There was some serious buzz about this book at SIBA this year. It was one of the Editor Picks and of course the publisher ran out of copies before I got to their booth, so I went away with a sad. I did hear after the fact that the audio was very good, so I perked up and ordered it from the library.
I also chose it for our February book club selection, to ENSURE that I listened to it post haste. I have to admit, it sounded very clever and I couldn't wait to start it.
Synopsis: The memoir in question is that of Budo, the imaginary friend of 8 year-old Max Delaney. Budo is five years old now, and is the oldest imaginary friend he knows, as most imaginary friends die (fade away) when their human companions enter Kindergarten. His advanced age can be explained by the fact that Max is on the Asperger's spectrum, and needs a little extra help day-to-day in coping with people, changes in his routine, and making decisions...all things that terrify him. Budo can only be seen and heard by Max, and other imaginary friends that Budo comes in contact with now and again. Budo is a pretty smart cookie, can walk through walls and doors, and loves Max's teacher Mrs. Gosk, because this is the way that Max imagined him to be.
Budo has always had a bad feeling about one of Max's teachers in the Learning Center, Mrs. Patterson. But his worst fears are realized when Mrs. Patterson kidnaps Max one day from school. Budo knows he must somehow save Max, but how can he when he can't physically interact with the human world?
Guiltily, Budo also worries that if something bad happens to Max, he will cease to exist, and Budo does not want to die. He may be forced to choose between Max's happiness and his own life as an imaginary friend.
My thoughts: There are so many books out right now that address Autism and Asperger's Syndrome, and that truly warms my heart. I have friends with children on this spectrum, and through them I know there are challenges and a great desire to better understand and help their kids. And what a clever premise this was! It was absolutely enchanting to understand Max through the innocent and trusting eyes of his very best friend whose only job is to help and protect him. Dicks really had to think through every detail of the rules of an imaginary friend. What do they look like? How would a small child imagine them? What are their skills, their temperaments, their limitations? I wonder if he watched the Cartoon Network's "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends"? (Like my kids did, ad nauseum.)
Because Dicks is a school teacher, he brings great perspective to the novel. There are the teachers that really "get" kids like Max, and others that do not. He understands the obstacles that these kids face...the mean kids, the over-attentive kids, the problem with being touched, even the terrifying idea of having a "bonus poop" at school. So many of these scenarios made me laugh and made me want to cry.
All that being said, towards the end of the book, I found some of the dialogue circular and repetitious. I began to tire of hearing "have to save Max", "afraid to disappear", "how to save Max", "what happens when I die". These phrases were belabored a bit. And I (ashamedly) was ready for the book to be done. Now, the ending was precious and heartbreaking. I loved that part. But I felt like I kept hearing the same sentences over and over again throughout the last 2/3 of the story.
Overall though, it was a sweet and enlightening book that I would have to endorse.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this book was Matthew Brown, who I've never heard before but absolutely enjoyed him. He had a youthful, innocent voice with great intonations for the various imaginary creatures that Budo met, and portrayed Max so well. He made this book so pleasurable to listen to.
Audio book length: 10 hours and 57 minutes (320 pages)
4 out of 5 stars