What It Means to Be Real: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

cover imageWritten from a clever point of view that it took only about fifteen minutes of listening to Matthew Brown’s reading for me to warm up to, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks is narrated by Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney, a smart eight-year-old boy with a great imagination, an eye for detail, and an unofficial diagnosis of being somewhere on the autism spectrum (although his father believes Max is just a “late bloomer.”) Thanks to Max’s strong imagination, Budo is very well formed for an imaginary friend – some of whom, he explains, are no more than spots on a wall, or are missing body parts, such as ears. Budo also claims that being imaginary, and only visible to Max, doesn’t mean he isn’t real.

Sounds cutesy, I know. At first it did seem just too convenient that Budo was constrained in some ways by the limits of Max’s imagination (who, though precocious, is still a child), yet at the same time, can sound and act very adult, learning things that Max can’t and even getting into friendly arguments with him. Budo speculates early on that when Max as a four-year old first brought Budo into being, he may have imagined him as a teenager, an adult,  or maybe “a boy with a grown-up’s brain.” Budo describes his strange place in the world living in the “spaces between  as straddling the fence. “I’m not exactly a kid, but I’m not exactly an adult either.”

But the author (and the talented audiobook narrator) manage to pull off this tricky adult-child voice, which could easily become grating. The voice of Budo talking about Max – his talents and his limitations – and about Max’s parents – how they argue over what is best for Max and whether he needs more than just patience – allow for insight into how it might feel to be Max, to have constant sensory overload around people, even family, and a high-functioning brain that’s more comfortable in a world of video games and imagined battles than in the real world.

Although he worries a lot about Max and tries to help him navigate the daily life of school and home, Budo also has his own existential concerns. He has seen many imaginary friends go “poof,” and he’s desperate to know what happens after the “poof.” He knows that he only exists as long as Max continues to believe in him. After the plot heats up, Budo’s place in Max’s world gets called into question even more. This would make a good book discussion book for a philosophically minded group. There’s a lot to talk about in the differences between Max and Budo, Max’s world and Budo’s world, and the different disconnects each of them has with the world of Max’s parents (i.e. the real world. Maybe?)

Read an excerpt of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend here to get a sense of how the short sentences and chapters look on the page.

Read other reviews and find the link to a sample of the Macmillan audiobook on these blogs:
Jenn’s Bookshelves

The Literate Housewife

The Reading Frenzy (includes author interview)
Shelf Awareness (includes narrator interview)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Dicks, Matthew (author)
Brown, Matthew (narrator)
Macmillan Audio
August 21, 2012
9 hours on 9 CDs

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this audiobook on CD from Macmillan Audio at Book Expo America.


12 Responses

  1. This sounds wonderfully unique! I will definitely have to check this one out on Audible.com, thanks for putting it on the radar!

    • It was a different point of view, definitely! The publisher’s description (on Amazon, etc.) has a lot of spoilers, but I think they may have been afraid that readers wouldn’t give the author time to build the story up to where the plot really gets going.

  2. I loved the concept of this one, but didn’t quite buy the main drama involving Max–I thought it ended up all being a bit much. But, still, awesome concept.

    • Yes, I know what you mean. By the midpoint of the book, I had already suspended so much disbelief that I was primed to go along for the ride!

  3. Great review Laurie, I’ll spread it around to my audio friends.

  4. I don’t ever remember having an imaginary friend so the idea of one having thoughts of its own intrigues me. I’ll have to check this book out.

  5. There’s nothing like a good audiobook! Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. Nice review, Laurie! I loved the concept, the story, and Budo so much that it’s easy for me to forget that it might take some getting used to, or seem too cutesy, to some readers/listeners. I remember my own imaginary friend quite vividly, so it was pure pleasure for me to get immersed in a world where I could learn more about their secret lives. And Matthew Dicks FTW, anyway — have you read his “Unexpectedly, Milo”?

    • No, I had never heard of Matthew Dicks or his books before listening to Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. I will look for Unexpectedly, Milo. I looked up the author’s Web site after writing my review, and found out he’s a Massachusetts native now living in Connecticut.

  7. My oldest son has Aspergers so I’m always on the look out for books that deal with autism. I hadn’t heard of this one, but it sounds great. Thanks for drawing it to my attention!

  8. Just worked out this author is called Matthew Green in the UK and I’ve reserved a copy of the audio book from my library 🙂

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