In this follow-up to the bestselling The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a boy named Christopher and his mother—on the run from her abusive spouse—settle in a seemingly safe new town. But strange things begin to happen, and Christopher begins hearing a voice in his head directing him to build a tree house in the woods—or else.
... an all-out, not-for-the-fainthearted horror novel, one of the most effective and ambitious of recent years. Who would have guessed? ... To be sure, the underlying sensibility that characterized Wallflower is present in the new book, particularly in its empathetic portraits of people struggling to recover from personal tragedy. Beyond that, Imaginary Friend is a radical departure on virtually every level. Perhaps its most impressive aspect is the confidence with which Chbosky deploys the more fantastical elements of his complex narrative, using the baroque, hallucinatory imagery of horror fiction to tell a very human story with universal implications ... a book with many things on its mind. It is, of course, a horror novel, and it delivers more than its share of profoundly disturbing moments. Beyond that, it provides a compelling portrait of small-town life, while examining the ways in which lovelessness and systematic abuse eat away at the fabric of family and community life. At the same time, through its portrayal of the relationship between Christopher and his ferociously protective mother, it offers one of the most affecting accounts of parental devotion I’ve seen in a very long time. The result is a page-turning meditation on human suffering whose spiritual dimension does not become fully apparent until the entire story has been told. Imaginary Friend may have been a long time coming, but the time was well spent. This is an absorbing, original and genuinely surprising novel. I hope we don’t have to wait 20 more years to see where Chbosky goes next.
Chbosky’s true skill is in turning a book of absolute horrors — both fantastical and real — into an uplifting yarn ... [Christopher's] consistent goodness is both heartwarming and a little implausible ... It is some relief, then, that Chbosky does not narrate the novel solely from Christopher’s perspective. He is excellent on communities, and he picks apart this small town chillingly. These different accounts not only add real pace to the narrative, but convey how closely entwined, how claustrophobic small towns can be — especially when the horror screws are being tightened. The other characters work because they are flawed; their inconsistencies are explained, often movingly ... because the darkness is so prevalent, Chbosky seems anxious to amp up the sentimentality, too, to make sure that this is what triumphs. In writing a book about so much — fate, destiny, redemption, power — the plausibility of characters and narrative can sometimes be lost to this loftier thematic aim. Chbosky is best not when he looks at the extremes of good and evil, but when he looks at the gray in between — at everyday people, their trauma, their interactions, and the hundreds of human inconsistencies and desires that can make a community fall apart and knit itself back together again.
Stephen Chbosky’s heart-pounding Imaginary Friend begins with a warning: 'Don’t leave the street.' It might just as well begin with a warning to the reader: 'Don’t start reading this book. You won’t be able to stop.' Or, at least: 'Do not read it at night.'...[Chbosky] has reinvented the literary horror novel ... With Imaginary Friend, Stephen Chbosky has written another classic, setting a new high watermark for fantasy horror. It is the greatest story ever told of love and salvation in which a little child shall save them. It is as spine-tinglingly sinister as any Stephen King tome, as ghastly as any ghost story by Peter Straub, as gothic as any Neil Gaiman title. It should become a horror perennial, taken out at Halloween and Christmas or any other time a reader wants a proper fright. It is the scariest novel of the year, a menacing book for all seasons.