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Friday, March 20, 2015

The Imaginary, by A. F. Harrold. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2015. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"Instead, he opened his mouth up, wider than any normal person would open their mouth, unhinged it almost, snakelike, and a hot breath wafted into Rudger's face. It smelled like the desert might smell, dry and reddish and rotten with spice. It cut through the damp air, the overcast gray sky, the puddled tarmac. It filled Rudger's world."

I had read an early review of this new book, and was intrigued by the premise. So, I was delighted to receive a copy from Vikki at Penguin Random House Canada last week. Once started, I tore through it.

Imaginary friends are not the premise for many books, especially middle grade novels. My daughter had an  imaginary friend when she was about 3, and we were constantly in trouble for not leaving a space at the table, or closing the door when it kept her out, or being careful where we were stepping. It was a most engaging, and often frustrating time.

It's a real surprise to Amanda when she opens her wardrobe door one evening and hangs her coat on a boy! In fact, she doesn't believe it's true. She closes her door and sits down to take her shoes and socks off. As she works at the knots in her sneakers, she imagines what might happen if she can't ever get them undone. In trying to get rid of the muddy shoes and the cut laces, she again opens the door to her wardrobe and flings them inside, just as her mother comes into her room. Trapped, she waits for her mother to mention the visitor. Mom doesn't see him.

"Rudger had woken up in Amanda's wardrobe just as she'd slammed the front door.
He'd listened to her thundering up the stairs and stood quietly in the darkness, waiting.
Where he'd been before that, he couldn't remember. If he'd been anywhere, it must have fallen out of his mind when he'd woken up.
Now that he'd found Amanda, though, he had a feeling in the bottom of his stomach of rightness. As if he'd been made for her. As far as he could tell she was his first friend. She was also his only friend, and therefore his best friend."

Rudger loves Amanda's brilliant imagination. He is pulled into her many adventures, enjoyable and not so. There's Mr. Bunting, who comes to Amanda's front door on a search for something. It turns out that the only way the man stays alive is by consuming imaginary friends. Ewww! That does not auger well for Rudger, does it? He also learns, when Amanda is hurt in a car accident and lies unconscious in the hospital bed, that his existence is in jeopardy. It seems that an imaginary friend fades when there is not enough imagination to keep them thriving.

There is enough to scare them to keep readers moving forward. The strong characters are given life through exceptional writing, a strong setting and an imaginative and compelling story line. Emily Gravett's illustrations are perfect ... some full-color and double page spreads, others are made for the margins and the occasional single page. They give life to Amanda and Rudger, and a strong sense of the imaginary. Mr. Bunting and his eerie young woman companion add a disturbing quality.

Sad, adventurous and even funny at times, this is a book you will not soon forget. Yes, it is imaginative, and important. The ending is perfection!

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