A nearly-12-year-old British boy waits for the return of his missing mother.
Nate’s mother wakes him in the night and bundles him into a rental car, saying that they’re going on holiday to a cottage where they’d stayed long before. Nate barely remembers the tumbledown place, a gardener’s cottage on the outskirts of a large estate, now fallen into ruin, but he’s grateful to escape his divorced mother’s abusive live-in boyfriend, Gary. But the next afternoon, Nate’s mum goes to get groceries and doesn’t come back. Nate’s only briefly alone—he’s soon visited by Sam, his imaginary friend from toddlerhood, and then Kitty, a girl about his age who claims to be the daughter of the estate house’s current owner. Kitty brings Nate food and accepts his explanations as to his parents’ whereabouts. Meanwhile Sam and Nate have long conversations about the fates of imaginary friends. Told from Nate’s point of view, the story is frankly implausible—Nate worries that his mum has returned to Gary but never goes in search of her or does anything to help his own situation, making him feel younger and less resourceful than 12. His relationship with his father is glossed over, and Gary never feels realistically threatening. Nor does the imaginary-friend angle generate much interest. The book adheres to the white default.
The sentence-level writing is good, but the plot doesn’t hold. (Fiction. 8-12)