An imaginary friend can be the best friend a boy’s got. But how can an imaginary friend help when the boy faces very real danger?
Max, 8, is on the autism spectrum. His loving parents struggle to make a secure life for him, although his father cannot quite face that his son is different. Max is able to cope with the close quarters of public school, the unpredictable people and the surprises of everyday life with the help of not only his parents, but also his teacher, Mrs. Gosk, and his imaginary friend, Budo. Told from Budo’s perspective, Dicks’ (Unexpectedly, Milo, 2010, etc.) latest novel explores the interior life of an imaginary friend, and imaginary friends have one overriding concern: What will happen to them when their imaginer forgets them? Budo is lucky that Max imagined him fully; a lot of the other friends he meets are missing ears, feet or even recognizable bodies. Max also imagined Budo as a bit older than himself, and this slightly more mature perspective comes in very handy when things go wrong for Max. Budo is a lifesaver. Literally. Budo helps Max find words, stops him from running out into traffic, and even helps him survive a terrifying encounter with the fifth-grade bully, Tommy Swinden, in a bathroom stall. But Budo is thwarted when Max begins to meet with Mrs. Patterson, an assistant teacher, in her car. Privately. During the school day. And Max won’t let Budo come along. Suddenly, Max disappears. This time, Budo will have to go out into the world alone, and since he cannot interact with any adults, he will have to rely on the imaginary friends of other children to save Max. Budo is charming, but Dick’s previous novels have treated eccentric characters with more success. The childlike perspective and simplistic syntax of this novel clash with its quite adult concerns of autism and child abduction.
Quirky and heartwarming, but thin.