Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review: Imaginary Friends


Imaginary Friends
edited by John Marco & Martin H. Greenberg
DAW, 2008
Fiction/Fantasy (SS); 304 pgs


The title was what first captured my eye. I pulled the book off the shelf, and it did not take me long to add it to my purchases that day. My curiosity got the better of me and I began reading the introduction as I waited in line to check out.

Imaginary friends have touched many of our lives. Perhaps even you had one. They were our sidekicks and sometimes our heroes. They got us into trouble just as much as they kept us out of it. They kept us company and understood what we were going through. They were our best friends and our allies when we needed them most.

John Marco, fantasy author, had considered writing a research paper on imaginary friends for a human development class while in college. Unfortunately, he would soon discover, there was not a lot of research out there available, and so he had to put that idea aside for the time being. Years later he was asked to be a part of putting this little collection of stories together. What an interesting idea, I thought. Childhood fantasies and imaginary friends are topics that fascinate me. Perhaps in part because, like John Marco, I once had an imaginary friend too.

Imaginary Friends is an anthology of short stories by a variety of authors, each story taking the concept of the imaginary friend and weaving it into a fantastical tale—some set in far off worlds and others right here in our own. Anne Bishop’s name is the first that popped off the back cover at me when I initially picked up the book. As a fan of her Black Jewels world, I was anxious to read her contribution to the book. The twelve other authors whose stories you will find among the pages of the collection are Rick Hautala, Jean Rabe, Juliet McKenna, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kristine Britain, Donald J. Bingle, Tim Waggoner, Paul Genesse, Russell Davis, Bill Fawcett, Fiona Patton, and Jim C. Hines.

I jotted notes down for each story as I read, and one concept that repeatedly appeared with nearly every story was a variation of the phrase, “Everything is not always what it appears to be.” Each of the stories in the collection are imaginative and thoughtful. Some are funny while others more serious. There’s the boy and his dragon who slay pirates; a prisoner trapped in a tower who is only able to look out at the world through a reflection in a mirror; a beggar and his dog just looking for their next meal; a young girl with a gift who must endure a difficult trial; a bar bet gone awry; a writer whose lost her way and needs a little help from a friend to get back on the right path; the man who professed his innocence right up until the end; a grieving father’s desperation; a young boy coping with the upheaval in his family; a lonely man’s ramblings and a postal worker caught in his spell; an imaginary friend reunites with his grown child during a tense moment in time; a man whose family is caught up in illusions; and a haunting story about Death and his tie to one boy and his mother.

My favorite of the stories included the first story in the collection, Rick Hautala’s “A Good Day for Dragons.” My initial thought upon finishing the story was what a wonderful bedtime story this would make. It reminded me of my own childhood adventures as I chased down drug dealers and mobsters with my imaginary partner by my side.

I was also quite taken with Anne Bishop’s story, “Stands a God Within the Shadows.” Whenever I read anything by this author, I quickly lose myself in the world she has created and it was no different with this particular story, which, while short, still enthralled me in its spell. A lonely person is trapped in a tower, unable to look out directly on the world outside her window, with only a figure in the shadow for comfort and conversation. The protagonist’s strength and resilience are what especially make this story stand out in an otherwise seemingly hopeless situation.

Paul Genesse’s “Greg and Eli” was a story that touched my heart. It is the story of a young boy who finds his entire life uprooted when his mother and father move to a small town in Nevada after the death of his unborn baby brother. His parents are too wrapped up in their own agony and little Greg finds himself having to face the world outside on his own, including a bunch of bullies.

Another favorite of mine was the story of the young soldier in Iraq who called upon his childhood imaginary friend, Thumper, as gunfire erupted around him in Bill Fawcett’s “The Big Exit.” It was a story of courage and trust. And yes, I did get a little choked up at the end.

The imagination is an amazing thing and Imaginary Friends brings out some of the best of that. Not one story disappointed me.

Rating: * (Very Good)


John Marco has generously offered to giveaway three (3) copies of this anthology to three lucky readers! If you would like a chance to win a copy, answer the following question in the comments below:

Did you ever have an imaginary friend?

Be sure and leave your e-mail address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. The deadline to enter will be November 7th 11:59 p.m. (PST).

55 comments:

  1. Ooh - this book sounds great. Yes, I did have an imaginary friend when I was young - E.T. (And yes, I mean E.T., the extra-terrestrial.) I'm pretty sure I had several imaginary friends over the years, but E.T. is the first that came to mind.

    bibliolatrist@yahoo.com

    Thanks for sponsoring this giveaway!

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  2. I didn't have an imaginary friend that I'm aware of. I'd love to read this book.

