I really need to stop accepting books for review, because when I don’t love them I feel horribly conflicted. They gave me a free book, I should give it a nice review! But when it’s a struggle to find nice things to say, I find myself in an awkward position.
Such is the case with Andrea Lochen’s Imaginary Things. I was intrigued by the synopsis:
Watching children play and invent whimsical games of fantasy is one of life’s great joys. But what if you could actually see your child’s imagination as it unfolded? And what would you do if your child’s imagination suddenly became dark and threatening?
Burned-out and broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural home for the summer with her four-year-old son, David. The sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs forces Anna to admit that either she’s lost her mind or she can actually see her son’s active imagination. Frightened for David’s safety, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon and how best to protect him. But what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son’s imaginary friends truly represent and dark secrets about her own childhood imaginary friend.
Living next door is Jamie Presswood, Anna’s childhood friend who’s grown much more handsome and hardened than the boy she once knew. But past regrets and their messy lives are making the rekindling of their complex friendship prove easier said than done. Between imaginary creatures stalking her son and a tumultuous relationship with David’s biological father, Anna may find it impossible to have room in her life or her heart for another man. But as David’s visions become more threatening, Anna must learn to differentiate between which dangers are real and which are imagined, and whom she can truly trust.
Sounds fun, right? Mothering, magic realism, maybe a little love story on the side – sounds like a great formula for a light summer read. It had great potential, but I just could not warm up to this one. To the author’s credit, I was intrigued enough by David’s experiences with the dinosaurs that I kept reading all the way through to the end to find out how it all turned out.
It was, however, a bit of a chore to endure the protagonist throughout the story. Young, self-centred and vapid, I was surprised to find myself actively disliking her, and found it nearly impossible to relate to her or her choices. When she called her son “whiny” instead of describing him as “whining” I may have actually cringed. I get that she’s supposed to be a young mother and clearly from a different generation than me, but even as a mother to a seven year old with an incredibly active imagination, I just couldn’t find anything in Anna to like. In fact, none of the characters resonated with me, not Anna’s kindly grandparents nor the imaginative little boy at the centre of the story. Only the hunky boy next door who’s “grown much more handsome and hardened” seemed to have much depth at all, and that wasn’t nearly enough to carry the story.
It’s a really neat, imaginative idea for a story, and the end was satisfying enough to make it worth the time to read, but any time I find myself actually rolling my eyes at the conventions in a story, I can’t help but give it a less-than-stellar review.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review. It might be the last!