Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend

In Matthew Dicks' novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, our narrator, Budo, introduces himself by telling us that he’s been alive for five years, which is positively ancient for an imaginary friend. Max Delaney is the human friend that imagined him and the only human person who can see him, and while Max’s parents call him an imaginary friend, Budo insists he’s not imaginary. Budo is pretty lucky as imaginary friends go, since Max is creative, Budo has two arms, two legs, a face, and he’s not even missing any body parts, which is a rarity in the world of imaginary friends. Why Budo has seen all different types of imaginary friends; one looked like a boy-sized spoon with two big round eyes, a tiny mouth and stick figure legs and arms; heck, he even knew one friend called Chomp, who was just a spot on the wall – he could talk and slide up and down the wall, but he couldn’t pry himself off. Most imaginary friends aren’t lucky enough to be able to walk and talk like Budo. He can even pass through things like doors and windows even when closed, because Max imagined him that way, though imaginary friends can’t touch or move things in the real world.

Max imagined Budo when he was just four years old, and as his friend Budo loves and protects Max at all times. Max is what some people call “on the spectrum.” Budo doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Max is so complicated, he knows that “Max just doesn’t like people in the same way other kids do. He likes people, but it’s a different kind of liking. He likes people from far away”, and since he can’t touch Max and Max can’t touch Budo, it’s probably why they get along so well. Budo protects Max when he gets stuck, which is when he gets upset and he rocks back and forth; his eyes are open but he can’t really see anything. Max explained to him once that when he’s stuck “he can hear the people around him, but it sounds like they are coming from a television in the neighbor’s house – fake and far away.” Budo also protects him at school, from bullies and buses; and while he loves Mrs. Gosk’s class, he doesn’t trust Mrs. Patterson, a paraprofessional that works with Max, because “she’s always thinking something different in her head than what is on her face.”

Budo hopes he can always be with Max but he fears the day that Max will stop believing in him since he knows then he will disappear; just fade away, like his friend Graham did when her human friend Meghan didn’t need her anymore. When despite his best efforts the unthinkable happens, Budo turns to other imaginary friends to try and save Max, and in doing so is forced to choose between Max’s safety and his own existence.

I was completely captivated and enchanted by Budo and Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. In Budo, Matthew Dicks has given readers an original and authentic voice that offers readers a glimpse into a magical world with so many dimensions and so much heart that it seems almost real. Budo embodies the innocence of a child, including their shrewd perceptiveness, like the way a child can see beyond someone’s artificial façade straight through to their heart and true self, the way Budo does with Mrs. Patterson. While Budo shares Max’s childlike sense of wonder, he’s also fascinated by the adult world and is therefore more alert and aware than Max as to the dangers in the real world.

In addition to Memoirs’ charm and wit, Budo’s innocent yet astute descriptions of Max’s quirks and fears, also give us some insight into the small and at times insulated world of a child with autism; helping us to better empathize and understand their mindset and limitations. While the book is very sweet and uplifting, there are some tense moments related to Max’s rescue, as well as some incredibly poignant passages that touched my heart and brought a lump to my throat which involved Budo branching out to a children’s hospital to get help because he says it’s the best place to find imaginary friends – even better than schools – because sick kids “need imaginary friends to keep them company when their parents go home and they are left with the beeping machines and flashing lights.”

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a wonderfully imaginative and winsome tale of love and friendship with a few dark clouds thrown in under an otherwise blue sky that only serve to make us love our unique and brave hero even more.