Children’s book of the week: My Ex-Imaginary Friend

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Our latest recommendation for young readers comes from author Jimmy Matejeck-Morris – and it’s a terrific piece of work.

One of the areas that’s been heavily cut back on as newspapers and magazines trim their budgets in current times is reviews of books for young readers. As such, it’s getting trickier and trickier for authors of books for children and younger readers to get their work noticed. This weekly spot on the site is our attempt to do something about that. If you see a book you like here, please do spread the word. And who knows? We may see some of these stories on the big screen in the future.

Have you ever felt invisible – even in your own family? For eleven-year-old Jack, feeling left out or left behind is getting to be a bit of a habit. His father’s left, and doesn’t seem to be making much effort to stay in touch.

To make things worse, he and his imaginary half-walrus friend, George, are on the outs. Then his mother starts behaving in more unpredictable and upsetting ways – abruptly leaving him with his aunt, uncle and cousins. That’s when Jack decides it’s up to him to put the pieces of his family back together, and it’ll take all of George’s magic to make the plan work.

Narrated in turn by Jack and George (who is apt to vanish mid-sentence, though sometimes it’s just his arms, or his legs, or his stomach), My Ex-Imaginary Friend is immensely thoughtful and sweetly poignant. George’s magic is the magic of being seen, and believed in; it’s also the magic of understanding another person’s point of view. While gentle and kind, it’s a refreshingly direct read: Jack is confused and hurt by his mother’s behaviour until his aunt takes the bull by the horns and explains bipolar disorder simply and compassionately.

With so many serious topics on the table, My Ex-Imaginary Friend still finds room for the whimsical, the daft and the downright bizarre. George can only be what Jack has imagined him to be – but cut adrift from their friendship and under threat of vanishing altogether he has to use the little bits of logic he’s been given, and a strong sense of their favourite places, to try and find his way back. His narrative isn’t straightforward, but it’s certainly one that’ll tug at all sorts of feelings for all ages of reader.

Fast-paced and beautifully observed, there are lots of little treasures tucked away in the folds of story, including an unexpectedly sweet teenage cousin and a straight-up comedy encounter with a tank of walruses. It’s unexpectedly cinematic in patches, with a touch of classic 80s family adventure: E.T.’s childlike innocence in George, a bike chase, The Goonies’ sense of kids teaming up to save the day. But the adults are equally well-drawn and the windows into their mistakes and vulnerabilities are handled both unflinchingly and kindly.

It’s definitely one to make friends with.

Reading age: 8-11 (middle grade)
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Current release date: 2nd February 2021
Further details and ordering: right here

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