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  3. This year has been fun for me in discovering that I really enjoy short stories, so I would love to be entered into this giveaway.

    No, I have never had an imaginary friend - that's why I would love to read about people that have! I need some enlightenment here! :)

    Thanks for the opportunity, Literary Feline.

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  4. Oops! I forgot to add - I'll add your giveaway onto my sidebar.

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  5. Sounds really good.

    I don't remember any imaginary friends but my daughter has 2 (they don't come around much anymore): Ala and Jackson. Ala lives in the backyard. Jackson is sometimes a baby, sometimes really old (like 15). I think they're siblings.

    I just love her imagination.

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  6. Bibliolatrist - How neat! E.T. was an amazing character and so I bet he made a great imaginary friend. :-)

    Kathy - My husband didn't have one either. It'll be interesting to see how many people did or didn't have them.

    Joy - I've really grown to appreciate short stories more this year, I think.

    Looks like we have two for two so far on the imaginary or lack of count. :-) Thank you for linking the giveaway!

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  7. Chris - I wonder if your daughter will discover a passion for writing one day with that imagination of hers. :-)

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  8. this book has definitely piqued my interest.
    I DID have an imaginary friend (more than one actually) but my children do not have them...

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  9. Hi Wendy :}
    This book is interesting to me, I personally do not remember an immaginary friend. I do remember my sons having them aspecially my youngest one.
    I am interested in this book.

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  10. Oups, I did not apply for the book give away.

    My son Mark-Patrick (in the inset of my photo), had an imaginary friend, I remember he would draw him on the wall ( lol...not my favorite thing) he had a large round head, was smiling and had stick arms and legs. My son was 3 at the time. He is 30 these days and would be very angry I told this :P

    Syl_vie34@yahoo.com

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  11. Sounds fascinating, even though I'm not usually a short-story reader.

    I had several imaginary friends, at different times in my youth, and probably for far longer than normal. (Yes, I was a social misfit, why do you ask?) Some of them were characters from my favorite books, and some were invented. I didn't usually invent fantasy worlds for them, though - they accompanied me in my own world.

    This is probably more than you wanted to know about what a messed-up kid I was :-).

    Thanks for entering me in the giveaway, Wendy!

    3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com

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  12. I didn't have any imaginary friends per se, I guess I wasn't that creative. I did have an imaginary boyfriend for a few weeks in high school...probably counts?

    Please enter me...Sararush at hotmail dot com

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  13. This does sound amazing. Please enter me!
    As for having an imaginary friend, I don't think I did...as far as I remember I did not at least.

    -Lauren

    lauren51990 at aol dot com

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  14. The book sounds fabulous, I'm just sorry he didn't manage to write a non fiction one as well. Yet.

    I didn't have an imaginary friend as much as I lived in an imaginary world. I spent a lot of my childhood in and out of hospitals and sick at home and, well, there was a whole population that depended on me. :)

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  15. I actually did have an imaginary friend, but my mom refused to play along so I personalized my stuffed animals instead.

    I've added a link to your giveaway on my front page.

    booklorn [at] gmail [dot] com

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  16. I did have an imaginary friend. His name was Charlie. When I was 11 years old he went to the hospital with me when I had open-heart surgery ~ I came home afterwards ... Charlie didn't.

    Please enter me to win a copy of Imaginary Friends.

    hawkes(at)citlink.net

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  17. I'd already determined that this needed to go on my wishlist before I'd made it to the bottom of the post. So imagine my glee to find that there's a giveaway, too!

    I claimed to have imaginary friends when I was a kid. For some reason, I named them Gegwa (the boy) and Nini (the girl). We didn't have many imaginary interactions as I'm pretty sure I made them up just so I wouldn't be that loser kid who didn't even have any *imaginary* friends. Weird much?

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  18. What an interesting subject to tie a short story collection together.

    I don't remember having an imaginary friend, but my daughter did when she was about 3 years old. Thanks for doing the giveaway!

    jgbeads AT gmail DOT com

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  19. I always talked to my toys or my dog (or my duck) but I never really had an imaginary friend to my knowledge but I always love stories about them!

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  20. Unfortunately, I never had an imaginary friend. On paper, I created a cast of hundreds, but though they somewhat came to life in my mind, that was the extent of their existence.

    I absolutely loved this collection of stories, by the way.

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  21. I'm an avid gamer. When I was young I would always imagine the characters from the games that I was playing were with me constantly. I vividly recall one time when I was with my mom in our car. I was sitting in the back seat talking to myself and she seemed to think I was going crazy. I miss them all sometimes. I'm not a very sociable person so I suppose they were a good outlet for me. Oh well, everyone needs to grow up eventually, right?

    sajo.atine@gmail.com

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  22. Hi Wendy!! (You know, my sister-in-law's name is Wendy!)

