The clouds always made him feel safe.
There was one cloud more beautiful than all the rest.
The one that looked like a face. . . And it was always there [every day] smiling at him. It was always there.
. . . until the day he needed it most to feel safe.
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.
At first, it seems like [Mill Grove is] 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.
Grand Central Press recently offered me a chance to read and review in Netgalley, an ARC e-book of Stephen Chbosky’s second novel, Imaginary Friend, in advance of the book’s October, 2019, release.
Chbosky’s first book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, was a coming-of-age teen drama of an introverted and friendless boy who struggles with issues from his past. Imaginary Friend, debuting twenty years after Perks, also features a child protagonist. This new book is less warm and fuzzy with a much darker theme – the eternal battle against good and evil centered in an out-of-the-way town. This book seemed to offer a diversion from the overtly religious themed books I have reviewed in the past weeks.
Christopher and his mother, Kate, are fleeing an abusive home life in the dead of night. Kate has chosen to move to Mill Grove, Pennsylvania; the typical out-of-the-way town with little to attract the attention of the outside faster paced world.
The story develops slowly at first, taunting, tantalizing the reader with a glimpse into the minds of the residents. Hidden behind the pleasant atmosphere lies the gray side of each person; lives lived on the knife edge of right and wrong. Townsfolk and the school children, on the whole, are decent people. Each has issues. Some a hot temper. Others jealous. Most devote Christians. Typical small town.
Christopher suffers from a learning disability that places him in the special education program at school. Typical of schools everywhere, bullies thrive and victims coalesce for support. His one comfort is the beautiful sky and the large smiling cloud that always greets him in the morning and follows him where ever he goes.
Christopher begins to hear voices and messages that he can’t decipher. One day he drawn into the densely forested and foreboding Mission Street Woods. Despite a town wide manhunt, no sign of Christopher is found. Mysteriously, six days later, Christopher reappears and it is immediately obvious that something happened in those woods to change him. And the reader begins to note that the atmosphere in town is growing creepy and scary.
The story is hard-charging at this point and nearly impossible to put down. Supernatural creatures, seen only by Christopher, float through town screaming and battling one another. The deer in the forest seem possessed and appear in the weirdest moments; almost like stalkers. Christopher is aware that he can read minds and that his touch has a chilling affect on anyone he lays a hand upon.
Then the story reaches it climax before beginning to struggle. No pun intended; all hell was breaking loose in Mill Grove. One particular character, a teen girl, the one that was making a deal with God when she was about to break her curfew and discovered Christopher standing in the middle of the street at midnight, begins to play a more prominent role. A role with heavy religious themes; too much in my opinion.
All this happens by page 350. There are over 350 more pages to go. The book has a five star start and fizzles toward the end repeating the same violent scenes over and over. I found myself at one point wondering if I had inadvertently changed my e-book location back a couple of hundred pages. In my humble opinion, the book could lose those last 350+ pages. It is has the potential to become a best seller and there is plenty of time between now and October to stop the repetitive scenes. The character development is believable and the central theme of good vs evil is well played out. There is so much to like here. Just not so much of the same over and over.