Imaginary Friends by Chad Musick (YA fantasy book review).

I do sometimes get a book to review that’s aimed at what they call the YA (young adult) market and this is one of them. Now what constitutes the YA market is important as it defines the target audience of the book. This is something I’ll come back to later. 

  ‘Imaginary Friends’ central character is Ivy an early to mid- teenager who lives in Alaska. She’s disabled, so requires a wheelchair to get about. Even though she’s comparatively young, she seems to have slipped through the gaps in the local bureaucracy and lives by herself which is odd, but this is a bit of an odd story. Ivy is also black which has absolutely no relevance to the story but it’s pointed out on page 5, so I thought I should mention it. The book is narrated by a character with no name. However, there are clues as to who the narrator actually is. If you don’t guess it, it’s sort of revealed at the end. 

  When I said Ivy lives alone, it’s technically true except for her imaginary friends. There is the giraffe Janice who’s also called Chanda. He’s a male giraffe by the way. Harmwala the hyena also inhabits the jungle mural that covers one of the walls in Ivy’s house. There are some other animals in the mural but it’s only these two that feature in the story. A tiger called Fred used to live in the mural, but he drowned in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.   

  They may be imaginary, but Harmwala and Janice talk to Ivy and Ivy talks back to them. This arrangement suits Ivy, who doesn’t want to attract undue attention to herself by interacting with real people outside unless she really has too. Unfortunately, Ivy’s world is turned upside down when a delivery crew turn up and install the entry doors to the magic library on one of her internal walls. 

  The doors to the magic library delivery crew is made up of Sandra and a couple of stevedores who are referred to as Steves. After getting the obligatory signature from Ivy, the library doors are fitted, wheelchair ramp installed Sandra and the Steves leave Ivy in peace. 

  It’s not long before curiosity gets the better of Ivy and her imaginary friends. Despite some misgivings, they venture into the library only to meet the librarian. While this librarian might be an automaton, it certainly displays some human tendencies. It’s one of Ivy’s duties to wind the librarian up every now and then. 

  The misgivings of Ivy and her friends were well placed as the Library is decaying. There is something seriously wrong but before Ivy and co. can fix it, she has to undertake several missions to become enrolled. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ivy’s friends are trapped in the library. Once they enter, they can’t leave. 

  I don’t want to give away spoilers here, but Ivy’s missions get more and more perilous. She meets and befriends a Japanese boy, Himitsu, who has at least two other different names. This may be a cultural thing that depends on the situation and the relationship you have with the person. It was a bit confusing as are some other aspects of the story. Just about every person Ivy meets has issues of one kind or another. It’s usually associated with bereavement but not always. 

  The majority of the story is how Ivy and real and imaginary friends try to fix the library. Along the way, it deals with some very big issues such as death, sexuality, loneliness, bereavement and inclusion. When you step back and analyse the story, it is really just about inclusion, being confident in yourself and accepting other people as they are. 

  It did seem to me that the way these issues were dealt with was aimed at older audiences while other aspects such as a child’s love for their favourite toy was for younger audiences. I don’t think either audience were catered for very well in this story. There were also two endings in the book. The first ending wrapped up the main story while the second ending just seemed to me to be a bit whimsical. I don’t think the story needed it. 

Andy Whitaker

June 2023

(pub: Cinnabar Moth Publishing, 2023. 306 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK), $17.29 (US). ISBN: 978-195397-173-9)

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I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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