Posted October 5, 2017 by Allie Burke in Books

REVIEW: The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

The Imaginary
A. F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
Children’s Literature
Bloomsbury Publishing, 23rd October 2014
221 Pages

When I saw the cover of A. F. Harrold’s The Imaginary across High Holborn Blackwell’s, I knew I had to have it. It’s the sort of pleasing cover one finds on well made children’s books, with fantastic colour glinting off monochrome illustration.

Within, it is just as lovely.

Telling the tale of Rudger, an imaginary friend, and the girl who dreamt him into being, whose name is Amanda Shuffleup (what a glorious name, The Imaginary is packed full of excellent nomenclature). The two of them live happily and go on all sorts of imagined adventures, and become the best of friends. Amanda is a clever, witty and adventurous, a delight to read. Rudger is naïve and relatable – the dynamic of the two of them is perfect.

Disaster strikes however, and they are separated, and a sinister man in a Hawaiian shirt (Mr Bunting! I love these character names!) and his weird mini-goth accomplice begin to stir up some genuinely scary trouble, with some equally unsettling illustrations.

What follows is a story of friendship, imagination, fear and loss, and a frank admission that the world is indeed full of scary people, but that these people – with help from those you love – can be defeated. It’s a wonderful book, and one that makes you think.

I loved the idea of imaginary friends being real and the lore that surrounded them, and the build up of this lore flowed well. There was also a good level of tension running throughout, without irritating one – too much waiting for a plot thread to be revealed can be dull, but Harrold balances this well.

The prose itself was a joy, as were the accompanying illustrations, and the world-building was simple yet brilliantly effective, I was entirely convinced throughout the book. Perhaps best of all though, are the characters, who are each well-rounded, flawed in a human way. The villains and more antagonistic secondary characters could have been a little less transparently vile, but ultimately this worked.

I loved especially Amanda’s single mother, Lizzie, who is the perfect depiction of a parent; both a disciplinarian and a care-giver, she was wonderfully human. All too often I think children’s literature attempts to either make parents out to be peculiar monster show don’t understand children, or else saccharine ideals made out to be the apple of the child’s eye. Lizzie was the perfect balance of both, and therefore a refreshingly convincing.

Ultimately, The Imaginary is a gorgeous tale which unsettles and intrigues, and it has a cat called ‘Oven’ in it. What more could you want?

Allison “Allie” Burke is a published novelist and editor who enjoys Weird Things like reading six YA novels in a day, drinking coffee at all the wrong times, and rambling on about Things No One Has Ever Heard Of to people who are not really listening. She loves vampires – but only on TV, not in books (except that one time) – and expresses herself using the F-word more in a day than is acceptable in any human being’s lifetime. She often Capitalizes Things That Are Not Technically Supposed To Be Capitalized, like that one girl from that one book. Her favorite book is The Fault In Our Stars, and she is terrified of Good Books Being Turned Into Movies That Suck.