Author : Stephen Chbosky
Published By : Grand Central Publishing
Year Published : October 1st 2019, Preorder Available At Link Above.
Genre / Tags : Horror, Adult Fiction, Mystery
Mood : Dark
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
# of Pages : 720 pages (Hardcover)
Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend. The epic work of literary horror from the #1 bestselling author of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with Christopher at her side. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.
Soon Kate and Christopher find themselves in the fight of their lives, caught in the middle of a war playing out between good and evil, with their small town as the battleground.
Content Warning – Violence, some sexual content. 18+.
Disclosure – I received this book as an e-ARC for the purpose of review, many thanks to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for this opportunity.
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is a bit hard to explain. It’s bitterly cynical and disturbing yet “fun” is the word that comes foremost to mind in explaining my time with it. I was always engaged and enjoyed nearly every page. Yet, nearly every page has some aspect that seems rough and not well thought out. Next, this book is too long, bloated, and filled with repeated lines. Yet somehow, I would also describe the overall flow as fast-moving and rarely boring.
It’s hard to make sense of how to even describe this one- which is fitting! Since the last 200 pages or so are best described as chaotic and vexing. That said, I really enjoyed my time with it as a whole. It’s messy, but my kind of mess and brings up all sorts of memories of schlocky 80s horror movies that I have a weakness for. Disclosure- I adore several horror films (and games, oh man, horror games) but have rarely read horror novels. Going to need to rectify that in the near future. I might feel differently about this book after reading more within the genre. So consider these thoughts as being from someone new-ish to horror novels.
Lets start with the good.
- The protagonist, Christopher, is endearing. He is likable and easy to support, so when things get horribly dangerous for him (which is often) the tension was effective.
- A spooky, haunted environment. In this case, a forest full of secrets and an alternate world with surreal horror imagery, some of which is effective and some isn’t.
- The family bond. Aside from Chris I also adore his mom. They struggle so much and I was ready to riot in the streets if they didn’t end up okay. There are a couple pages toward the end that really tear at the heartstrings. I can’t remotely relate to a mother-son bond yet was touched by this aspect
- Cerebral horror instead of gory horror. There are some gross passages but the horror is by and large surreal, psychological, or just spooky/creepy and makes thoughtful references to past traumas of the characters.
- The storyline is reminiscent of other horror series/stand-alones I’ve liked. Some horror properties come to mind like Stephen King’s It with the endearing kids, Nightmare On Elm Street with the constant and horrible nightmare sequences, and mystery/horror series about towns that gradually succumb to hostile forces like Twin Peaks, Stranger Things, The Tommyknockers. The concept of peacefully productive days and terrifying nights is also a theme. Basically, this book tries it all which is good considering the length.
Some other good things worth mentioning..
- There are a handful of tense chase scenes that are well done. I had the urge to skim them because of the tension.
- The description calls this literary horror and the narrative does seem concerned with delving into the psyche of the characters.
- Christopher, Ambrose, and Chris’s mom Kate are fantastic characters. There was a section of the book where I was all but screaming that nothing better happen to Kate, she is everything.
Now for the drawbacks.
- This book is too long. I can imagine this being a DNF for many people. The length does not feel justified, and I really think this book could have been better if a lot of aspects were re-thought, truncated, or removed altogether.
- There are repetitive moments used for artistic effect that came off as awkward rather than insightful. The typographical eccentricities usually came off as silly. The writing in general veers from good to questionable. Some of the horror imagery doesn’t hit the mark.
- There are some deeply unlikable side characters along the way. Too many of them, so many that I barely cared what was going to happen to the town at large. There are some good reasons why the side characters act the way they do but it can be unpleasant to read about their behavior. The occasional shifts to other points of view frequently doesn’t serve a marked purpose aside from adding to the bloat.
- The female characters are often poorly written (minus Kate) honestly, I think just having Christopher’s POV would have been better. There were some scenes having to do with Mary Catherine that were laughably unconvincing for a teenage girl.
- There is a thick atmosphere of depression that permeates this story. Plus a cynicism to the writing that just had me convinced all things would end badly.
So long story short, I recommend proceeding with caution on this one and there are definitely some bones to pick. But I rate based off of enjoyment and it’s undeniable how persistently readable this ended up being. Messy, but engaging. There was no point where I wanted to DNF and honestly, as aforementioned, every bit was fun albeit in a morbid way.
Overall Rating – 8/10
Why You Should Check It Out – Spooky, lengthy horror. A haunted forest and alternate worlds, horrifying dream sequences, and a likable mother-son team. The pacing was good enough to make this one engrossing despite several flaws. The likable characters, while few, really captured my attention. The literary horror aspect can sometimes be effective.
Why You Might Not Like It – If you’re looking for a consistently thrilling novel, this isn’t it. The writing style makes use of repeated lines and weird typography that is more silly than insightful. Too many deeply unlikable side characters. Needlessly long. There is a grandiosity to the scope of the mystery (this is a good thing) but whether it is followed through with properly will be up to individual readers, I found the ending to be messily handled but not the total loss it could have been.
Thanks so much for reading my review! Have you read Imaginary Friend and have any thoughts on it? Are you interested in reading it? I appreciate your thoughts at any time.