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This is an unusual tale and is told in an unusual manner; from the point of view of someone who doesn't really exist! Max is 8 years old and has some learning difficulties. What he also has however is a very vivid imagination and and, as part of this, an imaginary friend named Budo, who is 5 years old. This story is told entirely from Budo's perspective as he looks out for his pal Max. Budo knows that Max is in danger, but due to his status he is somewhat limited in what he can do about it and when Max begins refusing to tell him things and sneaks about behind Budo's back he is even more helpless. The author, Matthew Green, has put a huge amount of consideration into how the world of an imaginary character would work; what are their capabilities, are they all the same, what do they look like? Anyone who has seen the film Drop Dead Fred will be able to relate to this but Green takes it one step further and somehow manages to make the unbelieveable actually believable! It is a really sweet story, one about loyalty and friendship and putting others first.
Max is 8 years old. He likes Lego and Star Wars and playing with toy soldiers. He can tell you 102 words that rhyme with tree. He scarfs down grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken and rice. He does not like physical contact. He lives with his mum and dad who argue about what is best for him and why he's not normal like other boys and girls. But this is not Max's story. This is the story of Budo, Max's imaginary friend. Imaginer friends, or human friends, are the reason imaginary friends exist. Many lose faith by the time they are Max's age, and no longer have a need for their companions, but Max is different. He's special. And so is Budo. As one of the longest surviving imaginary friends he understands more about the world than a lot of his peers. It helps that Max was, even at age 4, quite good at imagining things. He imagined that Budo didn't need sleep, which gives him extra hours in the day to learn things, and to explore. He imagined that Budo could go off on his own without Max, which allows for midnight excursions to the gas station and hospital and police station where there's yet more to observe. He imagined Budo looked a bit like other kids, with arms and legs. Much more useful than being shaped like a spoon or a hair bow or a puppy. We don't know what is wrong with Max, though the word 'autistic' springs to mind - even without an official diagnosis, it seems pretty likely he's on the spectrum. We do know, though, that he attends a regular school and just tries to muddle through. The other children don't understand him. Some are mean. Others try too hard. For all their interest, it takes a while for people to notice that one day Max is not there. Budo knows, though. He knows Max has gone and he's pretty sure he's in danger, but he doesn't know where to find him. Since the only person who can see or hear an imaginary friend is their personal imaginer friend, there's no way he can alert anyone so if anyone can help, it's going to have to be him. The book picks up pace in a race against time to see if Budo can intervene before it's too late. This story could have been told in so many other ways. Budo could have been a ghost or a guardian angel, but somehow making him an imaginary friend makes the story that little bit extra special and the bond between Budo and Max that little bit extra important. You've probably never thought of the rules that govern imaginary friendships because a bit like those ghosts or angels, it's only those who believe who think about them, and those people intrinsically know how it all works without the need for analysis. Lucky for us, Budo is a chatty soul and happy to fill the reader in, so we can understand his limitations and the challenges he faces in his quest to find Max. The parallels between this and the popular Room by Emma Donoghue are immediate and undeniable. Both rely on the observations of an unusual and at times naïve narrator - in Room, 5 year old Jack, and in this, the aforementioned Budo. Both feature mysteries and challenges and interactions with adults that just don't get it. Both are extremely well imagined and perfectly pitched which can be hard to do when your protagonist isn't your typical adult narrator, and is quite far removed from both author and audience. There are perhaps more explicit moral dilemmas in Memoirs. On more than one occasion, Budo grapples with the concept of doing the right thing and looking out for Max versus looking out for himself. Could you do something that would save a friend, but might kill you in the process? That's the question Budo has to answer and although the raison d'être for imaginary friends is clearly to support their creators in their weeks, months, years of need, that doesn't make it any easier really, especially when you know things that many imaginary friends don't stick around long enough to discover. I can see this book being extremely popular because it's an easy read, is remarkably fun, has adventure and mystery and is something unlike anything you'll have read before. There are a few things that perhaps don't add up if you look too closely, a few threads that might unravel if you pull hard enough (Oswald's transformation, Teeny's influence, the instability of a certain teacher, the odd link in with the gas station) and although I liked the ending, I did find the very last page was a bit meh and too Hollywood-ised for my liking. But, it is undeniably an absorbing story that is more than a little magical and nitpicking as I am, I still can't bear to deduct a single star. This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk You can find Budo's story in paperback or on Kindle, and there's even an audiobook so, like Max, you can put him on your iPod and take him everywhere you go.