Review: The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Imaginary by A.F. HarroldThe Imaginary by A.F. Harrold
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on March 3, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Horror
Pages: 224
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-stars

Rudger is Amanda’s best friend. He doesn't exist, but nobody's perfect.

Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?

A brilliantly funny, scary and moving read from the unique imagination of A.F. Harrold, this beautiful book is astoundingly illustrated with integrated art and colour spreads by the award-winning Emily Gravett.

Erica Barmash first mentioned this one on Twitter months and months ago. Middle grade, as I keep saying, isn’t my jam most of the time. However, all of her praise made me want to check out The Imaginary, so, when the time came, I requested it, crossing my fingers I wouldn’t regret my choice.

gif i regret nothing cat

I’m so grateful that I tried The Imaginary, because I think, without Erica’s promo, I probably never would have looked at it twice. The Imaginary is this gorgeous, surprisingly creepy story about imaginary friends and growing up.

The introduction, as introductions often are, is a bit misleading. It does, however, set the tone for The Imaginary really well. I mean, the first sentence is “Amanda was dead,” so this book isn’t going to be all fluffy magic times. There are silly, humorous moments, but there are also really dark ones too. The best comparison I can devise is A Monster Calls, though that’s taking on a heavier subject. Both are surprisingly dark, with beautiful stories made more arresting by the use of incredibly perfect illustrations. The Imaginary‘s intended audience skews a bit younger, but both are very powerful and a feast for the eyeballs.

gif cat eating

One of the downsides of advance review copies is that you tend not to get the final illustrations. In this case, I did get to see seven of the ten full color illustrations in full color, though they were put together at the beginning of the novel. From those, it’s clear that Emily Gravett makes excellent use of color, popping certain things out of a gray background. Personally, I love the illustrations in black and white, so this wasn’t really a hardship.

I can only imagine the finished copy will be stunning. The illustrations are amazing, but, even more than the larger pictures, I adore the small touches that combine to make this book so pretty. There are a few pages with white font on a black background or where an illustration interacts with the text. Page breaks have a little cat in a whole bunch of poses. Not to mention the fact that there’s this one page that will haunt me because the illustration does horror so effectively.

gif scared kitten

The Imaginary posits what life is like for imaginary friends. Rudger is Amanda’s imaginary friend. The idea of imaginary friends is considered from two main angles: that of the imaginary friend and that of those looking on at the imaginary friendship. I think these two different considerations make The Imaginary an excellent choice for both children and older readers, particularly parents who might be side-eyeing their child’s imaginary friend.

I don’t think that I had an imaginary friend when I was a child, but I feel really horrible thinking I might have had and forgotten one. Most likely my imaginary friends were all the book characters I clung to, rather than one like Rudger. It’s unbearably sad to consider the way they disappear once the person who dreamed them up forgets them. The library of forgotten imaginary friends is at once the most comical portion of the book and the saddest.

gif cat mirror
I iz not alone. I got frands!

More than anything, The Imaginary delights in the imagination. One mother sends her child to a psychologist because she doesn’t approve of imaginary friends. Amanda’s mother, however, indulges Amanda, even going so far as to make food for Rudger, though he doesn’t eat it obviously. Combined with Rudger and Amanda’s story, looking at these two parents, it was impossible for me to see the other girl’s mother as doing anything but stifling creativity. Imaginary friends fade with time, but they’re sometimes an essential part of development.

I highly recommend taking the time to read The Imaginary. It’s under 220 pages and there are pictures, so why not? Seriously SO GORGEOUS.

Favorite Quote:

“Snakes,” she said to herself. “Why did it have to be snakes?”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif happy cat

2 responses to “Review: The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold”

  1. I just finished this e-ARC this morning, and I definitely want to take a look at the finish copy to see the illustrations in all their glory.

    I agree that this was a delightful read and I love the way it celebrates the imagination! The juxtaposition of the two mothers you brought up at the end of your review was striking. It was so sad that the one mother took her daughter to the psychologist–give me a break! This reminds me of a slim nonfiction book I have that I need to read still-A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play.

    I can imagine many of us readers (as young people) had our bookish characters as “friends” like you mentioned! 🙂 I’m glad you checked this one out!
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