‘Imaginary Friend’ Melds Coming-of-Age and Horror

Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing“Imaginary Friend” was released Oct. 1.

With cold and dismal weather approaching, it’s time for readers to get their hands on a book that will keep them occupied during the fall and winter seasons. As the wind howls outside and rain hits the window pane, a good scary story can be the perfect company to cuddle up with and “Imaginary Friend” fits the bill.

Stephen Chbosky released his second novel “Imaginary Friend” Oct. 10, 20 years after the publication of his best-selling novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Just like his first coming-of-age masterpiece, “Imaginary Friend” explores important concepts such as friendship, childhood trauma and abusive relationships, but with a twist, making it a horror novel.

The daunting book, rounding out at 705 pages, follows the story of 7-year-old Christopher Reese and his mother, Kate, as they flee her abusive boyfriend and hide in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. With no money or job and loads of debt, Kate and Christopher live in a motel room in the rich yet secluded town. 

Christopher, who struggles with dyslexia and childhood trauma, has trouble making friends in the place he must now call home, until he sees a big, fluffy cloud in the sky and swears it’s smiling down at him. One day after school, Christopher hears the cloud talking to him and like any curious 7-year-old, follows the voice straight into the dreaded Mission Street Woods and goes missing for six days.

Chbosky’s writing is unique in that it’s extremely detailed yet simple to understand. It’s easy for the reader to latch on to the complex issues Kate and Christopher both must endure, giving the story an emotional appeal right off the bat. At first an exploration of a mother-son bond, the book slowly evolves into something truly frightening.

Weird things begin to happen to Christopher after his return from the woods. He spends his nights sneaking into the forest, talking to “the nice man” who helped him during his disappearance and is drawn into an “imaginary” world only he can see. It’s unclear to the reader for the majority of the novel whether this world of Christopher’s is a figment of his traumatized mind, or if the town really is plagued with a paranormal dimension. 

This novel has many secondary characters the reader can become invested in during the journey through the book. Each character has their own part to play not only in Christopher’s life, but through their own experiences in the paranormal dimension. Chbosky’s inclusion of other characters as an ensemble gives the reader a break from Christopher’s sometimes heavy story.

In a world with one too many mediocre horror novels, Chboksy was able to transcend from that mold and create a truly unique class.

“Imaginary Friend” is relatable to any good Stephen King horror novel all while sneaking in coming-of-age elements, making it a genre-defying read. Chboksy’s use of language and story-telling creates dark images that will make it hard for readers to keep the book down. Though frightening, the story is complex and will leave readers without a clue of what could happen next.

The novel also leaves a lot of questions for the reader to ponder, the biggest one being whether the “imaginary world” is real or not. Though categorized as a paranormal novel, the book tends to allude to mental illness and the ways the mind copes with trauma.

Chbosky explored this theme heavily in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” While it’s never explicitly stated this is the case with “Imaginary Friend,” it’s safe to assume it could be an answer to some of the questions left by the novel.

“Imaginary Friend” is a powerful read and bound to leave the reader scared to close their eyes at night.  

“Imaginary Friend” is available online and at major book retailers.

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