    Tag - You're IT!!

    You've just been tagged for the "7 Random Facts Tag - Book Edition" at
    Wendi's Book Corner
    . Stop by to participate!

    :) Wendi

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  23. This book has an intriguing title. And of course I had an imaginary friend as a kid, but I changed them every day. Sort of to suit the situations I was in. So we have Superman, 6 million dollar man, spiderman, Brains from the Thunderbirds, and later, Alien, and Predator and Robocop.

    Cheers

    Squigy1@aapt.net.au

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  24. yay! i heard about your giveaway from John Marco, himself. I've wanted to read this book for awhile, and it'd be nice to win a copy.

    Yes, i certaintly did have an imaginary kid. I don't think it's normal for someone to never had one.
    My imaginary friend was named Sara. And she had a pet, but it was no ordinary domesticated animal. She had a white tiger :)
    I was a very interesting child. I remember "bringing" Sara and her tiger to first grade class with me... wow haha i was lame.

    thanks for entering me!

    -Moriah
    hylianvampire @ hotmail . com

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  25. I never had an imaginary friend. I don’t think my imagination was up to the task when I was a kid. I would still like to read the book though so please enter me. Thanks!
    rebecca.bradeen(at)verizon(dot)net

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  26. Oops, forgot to leave my email just in case I win. :D

    MightyPeacelover at yahoo.com

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  27. I didn't have an imaginary friend, but after I read Hitty Her First Hundred Years I believed all my dolls and stuffed animals came alive when I left my room.

    lauren.m.delacruz at gmail dot com

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  28. Yup, had an imaginary friend by the name of Kay. This sounds like a great book. Hope this contest is open to Canadians! Please enter me. My email is shereadsandreads(at)gmail(dot)com.

    I also blogged about this contest here.

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  29. I never had an imaginary friend. I wrote lots of stories about other people.

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  30. Dude, I had an entire imaginary family - I think thirteen siblings, if I remember correctly. Mostly because my real brother wasn't close enough to my age to be good company on family vacations.

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  31. I had several imaginary friends, but the two I still remember fondly were Roo from Winnie The Pooh and another little kangaroo named Joey.(who I think was a character from another kiddie book)
    My mom says I would spend endless amounts of time talking to them and giggling wildly at the imagined responses.


    liongoddess@gmail.com

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  32. Dana - I actually had quite a few too. The imagination is such a wonderful thing.

    Sylvie - LOL Hopefully your son used something that was easy to clean off the walls. :-)

    Florinda - I was the same way actually. I probably held onto some of them longer than would be normal too. LOL I created elaborate backgrounds for them. I had a pretty vivid imagination--still do for that matter. :-)

    Sara - I had one too! Haha! It's good to know I wasn't the only one.

    Lauren - I really enjoyed the stories in this collection. I will probably try some of the authors whose stories I especially liked other work as well.

    Carrie K - I know! I would love to read a nonfiction book on the subject.

    It sounds like your imagination came in very handy for you growing up. Although I wasn't in a situation like yours growing up, I did go through some rough spots where my own imagination came in very handy in the coping department.

    Ann - To this day, I apologize to my stuffed animals if I drop one while moving it or if the dog gets a hold of one and takes it for a run around the house. :-) When I was a young child, I believed they came to life while I was away or sleeping.

    Thank you for linking the giveaway!

    ChristyJan - I imagine he was a great comfort to you during such a scary time.

    Megan - How interesting! I don't remember ever talking about my imaginary friends with my real friends. I think I was too embarrassed to admit they existed.

    Janel - Yes, it is an interesting idea. It sure brought back memories, reading these stories.

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  33. Jen - I had a dog-patterned pillow that heard all of my secrets and absorbed many of my childhood and adolescent tears. I still have that pillow, although he's locked away in my cedar chest.

    Aaron - It's amazing the life that can be breathed into characters when they are put to paper, isn't it? As I got older, more of the stories that made up my pretend worlds went onto paper instead. It seemed a natural progression for me.

    Sajo - I know exactly what you mean. It was much the same for me, although more so through the books I read as I didn't have access to video games.

