you.

Until next time,

Rumaanah x

9 thoughts on “Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

  1. I’m not a huge horror fan but because I loved Perks and Stephan’s writing style it’s made me intrigued. I’m now really interested to pick up Imaginary Friend even though I’m not normally a huge horror fan.

  2. this sounds like a fun read, and I hadn’t known that Chbosky wrote horror as well! I might give this a go – even if I am a bit scared of Mary Katherine’s story arch now ….

  3. I’ve heard of the author before but I wasn’t aware he writes horror. This doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I’d like, I’ve never liked horror stories of any kind. I love your review though, so detailed in what you liked and didn’t like (I get what you mean about repetitive use of certain words). I’m glad you enjoyed it, thanks for sharing x

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