Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Matthew Dicks (Adult Fiction)
Max Delaney is eight years old, in the third grade, and likes rules. In fact, he likes lots and lots of rules. Rules like bedtime is at 8:30 p.m. (no sooner and no later) and no breakfast after 9:00 a.m. or only wearing seven pieces of clothing at one time (not counting shoes). This is who Max is and this is his world and nobody knows this world better than Budo—Max’s imaginary friend. Budo knows Max inside and out. He talks to him, plays with him, and watches him every night before he goes to sleep. Budo is Max’s best friend and as long as Max thinks Budo is real, Budo won’t disappear and NOT disappearing is very important to Budo. But when Max doesn’t come home from school one day, Budo is forced to decide between Max’s freedom and his own possible extinction.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is narrated by Budo who invites us to share his life with an extraordinary little boy with autism. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 59 children was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2018, so it is very likely that you (like me) know someone with autism. Dicks’s description of Max and his habits, daily activities, and mannerisms are meticulously detailed and painfully accurate. Those familiar with autism know all too well the helplessness that Max’s parents experience on a daily basis. Their never-ending quest for “normalcy” only adds to their compounded stress while their desire to connect with their child is heartbreaking in its futility.
Dicks just doesn’t deliver an accurate portrayal of a child who, as Budo says, “…doesn’t live on the outside. Max is all inside.”, but he also gives us a book of devotion and friendship. It’s a story about putting someone else’s wants and needs above your own; about doing what is right versus what is expedient; and about finding that inner strength that you never knew you possessed. Budo often said that Max was the bravest little boy in the world: “Max is not like any other person in the whole world. Kids make fun of him because he is different. His mom tries to change him into a different boy and his dad tries to treat him like he is someone else. Even his teachers treat him differently, and not always nicely. With all that, Max still gets out of bed every morning and goes to school and the park and the bus stop and even the kitchen table. But you have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.”
This novel successfully checks all the boxes: suspenseful, emotional, insightful, compelling, humorous, heartwarming, chilling, and simply unforgettable. Max and Budo will stay in your heart and mind long after you’ve read the last page. People often said that Max couldn’t see the forest for the trees, as people with autism generally hone in on the small details without seeing the overall bigger picture. Perhaps Max can’t see the forest for the trees, but he does see the blade of grass and the rock and the ladybug and the clover and perhaps that alone is something to be celebrated and appreciated.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com