A Religion-Focused Horror Novel That Manages to Offend More Than Scare
Christopher is seven years old.
Christopher is the new kid in town.
Christopher has an imaginary friend.
We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six long days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a treehouse in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.
Twenty years ago, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower made readers everywhere feel infinite. Now, Chbosky has returned with an epic work of literary horror, years in the making, whose grand scale and rich emotion redefine the genre. Read it with the lights on.
Stephen Chbosky’s novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, has long been one of my favorite books of all time. When I found out that he had written a horror novel, I couldn’t help but snap it up as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, the writing within Imaginary Friend does not live up to the praise that I once gave Chbosky. It is deeply religious, which normally I do not have a problem with, but many of the comments and themes throughout were offensive to women, children with disabilities, and those living in larger bodies. Chbosky’s internal biases managed to reveal themselves throughout this novel, and based on the story that I read, the synopsis does not accurately portray the story — which created a deep sense of false advertising. I felt utterly tricked.
Tell Me More
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky follows a young boy named Christopher who vanishes for six days, only to come back with a voice in his head and an imaginary friend. This is the basic synopsis that is given to the reader, but the story goes far beyond this concept. It baffles me that the synopsis did not make any mention about religion, as religion is the main focus of the novel.
First off, the cast of Imaginary Friend is huge. Most of the chapters focus on different characters, and many of the storylines tend to get muddled together. While some of the character’s storylines are eventually connected to add to the main theme of the story, others are lost in the shuffle. Christianity is the primary focus of this novel, and God and Jesus are frequently discussed and insinuated. Chbosky clearly tried to create a horror novel that focused on spiritual warfare, but the few horrific themes and elements are used over and over again, causing the story to go in circles. This happens so frequently that hundreds of pages of the novel could be removed without consequence. Chbosky seemed to have too many ideas and thoughts that he couldn’t balance them, and his novel became a muddled mess.
The first half or so of the novel kept my attention and gave me hope for the rest of the story, but I soon found out just how poorly the story was formatted. The messages that Chbosky tried to portray were negative and offensive but done is such a subtle way that it wasn’t until I was near the end of the novel that I realized just how inappropriate the novel was. Nearly all of the male characters were made out to be heroes, while the female characters were generally made fun of, and at worse, vilified. Comments were also made about the weight of some female characters, making them out to be “grotesque”, while a boy’s learning difficulties suddenly disappeared once he let religion into his life. This clearly connected to the idea that illnesses and disabilities can “prayed away”, which may be a dangerous message for many readers.
While it was clear Chbosky was trying to create a horror novel based on spiritual warfare, it instead became preachy and ill conceived. I can say that some of the horror imagery was frightening, but Chbosky used the same descriptions so many times that the scare factor was obsolete.
It takes a lot to offend me, but the subtle attack on female characters, characters with disabilities and other challenges, and characters of larger sizes was inappropriate and unnecessary. The preachy undertones insinuated that Chbosky was trying to persuade the reader into accepting Christianity, rather than remaining neutral and focusing instead on interweaving the themes of this religion with horror. The synopsis itself was inaccurate, and I cannot recommend this novel due to its poorly thought-out story and structure. In my opinion, Imaginary Friend does more harm than good.
Do yourself a favor and skip this one. You will be better off.
Originally published at http://thehorrormaven.com on January 30, 2023.