Author: Jamie Sullivan
Cover Artist: London Burden
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Amazon Buy Link: Imaginary
Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult
Length: 30,000 words
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by K.C. Beaumont
Review Summary: A delightful tale of friendship, love, and heartache between two boys who desperately want something real.
Aaron is a lonely, unloved boy when he first meets James. Their friendship seems like a
dream come true—or perhaps just a dream, because no one else can see or hear James. Aaron
stubbornly clings to his new friend, however, even when the friendship makes him an object
of scorn and ridicule. No matter the years that pass, or the challenges they face, Aaron
refuses to give up on his best friend—but life might just find a way to take James from him
After his parents’ passing, Aaron becomes a ward of the state, and ultimately ends up in the care of Tiffany and Shaw White, two people who only take in foster children for the stipend they receive in return. At the age of five, Aaron is left to wander the neighborhood alone, and is often left to fend for himself come mealtime. Throughout the story, Tiffany and Shaw cast Aaron aside, chastise him, and threaten to put him back into the system because they just don’t want to deal with him, and Aaron is left heartbroken, wishing for a real family who loves him.
When he sees James, a boy sitting all by himself atop a wooden fence, Aaron is excited to meet someone new. He’s nervous, though, about how James will feel about being friends with a “loser foster kid” who wears torn, dirty clothes and has no fancy toys to play with. Despite these concerns, the boys become instant friends, climbing trees, checking out small animals, and chasing each other through open fields. It’s merely a curiosity to Aaron that James shrugs off questions about his name, family, and school.
That curiosity turns into concern when Aaron realizes that no one—not even the town busybody, Mrs. Sullivan—has heard of “the new kid”. What’s worse is that nobody can see or hear James, and they begin to think Aaron is crazy. While Aaron is worried about the fact that nobody believes his friend is a real person over the course of several years, he’s most worried about Tiffany and Shaw wanting to send him away because they “don’t want a crazy kid in the house.” He doesn’t want to end up with different—and potentially worse—foster parents, but more than that, he doesn’t want to be separated from James.
From the very first page, my heart broke for Aaron. He’s an adorable, sweet boy who can’t catch a break, and I wanted nothing more than to smother him with love and affection. No child should experience the pain of losing their parents at such a young age (or in a perfect world, at all), let alone be shuffled around from house to house because foster parents don’t want to deal with him. At such a vulnerable and impressionable time in his life, Aaron needs someone to love him, to care for him, and to want him to be there. Instead, he gets a set of foster parents who look at him solely as a paycheck; who don’t care if he eats, has clean clothes, or has any positive interaction whatsoever. Tiffany and Shaw clearly don’t want to be parents and have taken Aaron in just so they can make ends meet—and they often discuss this right in front of young Aaron. As a mother to two young boys, I want to do unspeakably painful things to these people, and it hurts my heart all the more that foster parents like Tiffany and Shaw are very common.
James is a delightful, energetic boy who, like Aaron, is just so easy to love. They both share the same curiosity (their discovery and examination of the warren of baby rabbits just made my teeth ache), the same zest for life, and the same desire for something real. Aaron wants a real family, and James wants others to believe he’s a real boy.
The one thing that is typically expected to be an angsty issue between gay characters is the fact that they’re gay. This is not the case in Imaginary. Aaron and James’s attraction and love is something that easily develops and naturally grows and is so captivating in its purity. The way James expresses his feelings of loneliness when Aaron’s not around makes the emotion a very tangible thing. How he insists, despite what everyone tells Aaron—and what Aaron often fears himself—that he is not a product of Aaron’s imagination made me clutch at my chest many times. You can’t help but fall in love with these kids and want to embarrass them in front of everyone by showing them just how much you adore them. Does anyone remember having their Mom drop them off at school in sixth grade, refusing to leave without a few dozen kisses, hair fixings, and “I love you”s? Yeah. I want to embarrass both of these boys so much.
I suspected a resolution for Aaron and James’s situation similar to the one that actually happened in this story, though I was delighted to be just slightly off the mark (I know. Way to be vague!). I’d hoped the ending would have included more vindication, but I realize it would have been very out-of-character for Aaron otherwise. That small bit aside, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Imaginary was the most endearing, charming, heartfelt story I’ve read in a long time, and I highly recommend it.