Book Review: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (October 1, 2019)

Length: 720 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

So, wow, lots to unpack with this one. I’ve never read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower which was the book that really put him on the map, but I’m familiar enough with it to know Imaginary Friend is quite a departure. Like everyone else, I dove into this one with no clue as to what to expect, though the synopsis gave some hints.

It’s a horror story, obviously. Mostly following central characters Kate Reese and her son Christopher, Imaginary Friend begins with the two of them settling in the small town of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. Kate has been on the run for a long time; after the death of her husband, she fell into a relationship with a man who turned out to be abusive and has been trying to get away from him since. It is her hope that Mill Grove would be the start of a new life for both her and seven-year-old Christopher.

But then came a nightmare for any parent. Christopher goes missing, and for one terrifying week, Kate is beside herself with fear and worry. Against all odds though, the boy is eventually found alive and well, describing a harrowing escape that was only made possible by a nice man he met in the woods. While this mysterious man was never found, the only thing that mattered to Kate was that her son was back safe and sound. And miraculously, he seemed even better than before. Christopher begins excelling in school, making a lot of new friends. Kate also wins the lottery, allowing her to move them into a new house and pay off her debts. Life was as good as it could be.

However, unbeknownst to Kate, Christopher has been going through a lot of changes. There are the headaches, which he seems to get all the time now. And then there are the thoughts that just come to him, allowing him to know things he shouldn’t know, or to do things that shouldn’t be possible. He also starts seeing an “imaginary friend” in the woods where he was found after his disappearance, telling him to do things. And one of his friend’s first instructions to Christopher? Build an elaborate treehouse, right there in the middle of the woods, and it is of utmost importance that it is completed before Christmas, or else bad things will come to everyone Christopher knows and loves.

Based on many of the themes found in Imaginary Friend—like that of the power of boyhood friendships or the presence of skewed religious allusions, creeping plague, small town paranoia and hysteria, and a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil—it seems rather clear to me that Chbosky was influenced heavily by the work of Stephen King. But I had to wonder, did he really have to emulate the man’s tendency for wordiness as well? Sitting at over 700 pages, a novel of such length is certain to cause me to give it the old side-eye, leaving me skeptical that the story actually has to be this long. And sure enough, by 25% I knew was one I’d have to tag team with the audiobook, as it was proving much too long-winded for me to cope with and I didn’t want to spend weeks forcing myself to pick it up. By 50%, I was starting to feel the brunt of the fatigue, even when tackling it in both print and audio formats. And at 75% I was asking myself holy fucking crap why isn’t this damn thing over yet?

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t a wholly bad novel, but man, if I had been the editor, I would’ve taken a chainsaw to this bad boy and hacked away all the repetition and extraneous, unnecessary detail to get it down to a more reasonable and readable length. Still, if you’re possessed of a strong mental resolve and iron determination, you should be able to disregard the blatant overwriting and enjoy some of the book’s more memorable moments and highlights. Yes, parts of it are actually pretty good, and those who picked up this book for the mystery and paranormal creep factor will also get a good dose of both. Yet for the most part, its cumbersome length and the rambling nature of the story severely impacted my enjoyment. It seemed the more the author added to the plot, the more complicated and chaotic it became, without delivering any real answers.

I hate being so negative, because Chbosky plainly put a lot of his heart and effort into writing Imaginary Friend, and there are enough strong points for me not to pan it completely. But on the whole, this simply came across as an overblown, very self-indulgent novel that could have been edited down—by a lot. In fact, that’s my biggest regret after reading this—that without the tedious, confusing and dragging parts, this book could have been great and needn’t have been such a chore to read. I say check out the novel if you’re a horror buff or if you’re curious to see what it’s all about, but just be prepared for the patience and time investment it demands.

28 Comments on “Book Review: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky”

  1. When I saw 2 1/2 stars AND 700 pages, I kind of wondered why you didn’t dnf it (I know, you really don’t do that, but still….).

    I think we’re going to see more and more of this unedited overwriting going on. Get a successful book or 2 under your belt and whammo, the editor lets you do whatever you feel like.

    I like big books (sing it with me!) but at times I get weary. And it definitely gives lie to anyone who claims they can’t read the classics “because they’re too big”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I don’t DNF but had I been reading the print version, I might have. The nice thing about audio is that “reading” is so passive, and I just listen as I do other things and that convenience and easiness helps make it less tempting to throw in the towel.

      I have a feeling the author’s editors and publisher just let him have free rein with this one. Had it been any other author without the clout or name recognition, this book would never have seen the light of day without some major changes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I get scared when I see a lower rating for a book over 700 pages. Like you, I never read Perks but did enjoy the movie. And I am curious how he transitioned from it to horror. I’m not put off by a lengthy book but I do pay attention and the last thing I need is a long books that drags on and doesn’t keep me involved. And I ADORE the thoughts you had at 75%. I’m sure I’ll give this a go…eventually. It’s just not a priority right now.


    • Yeah, 700 page is a lot to ask of your readers, and when I see a book this long I always think to myself, well, there had damned well be a good reason you need this many words to tell a story. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case here.


  3. I was iffy about this anyway, but you’ve reinforced my decision to skip it. I mean, I’ve read 700 page books that deserved to be 700 pages long, but the fact that you want to take a hacksaw to this one, nope!


  4. Of course if you want to cut many things in a book that’s never a good sign Mogsy!!! Sorry this was not a great experience!


  5. Oh no, what a shame! It was sounding like a nicely creepy premise. I did cringe when it said Kate won the lottery (the first tell-tale sign things aren’t going to be very believable!😂) but having a novel too awash with excess isn’t often good, and I don’t think I’m particularly “possessed of a strong mental resolve and iron determination”. Unlike your review, which is well written and concise! 😉
    Caz xx


  6. Oh no, now I am worried as I have this one to review and it is so long and I know I won’t get to it for a bit but ugh.


  7. Oh wow. Yeah, a lot of my problem with King (and Rice–lets be honest) is their wordiness. I don’t need to know what every leaf on a tree looks like, you know? That makes reading such a slog. I don’t mind long books, but the author has to do something to hold your attention through it.


  8. Hmm, I liked his Perks of Beings a Wallflower. I think I’ll give this one a try but will probably go with the audiobook instead. I might get put off by the length and wordiness too.


  9. Pingback: Book Review: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky — The BiblioSanctum | Slattery's Magazine

  10. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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