Thursday, December 11, 2014

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

We all know the saying, "You can't judge a book by it's cover", but how many of us have done just that?  I certainly have.  For example, if the cover of a book shows two people in a steamy embrace, partially disrobed, I can be certain it is not a book I will enjoy reading.  Most often my book-cover-judging rears its head in the form of reading a book because of the look of the cover.  I could go on and on about books I've chosen because the cover appealed to me and in most cases my judgement proved correct, but I won't get into all of that now.

One such book that had me at "Hello, pretty cover" was Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  This book is written from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney.  Budo is special because he is exceptionally long lived for an imaginary friend and also because he looks so real.  Most of the imaginary friends he knows do not have such well- developed appearances, but Max has imagined him so well that most other imaginary friends mistake him for human.  This is all so because, though it isn't expressly stated in the book, Max appears to be "on the spectrum".  However, just because Budo is imaginary does not mean that he isn't real.

I might need Max's imagination to exist, but I have my own thoughts, my own ideas, and my own life outside of him.  I am tied to Max the same way that an astronaut is tied to his spaceship by hoses and wires.  If the spaceship blows up and the astronaut dies, that doesn't mean that the astronaut was imaginary.  It just means that his life support was cut off.
Same for me and Max.

Budo experiences quite a lot in the few short weeks during which this book is set.  He watches another imaginary friend, one to whom he was very close, disappear.

"I want to spend my last few minutes with her.  Sitting next to my friend.  It's the only thing I'm really sad about."
"That I won't be able to look at her anymore. See her grow up.  I'm going to miss Meghan so much.... I love her so much."

He describes the human people that he has come to know by watching them:  Max's parents, the people who work in and those who visit the 24-hour gas station down the street, the teachers in Max's school.  Matthew Dicks does such a wonderful job of observing and then relating so much about human behavior.  He depicts his characters with such depth that, as a reader, you feel they must be real people.  And he sees things in these must-be-real-people that we don't always see.  He sees the skill Max's therapist holds when rather than asking him why lunch is his favorite part of the school day, she asks him if he knows why lunch is his favorite part of the school day.

If Max can't explain why lunch is his favorite part of school then he can just say no, and he doesn't have to feel dumb for not knowing the answer.  If Dr. Hogan asks a question that makes Max feel dumb, she might never get him to talk.

He sees the love Max's mother has for him and the way she shows it.  She doesn't fight Max on the fact that he cannot wear more than seven pieces of clothing at a time and that this means she will never be able to persuade him to wear gloves, even on the coldest days.  Instead, she sews fur linings into all his coat pockets so he can put his hands in his pockets to keep them warm.

He explains in the most wonderful way the difference between a mediocre teacher and a really good one.

There are two kinds of teachers in the world.  There are teachers who play school and teachers who teach school, and Miss Daggerty and Mrs. Sera and especially Mrs. Gosk are the kind of teachers that teach school.  They talk to kids in their regular voices and say things that they would say in their own living rooms....[K]ids love them because they talk about real things with real voices and they always tell the truth.

And my favorite part, which I won't quote here because I couldn't bear to cut any of it out, is when, through Budo, Dicks explains to his readers the meaning of real bravery.  

This was a extraordinary book and I highly recommend it.  I really think you will love it, too.  

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