26 5 / 2012

“Here is what I know:
My name is Budo.
I have been alive for five years.
Five years is a very long time for someone like me to be alive.
Max gave me my name.
Max is the only human person who can see me.
Max’s parents call me an imaginary friend.
I love Max’s teacher, Mrs Gosk.
I do not like Max’s other teacher, Mrs Patterson.
I am not imaginary.”

I am quick to read books with main characters who have autistic traits, i.e; The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime, Me and You, Marcelo in the Real World, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I am also drawn to literary fiction written in the voice of a child. Not everyone can masterfully pull this off, but when someone does you get masterpieces like Room by Emma Donoghue, and now, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

My fourteen-year-old son was diagnosed with autism four years ago which is one reason these types of books appeal to me. I especially enjoy books that don’t come out and diagnose the main character for you. Anyone who has autistic tendencies herself, or who is close to someone on the spectrum can instantly relate. It’s because I’ve read several books with characters of this nature that I am sensitive to would-be cliches, the moment when an author is beating you over the head with personality traits to lead you to diagnosis. 

In the first thirty pages of Imaginary Friend, I began to worry. Will Max simply become a summary of stereotypical traits, a carbon copy of every other autistic character popularized in recent fiction? Are his parents—a father in denial, an anxious, protective mother who wants to understand why her son is so “different”—going to fulfill all too predictable roles? But then, Green did something I wasn’t expecting, couldn’t expect. Just as you think that the worst evil Max faces is a lonely world, fighting parents, and a school bully, he put Max in danger, serious danger, and he handed Budo, Max’s imaginary friend, the terrifying, and harrowing responsibility of saving his human, his creator. Budo’s journey, and more than that, his inner transformation are what truly made me fall in love with the book, and more so with Budo, Max’s “imaginary” friend.

It is Budo’s humanity, his perspective that sets this book apart. Imaginary friends are far more common, often a relatable childhood memory. So for those of you who can’t relate to someone like Max entirely, Budo is the guide, the guardian angel that transports readers to both the vulnerabilities and limitless imaginings of childhood.

I urged my son to read the book the moment after I finished the last page. I still had a few tears in my eyes when I handed it to him, so hopefully that won’t deter him.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend will break your heart a little, I won’t lie. But it will also break you open in the most beautiful way. It is a story you will never regret knowing and never forget experiencing.