One of my favorite activities, outside of writing, is reading. Not only does it help hone my craft by observing the masterful execution from my peers and literary heroes, but it also provides me with overwhelming entertainment.
Since Halloween just passed, I was in the mood for some horror. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors of all time, as well as my writing spirit animal, but alas, nothing was hitting the shelves by him at this moment. So, as I was browsing newer titles in the genre, I came across “Imaginary Friend” by Stephen Chbosky. I remember seeing it when it released in October of last year but was reading something else at the time and it drifted onto the never-ending list of titles dubbed “Want to Read”. Well, now it was time!
Just to start off, I’m not going to give plot spoilers. I want everyone to have an opportunity to explore the story on their own terms. I will give a quick overview and my opinion though!
The book starts with Christopher Reese and his mother Kate, fleeing in the middle of the night from an abusive relationship. They end up being drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. One highway in. One highway out. Kate is on the brink as they live in a motel and Christopher struggles in school with his dyslexia and bullying. Before too long, Christopher begins seeing a face in the clouds where he follows it into the Mission Street Woods. He vanishes for six days. He emerges, changed, now top of his class and the Reese family’s fortunes seem to change. But Christopher has a new friend that only he knows about (the “nice man”) and a determination to build a treehouse by Christmas Day…
The story really moves as the series of events gets started at the beginning of the book and the stage is set for some intense horror and creepiness (children who hear voices? Come on!). Unfortunately, the story actually slows significantly as it progresses. I won’t complain at the level of exposition, I feel the characters are quite fleshed out, but it felt suspended in animation of sorts for a decent portion of the book’s center. At 720 pages, it is a time investment to complete so I would take this into consideration if you find larger novels daunting. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It heavily attempts to channel Stephen King vibes and does this to a degree (enough for me to get engrossed in the story anyway, if not executed quite as skillfully). The hissing lady, the nice man, and the mailbox people are all crafted to build the suspense and deliver creepy moments that will give you chills, even if some parts are a bit overboard.
*As a side note* the overarching theme has significant Christian overtones but this an intrical part of this particular piece of fiction. I have read some criticisms that include wishing this was labeled properly as a Christian book or that the author was pushing this on people. It is fiction. Lots of horror stories pull in religion, especially when it involves the supernatural. If this offends your sensibilities and you cannot enjoy the story for what it is, a work of fiction, I would recommend avoiding this title.
To sum up, this was an enjoyable horror story that I would recommend to others but it does have a few issues with pushing too hard on certain themes and really bogging down in the book’s center. With a bit of condensing, this could have a wonderfully chilling film adaptation.