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Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier: Michelle Cuevas

Book: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier
Author: Michelle Cuevas
Pages: 176
Age Range: 8-12

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier is, as you would expect from the title, the first person tale of a boy who learns, gradually, that he is in fact the imaginary friend of a girl named Fleur. Jacques starts out telling the reader about his twin sister and his parents. He laments the fact that people don't seem to like him, not picking him for the soccer team, or calling on him in class. When another imaginary friend clues him in to reality, he resists for a while, and ends up in group therapy, but eventually accepts his fate. From there, a slightly surreal journey of self-discovery ensues. 

I found this to be a kid-friendly premise, well-executed. The story calls to mind the recent Caldecott winning picture book The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. I was also reminded a bit of the Toy Story movies. But Michelle Cuevas' rendition of life as an imaginary friend offers a variety of unique twists, like the fact that the dog can apparently see the imaginary friend. There is even a bureaucracy involving moving from one imaginary friend position to another, with an after hours hotline for "imaginary emergencies". It is fun stuff!  

Despite not being technically real, Jacques is a fully rounded character, with his own interests and a distinctive voice. Like this:

"Maurice was old. I don't mean grandparent old or even great-grandparent old. I mean old. Old like the candles on his birthday cake cost more than the cake. Old like his memories were in black and white. (Page 10)

"I became very blue.

Okay, I'll be honest, that's an understatement. I was way beyond blue. I moved into shades of navy and indigo and midnight. I got so low, my insides must have turned the color of deep space, of burned campfire, of the dark up a dragon's nose in a dungeon." (Page 41)

I liked Jacque's "parents", too, especially the dad. They've supported Fleur's imaginary friend ideas to an impressive degree (bunk beds, a place at the table, etc.). But as Fleur reaches 8 years old, as convinced as ever that Jacques is real, they start to have their doubts:

"THAT'S IT! I've had it! This is just ... just ...  too much imagination!" he yelled. He stood in his robe, his hair on end like a madman. "It's just too many layers," he continued. "A girl having an imaginary friend is one thing. But an imaginary friend who has his own imaginary friend? No, no, it's too much. It's like a nesting doll of imagination! It's like a painting of a painting! It's like the wind catching a chill from the wind, or a wave taking a dip in the ocean. It's like reading a novel that merely describes another novel." (Page 30)

While much of Confessions of an Imaginary Friend involves over-the-top humor, this is a story that addresses profound questions about one's sense of self. When Jacques learns that he isn't real, Fleur wonders if she might also be imaginary. Because if Jacques always thought that he was real but wasn't, why couldn't that happen to anyone? Then later, Jacques has to figure out what makes him himself, even if the details of his appearance change. Some of this may be beyond the comprehension of the eight-year-old reader, but I believe that Confessions of an Imaginary Friend will still work, even without a full grasp of the subtleties. 

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend is a middle grade title that welcomes newer readers. The sixty chapters are extremely short (~3 pages each), the lines are wide-spaced, and the book is lightly illustrated with small sketches by the author. However, I think that Confessions of an Imaginary Friend will also work for older readers, particularly those who are starting to wonder what it is that makes them special. It would make a wonderful classroom read-aloud, and it's one that is going on my keep shelf for when my daughter is a bit older. Definitely recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: September 8,2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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