Utterly chilling. That’s the only way to adequately unbox the grisly and ghoulish and engrossing package Stephen Chbosky’s Imaginary Friend has to offer.
50 years ago, an 8-year-old boy walked into the Mission State Woods and was never seen again. And now, 50 years later, Christopher Reese does the very same, called to the woods by a voice on the wind and disappearing for 6 longs days. He’s found alive and, for the most part, unscathed, yet not altogether unchanged, for his dyslexia suddenly vanished alongside his difficulties in school; he’s smarter than he ever was before, than anyone his age ever was before. And he knows things about people, things he couldn’t possibly know—their secrets and their fears entering his brain as though they’d been there all along.
Then, there’s “the nice man,” the unseen individual who helped him survive those 6 days, and who has since called him back to the woods night after night with explicit instructions: build a treehouse before Christmas or your mother will die. Hell-bent on completing his task, Christopher obeys and, in the process, discovers a world beyond his own—a macabre and nightmarish version.
Yet, the further he’s sucked into this “the nice man’s” world, the more apparent it becomes that Christopher has far greater worries than the treehouse.
This book completely surpassed my every expectation, and I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s gripping and intense, intricate and well executed, and so unpredictable and fast-paced it’s impossible to see what’s coming until it’s already arrived, the pieces clicking together clearly only in hindsight. Chbosky masterfully interweaves the clues right in front of your eyes, so subtle they’re initially imperceptible, leaving a trail of literary breadcrumbs for readers to follow and collect for the book’s hair-raising climax. And it is undisputedly hair-raising. Chbosky’s style, coupled with the book’s unique formatting, stirs such unsettling feelings, balancing readers on a razor’s edge. It’s one of those books you simply shouldn’t read at night; Imaginary Friend chilled my blood in broad daylight, and that only exacerbated during my nightly reading.
Chbosky’s characters are not only fuel for nightmares, but also an immensely fascinating bunch. They have such realism to them, so many elements that play beautifully into their characters. This book jumps around quite a bit in point-of-view, each chapter cycling through the experiences and perspectives of a myriad of characters. While this would normally be a grievance for me, it’s so well executed there was never a dull moment, no surge of dread about having to read a chapter about a lackluster character. Each of their stories are captivating.
Albeit a horror novel, there’s something for everyone in Chbosky’s novel. For horror fans, it’s the next must-read spine chiller. For booklovers of any genre, it’s an addictive page-turner you don’t want to miss. And for those exclusively searching for seasonal scares, it’s the perfect Halloween read.