Jimmy Matejek-Morris’s My Ex-Imaginary Friend (2021) creatively explores the deliberate silences and painful experiences of invisibility that comprise one young boy’s childhood.
Ten-year-old Jack has a part-walrus, part-human imaginary friend named George. The first-person narrative shifts between their point-of-view, which brings their shared experiences of abandonment and shared feelings of invisibility into unsettling proximity.
George is a fascinating and well executed literary device. Through him, Jack has access to snapshots of the reality that adults in his life work to keep from him. Even more, he has a friend.
At the beginning of the book, Jack’s parents are separated, and George is no longer part of his life. Jack appears to have a strong relationship with his mother, an estranged relationship with his father, and a complex relationship with his extended family. He is clearly a quirky boy. His mother refers to him as “sensitive.”
Things begin to unravel quickly. His mother takes him, his cousins, and one of his cousin’s friends on a whirlwind impromptu trip to find the missing George. The unsuccessful adventure appears to have exhausted her. She leaves Jack and the other children at her sister’s home, before taking off for a one week “break.” Like Jack, readers will find this event abrupt and painful.
The ensuing story includes plenty of flashbacks, tons of whimsy, and a lot of sadness.
At its core, this is a book about changing relationships and family challenges. It is beautiful, painful, and complex.
Although the content is appropriate for middle grade readers over nine-years-old, I think the story itself is a challenging read. It can be difficult to track time, since the story isn’t linear. The same is true of following movement through real and fantasy spaces. This is a warning, not a critique. Some readers may find the storytelling challenging and the material certainly requires emotional maturity to process and appreciate.
I’m glad I read this charming book and will be on the lookout for more by this debut author!