Book review: ‘The Imaginary’

Yesterday afternoon, you spent some time wrestling alligators.

Someone had to! Wild animals can be dangerous in your neighborhood and besides, those snapping jaws were making it hard to find dinosaur bones.

Isn’t pretending fun? You can be anyone, anywhere — all you have to do is think it. And in the new book “The Imaginary” by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett, even adults pretend, although that’s not always good.

Amanda Shuffleup wasn’t the least bit ruffled to find a boy in her closet. She was more worried about getting caught tracking mud across her mother’s carpet, or maybe the boy did it. Strangely, Mrs. Shuffleup didn’t seem to notice him; she didn’t say anything about him, so Amanda didn’t, either. And that was how Amanda met Rudger.

Before he woke up in Amanda’s wardrobe, Rudger had no recollection of anything but he somehow knew he was where he was supposed to be. He immediately liked Amanda, and it quickly became obvious that she was the only one who could see him — which was just fine. He was apparently meant to be her friend only and he “rather liked that.”

Oh, the adventures they had! Rudger thought Amanda had to be the best imaginer ever! That summer, they went to the moon, hiked through jungle and desert, and built an igloo without even leaving Amanda’s back yard. But on the day they were spelunking near the front door, real danger appeared.

The man was round, with a bushy mustache and he told Amanda’s mother that his name was Mr. Bunting, that he was doing a survey. But he wasn’t alone. With him was a silent, creepy girl that Mrs. Shuffleup couldn’t see.

At first, Rudger liked the idea that he wasn’t the only imaginary friend in the world. But then Mr. Bunting’s creepy girl showed up one dark night and she attacked him! Rudger managed to escape but a few days later, near the swimming pool, Mr. Bunting almost got him again … and Amanda was hurt.

This was not pretend. Rudger was sure Amanda was dead.

Then again, he wasn’t totally Faded. That was a good sign, so maybe she wasn’t. Either way, there was no time to waste. Rudger needed to find Amanda before Mr. Bunting did!

What was the name of your imaginary friend? If you don’t remember, maybe you’re not supposed to — though you’ll be sad if you can’t, after you’ve read “The Imaginary.”

In the spirit of so many childhood classics, author A.F. Harrold and illustrator Emily Gravett invite us into a world that adults usually can’t see (or that they try to manipulate). It’s a world filled with innocence, the love of a friend, danger and frights, and wistful loyalty that’s heartbreakingly sweet; a world where everything’s possible — as long as you’re a kid.

So, yes, this is a book for 9- to 12-year-olds but definitely, it’s for adults, too. I highly recommend it, in fact, as a perfect read-aloud. “The Imaginary” is a story I imagine you’ll both like very well.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is owner of The Bookworm Sez, LLC, LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

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