Sunday, June 10, 2012

'Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend'

I use my mind to solve problems and invent things.

The mind is a funny instrument.  It stores our memories, triggers our instinct, enables us to learn, makes us different from everyone else.  And although it can sometimes betray us, such a betrayal doesn't have to define us.  Once upon a time, Autism, a disorder of neural development, relegated those afflicted to the outer edges of civilization.  They were thought to be 'crazy', and society tended to shun them.  But as the disorder was researched and new discoveries were made, we now know that autistic individuals are not crazy; they are a step ahead of us.  Doctors and scientists, but especially parents and educators, have made great inroads into the autistic inner world, and have declared to the world that autism is not a stigma.  In fact, it can be a blessing in disguise.  From it, we have learned that we are capable of great patience, kindness, an abundance of love, and the lesson that 'normal' does not exist.     

But along with the lessons and the patience is fear.  We fear to think about what our autistic children will do when we are no longer able to take care of them.  And what about the people with whom they come into contact?  Can they be trusted?  Most importantly, will these people earn our children's trust?

'Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend', the new novel by Matthew Dicks (who is an elementary school teacher), address these fears in a simple way.  Narrated by Budo, the imaginary friend of Max, an autistic eight year-old, the story first reads like a children's book.  But as you progress through the story, Budo's message is quite clear:  Trust your child.  Trust his/her instincts.  And make sure that you know the people in his or her world.

Max attends school and has many teachers, most of them patient and understanding.  He trusts almost all of them, except for Mrs. Patterson, a paraeducator.  His instincts are alive and well, but Mrs. Patterson worms her way into his psyche and employs the use of secrets to get what she wants.

Budo is a fully-developed imaginary friend; he can walk through doors, he can talk to Max, and he can reason.  He loves Max and will do anything to protect him.  And now, Max needs Budo more than he knows.  But Max is not sharing everything with Budo, and that alone could destroy not only Max and his family, but also Budo's very existance.

The story moves quickly and addresses every parent's worst nightmare.  The characters are well developed, and the author's research and experience with autism rings true.  But, most of all, one of the major characters is evil personified.  You trust Max's instinct, and it comes through very early in the story.

But it is Budo who soars, and earns our tears.  He sees his fellow imaginary friends disappear day-after-day (Budo has existed much longer, as Max needs him more), and his own nonexistance is his major fear.  

The greatest praise that I can heap upon this book is that I loved it.  Read it, learn from it, and pass it on.

It is that important.

'Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend' will published in August 2012, by St. Martin's Press.

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