Imaginary Friend, by Stephen Chbosky

Nine stars

In this stunning thriller by Stephen Chbosky, the reader is taken through a dark world where a young boy holds a great deal of power in his small Pennsylvania community. After fleeing Michigan, Christopher Reece and his mother, Kate, end up in the Pittsburgh area, ready for a new start. Things begin in a problematic manner for young Christopher, who is ridiculed for being different and finds himself struggling with some learning disabilities. When Christopher goes exploring in the forest close to his home, he is not heard from again for six days. When he’s found roaming around by a passing vehicle, he cannot remember what happened or where he had been for that time, save that the ‘nice man’ helped guide him home. Christopher is transformed after this ordeal, seeming not to be the same little boy any longer. His intelligence is through the roof and he seems to have made a good social connection at school. When Christopher and his friends dig up the skeleton of a child inadvertently while constructing a treehouse, things take an even darker turn. Christopher is seen whispering to himself, explaining that it is his imaginary friend, while people in the town begin to experience numerous signs of sickness. A number of dark events take place and Christopher is called back to his treehouse by the ‘nice man’, as they try to locate and defeat an apparition called the ‘hissing woman’. By the time things appear to settle down, Christopher develops a horrible fever and is rushed to the hospital, while forces on both sides of the real and his imagined world wage war for his future being. Intensely chilling and full of twists that the reader will likely not expect, Chbosky entertains readers with a dark thriller that will surely linger for long after the final page has been read. Recommended to those who love a thriller that takes them to the darkest reaches of evil, as well as the reader who enjoys something that is complex and captivating in equal measure.

Having never read any Stephen Chbosky before this book, I was not sure what to expect. I was pulled deep into the story in the opening pages, unable to push back. I needed to know everything that happened and how Christopher might be able to extricate himself from the situation that fell into his lap. Christopher Reece appears to be the major protagonist, though I could argue that there are many, depending on which thread of the narrative the reader finds the most captivating. Young Christopher is trying to put his life in order after yet another move with a flighty mother, though seems to find a great deal of comfort in his imaginary friend, particularly after the six day disappearance. Christopher changes significantly at this point, pulling the story along with him into dark and secretive subplots that will keep the reader guessing. Many others hold their own plots within the book, enhancing the work of Christopher, as well as dealing with their own troubles. Chbosky develops a strong set of storylines that utilise his characters to their fullest. The overall story is not as ‘sci-fi’ as it may seem, though there is a great deal of horror and dark thrills that fill the pages, leaving the reader to wonder what they may have signed on to read. With haunting religious symbolism throughout, Chbosky does not let up, spinning haunting aspects and chilling resolutions, while keeping the reader wondering until the final sentence lingers above the page. I have not read such a long book with such interest or determination in a long time. I can only hope to find more in this genre soon.

Kudos, Mr. Chbosky, for an explosive story and stellar characters. I will be looking for more of your work, particularly if it offers the same impact.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: