Imaginary Friend: Your Next Must-Read Horror Novel

Unless you were living under a rock for the entirety of 2012 (and the few years following), I’m sure you remember "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky, the movie joined a series of young adult film adaptations that heavily influenced youth pop culture. The impactful soundtrack became especially popular, for example, the tunnel scene that re-popularized “Heroes” by David Bowie and the goofy homecoming dance performed to “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners.  

The movie also gifted us notable quotes such as, “In that moment I swear, we were infinite,” and, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” both of which made it into plenty of Tumblr posts and Facebook captions. But for how much the film is talked about, the man behind the genius is rarely mentioned. Stephen Chbosky is one of my all-time favorite authors, and the novel version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, in many ways, even more brilliant and heartbreaking than the film (although both are wonderful for different reasons). 

After writing Perks, Chbosky took some time away from the literary world to pursue various projects in film. He wrote the screenplay for, directed, and produced the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and he also wrote the screenplays for the film adaptation of Rent and Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Most recently, he has written and directed Wonder, again based on a young adult novel, and he is rumored to be directing the upcoming film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen.  

Chbosky has been wildly successful as a writer and director since releasing his debut novel, but now, for the first time in twenty years, Stephen Chbosky is re-entering the literary sphere with a new book–and its premise is quite far from the Young Adult fiction we know him for.

"Imaginary Friend" is a horror story deeply influenced by Stephen King that was nearly two decades in the making. The novel opens on a young mother who flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her 7-year-old son Christopher, settling in a small town in Pennsylvania to begin a new and safer life. 

Escaping the physical danger posed by the abusive ex-boyfriend, the pair discovers a much more terrifying danger after Christopher goes missing for six days; although he returns with no memory and no apparent harm done to him, he is far from unchanged.  

Christopher begins to develop strange abilities and to hear voices, and he finds himself sucked deeper and deeper into a world that threatens the safety of his entire town. A strange blend of Stephen King’s style and Biblical imagery, this 700-page book is sure to take you on a similar journey. It is certainly not a novel you will forget about any time soon.  

Image Credit: Jp Valery

"Imaginary Friend" absolutely blew me away. Although it strays from the young adult style of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it contains similar themes of small-town community and cycles of abuse, and it is equally heartbreaking in its raw depiction of human suffering.  

Chbosky makes the transition from the genres of Young Adult to horror perfectly, and the influence of King on this novel is pronounced. I actually found Imaginary Friend to be far more terrifying than any King novel I’ve ever encountered, possibly because Chbosky is able to combine the expert horror writing of King with a more nuanced and three-dimensional cast of characters. 

Whether he’s discussing Charlie, Sam, and Patrick in his first novel or Christopher and his mother in this one, Chbosky’s characters are so relatable and easy to empathize with that they almost become a part of you by the novel’s end. This book will terrify you at some points, and it’ll break your heart at others, but it is absolutely worth the read.    

With the semester picking up, taking some time to read for pleasure is a great way to destress and give your mind a break from classwork. 

Whether you’re nostalgic for your Perks phase (let’s face it, we all had one) or looking for a new horror novel, give "Imaginary Friend" a try. It’s definitely a heavy read, so keep that in mind if you take my advice, but this one will definitely have a special place on my bookshelf for years to come.  

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