Budo is Max’s imaginary friend, and therefore is visible only to Max and to other imaginary friends. He is able to slide through doorways and windows, appear almost real, and run quite fast, but only because Max has imagined him so. He has been alive longer than many of his fellow imaginary friends and he is quite proud of this fact – although it gives him some anxiety because he is aware that his time in existence may be limited. In fact, he’s watched others disappear. On the other hand, he knows that Max needs him more than many other kids need their imaginary friends, because Max, as Budo describes him, lives more on the inside than on the outside. As Budo narrates Max’s story, we see how truly dependent on Budo Max is – and yet how eventually, Budo empowers Max to save himself.
What begins with the feel of a children’s book actually builds into quite an insightful and even suspenseful novel. Telling the story from the perspective of the imaginary friend gives the story an air of innocence, lulling the reader into a false sense that all will remain benign. This provides that much more of a jolt when Max, who is clearly caught unaware, does get entrapped in a very precarious situation.
This is also a subtle and powerful way to communicate the experience of a child who likely carries the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, formerly known as Asperger’s. Budo speaks for Max as he describes what he likes and doesn’t like, how he has an easier time with routine, how he cannot tolerate too much stimuli, and that he prefers not to be touched. He describes that he prefers to be alone or with Budo, and that he’s ok with being alone, even if his parents are worried by this. Budo also describes the frequent discomfort of others around Max. He highlights the few, and one teacher in particular, who really make an effort to get to know who Max is. He loves this teacher because she focuses on Max’s strengths rather than his shortcomings, how he is special, rather than how he is different.
This is a beautiful story, with very unique narration, and with a surprising crescendo. Something quite different, for sure!