Book Review: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review:

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is a horror novel that echoes Stephen King.  Like King, the book is long and has many characters, none of which are secondary.  Moments of the story were so creepy that I had to put the book away.  Chbosky wastes no time and jumps right in on page one. 

The novel begins fifty years prior to the main storyline and readers are provided a brief glance into the past of the town at the center of the story.  The kidnapping of David, a young boy, forever haunts the community and seems to warn of a forthcoming darkness.  A darkness that threatens the town and all its residents. 

Flash forward and we are introduced to Kate and her seven-year-old son, Christopher.  The mother and son are escaping from Kate’s horrible ex, Jerry, while still grieving the suicide of their husband and father.  The pair wind up in the little town of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh and begin to settle into their new lives.  Christopher struggles with dyslexia, which makes his schoolwork quite challenging.  He is teased by other kids and called “Floods” because he’s outgrown his pants and they’re too short.  Despite the bullies, Christopher finds a tight circle of friends that he spends his days with.

One day, Christopher wanders off into the Mission Street Woods and goes missing for six days.  After he is found, with no memory of the missing time, Christopher’s dyslexia appear to be cured.  He’s acing tests at school and reading books at lightning speed.  Kate even seems to be on a lucky streak and benefits from whatever happened in those woods.  However, Christopher is not the same and is on a mission to build a treehouse by Christmas Day.  This is no ordinary treehouse and we soon discover that it becomes a portal between the imaginary world and the real world. 

The imaginary world is where all the creepiness exists.  Readers meet the Hissing Lady, the Nice Man, David (the missing boy), and a slew of other eerie characters.  Christopher is drawn into the battle between the Hissing Lady and the Nice Man.  A battle between good and evil without knowing exactly who falls on which side. 

The first characters we meet all fit into a standard sort of prototype.  Kate is a down on her luck, single mother who rises to become a hero of sorts.  Christopher is the young child presented with insurmountable odds and special powers.  The sheriff returns to the small town after leaving for the big city and is haunted by past mistakes and cases.  Mary Katherine is the pure, virginal young woman waging an internal battle against her impure thoughts.  There are so many characters and each one has their time in the spotlight.  Chbosky did a superb job weaving the characters personalities and lives together and inserting them into the narrative at just the right time. 

Final Thoughts:

Imaginary Friend started out strong and I couldn’t put down.  The Hissing Lady and the Nice Man were the perfect characters for the classic good vs. evil showdown.  Preventing the reader from knowing who was good and who was evil until well into the story kept me turning the pages.  The length of the book, 700+ pages, is intimidating and deters a lot of readers.  I do feel like Imaginary Friend could have been much shorter (by 200-300 pages).  As we get into the meat of the showdown the writing became repetitive.  Not in the sense that the literal writing repeated, but it was the same events happening over and over in different places.  The likely goal was to build up to the final battle between the Hissing Lady and the Nice Man, but the ending fell flat.  It would have been better served without such a long stretch of story before it.  The characters were all beautifully written and played an integral role in the overall story.  If you are not deterred by the length, love a classic good vs. evil story, and enjoy horror, I recommend Imaginary Friend. 

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