    Wendi - Thank you for the tag! I'll see what I can come up with for the meme. :-)

    Squigy - You had some fun imaginary friends! :-) At one point, I was the daughter of just about all of my favorite tv leading men. The A-Team was a particular favorite of mine for some reason. LOL

    Moriah - Oo! A white tiger! I would have loved to have a white tiger as a pet, even if only as the pet of my imaginary friend. :-)

    Becca - You probably had other outlets to express your imagination as a child. :-)

    Laza - I thought that too! I haven't read the book you mention, but I imagine I got the idea from some book I probably read.

    Avis - Thank you for the mention on your blog! It really is a good one and I hope you will enjoy it if you read it. (Canadians are more than welcome to enter!)

    Jenny - I discovered how much I liked story writing when I was in the 4th grade. It is a great outlet for the imagination.

    Nicki - What a big family you created for yourself! I had six older brothers at one time--all imaginary, of course. :-) I'm not sure what it was about my desire to have a big family at that time . . . They were all very protective of me, of course. I had a real younger brother at the time.

    Liongoddess - Roo is one of my favorite characters from Winnie the Pooh. I bet he was a fun imaginary friend. :-)

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  34. Great contest! rebelaessedai@gmail.com.

    I don't have imaginary friends. I just imagine that people I used to know see me now and see how well I've done for myself. Just wishful thinking.

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  35. Rebelaessedai - Haha! Yes, I can imagine that would be fun to do. :-)

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  36. I never did have an imaginary friend as a child. I had three younger sisters, though, so I was never lacking a playmate. And if they didn't feel like playing, I'd just read.

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  37. Carrie K. - I think that's the way it was for my husband too as he didn't have an imaginary friend either. He and his brother were close in age and always played together.

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  38. Great review, Wendy!
    I don't think I'd any imaginary friend as a child. Please add my name to the draw, thanks! :)

    melreadingcorner@gmail.com

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  39. This sounds really cool, I have read quite a few anthologies by Greenberg and I like how he themes his collection. Thanks for the great review, I will be looking for this one.

    My answer about imaginary friends: I don't think I ever had one, most of the time I pretended that our family pets talked to me like real people (only adults couldn't understand their language) The pets were from another dimension, ruled entirely of animals and were sent to live with earth families to act as protectors from boogeymen and to help kids grow-up safely, they also helped with creativity like a muse (I was a weird kid) We had lots of pets so there probably wasn't room for imaginary friends :)

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  40. Hi, Joanne! I will have to look into his collections more now that you mention it.

    You could have written that movie about the dogs and cats being from another planet! :-) What a great imagination you had as a child!

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  42. Robin - You've got me wondering if my brother ever had one. I'll have to ask him the next time I talk to him. I don't remember him having one either.

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  43. Ni, I was such a loser as a kid I couldn't even manage an imaginary friendship :( lol The book sounds very interesting though- please enter me.
    Jcbdalton (at) yahoo.com
    Thank you!

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  44. I do! Just so I can play board games! :D Even though I am playing against 'myself', I still lose :(

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  45. This book sounds great. I never had an imaginary friend, but my daughter did. He was not a nice one either.

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  46. oops I forgot to put in my e-mail address for the contest.
    bc428[at]juno[dot]com

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  47. Jen - Not having an imaginary friend doesn't make you a loser! :-) As you can see from some of the other responses, you are definitely not alone.

    RB - When I play a game on the computer, I give the other players my pets' names. :-)

    Rebekah - Oh, no! A not so nice imaginary friend would be no fun at all.

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  48. No, I didn't have an imaginary friend. My eldest son did, and I was actually kind of envious of that wild imagination that conjured up someone who wasn't really there! :)

    Please sign me up. this sounds wonderful.

    bookfoolery(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  49. Nancy - I'm sure you had other ways to express your creativity. :-)

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  50. This sounds really good! I never had an imaginary friend but my younger brother did for many years. He described him in great detail and talked about him often. His friend had a first and last name and lived on our hill in a tent. The friend died in a fire (his tent of course) but then he brought home back. After several months his friend died again and that was the last of him. We still talk about his imagination and how we all remember the details.

    Thanks for your contest!
    5wrights1@verizon.net

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  51. This sounds like a fab book. I'd like to be entered in the contest, please. :D Unfortunately I never had an imaginary friend, unless you count the book characters I took with me on various adventures (all of them starring myself as the heroine, of course).

    - Anastasia
    herebebooks AT gmail.com

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  52. My imaginary friend as a child was Dodie. She lived between the end of my parents' couch and the wall, where there was a nook just big enough for me to squeeze into. When it was time for me to leave childish things like imaginary friends behind, Dodie got run over by a bus.

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  53. My copy of Imaginary Friends came today - John Marco even autographed it! Thanks so much for hosting the contest.

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  54. Kathy - Oh good! Thanks for letting me know.

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