Favorite Staff Reads of 2019

It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has flown by! Before we head out to celebrate the new year and make those New Year’s resolutions, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on 2019 and the gorgeous reads we’ve discovered. Each of our bloggers and editors have reflected on all the books—both old and new—they’ve read in the last 12 months and have chosen one book to highlight that impacted them most this 2019 calendar year. We hope this list inspires you to pick up a new book for your 2020 TBR list. Until then, The Spellbinding Shelf wishes you all another fantastic year filled with happy memories, adventures, time with family and friends, and—of course—lots of good books!


Staff Writer Roxanne Bingham

 Harlan Coben’s Run Away follows Simon Greene as he tries to find his eldest daughter, Paige, who has become addicted to drugs and her terrible boyfriend. When her boyfriend winds up dead, Simon and his wife team up to find Paige and encounter danger along the way. With two other stories interwoven, the mystery complicates and leads the reader to wonder why Paige spiraled and how the characters are all connected. As the mystery unravels, so does Simon’s life as he knows it, with secrets about his wife coming to the surface. 

I love everything Coben writes, but I really enjoyed this one because it highlights familial love and what one is willing to do to save their child. We receive clues as the characters do, making it a real page turner to get to the heart of the mystery. For any crime novel or mystery lovers, I definitely recommend Run Away!


Staff Writer Abhilasha Mandal

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is about two people in Japan, Tengo and Aomame, who are pulled into a dystopian world parallel to the year 1984, where a series of inexplicable events envelops them and they are left wondering if time itself isn’t a loop in the world they nickname 1Q84.

It is so rare to find a book written for an adult audience that employs elements of fantasy that I recoiled in surprise when I first reached the page that revealed the supernatural theme of the novel.

The story is so captivating and unpredictable that for two whole chapters I found myself questioning which of the two worlds was “real.” This is a must-read for fans of fantastical thrillers.


Staff Writer Brandi Martinez

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous presents a letter to a mother who might never read the message’s contents because she cannot read English. This makes the outpouring of Vuong’s heart even more poignant. In this exposed and emotional account of the author’s life growing up with a single mother, he examines their relationship and how these experiences have shaped his view of the world. The author knows that he may never receive answers to the many open-ended questions which he asks his mother throughout the work, but his need to voice these questions is laced through the memories which he recounts. 

Vuong utilizes the beauty of the poetic language to weave together the pieces of his youth. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is at once urgent in its need to find meaning in the memories, and languid in its wandering quality which relishes the moments for their own unique beauty. I was entranced by both the beauty of Vuong’s words as well as the sincerity and openness of his self-perspective. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to swim in a sea of haunting beauty and fearlessness.


Staff Writer Jade Stanton

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time provides an summative explanation of the history and theories behind our current understanding of the universe. Hawking’s aim was to create a book to explain complex theories that could be understood by anyone with an eighth grade understanding of math and physics.

Hawking’s book, although published in 1988, is my staff pick for the year mainly because of the advancements made in our understanding of the universe in recent times, specifically the first photographed picture of a black hole taken on April 10th of this year. It is these advancements that show just how important it is for all people to have a basic understanding of the theories and concepts at work, so that they can better understand the importance of the discoveries being made today. Although Hawking has since passed, his work in the field (and in our lives) has remained extremely relevant, and we owe him so much for our current understanding of the world around us.


Staff Writer Edward Dolehanty

Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream House, explores Machado’s experience in a same-sex relationship that featured domestic abuse as well as the cannon of domestic abuse in lesbian relationships. Full of emotional depth and imaginatively told, this story attempts to show an aspect of the underbelly of modern queer culture through Machado’s personal story, literary and film criticism, and through the dissection of pop-culture.  

I love this book because like Machado’s previous work, Her Body and Other Parties, it is unlike anything that I have read before. As soon as I was finished reading it I wanted to start reading it again. The world which Machado creates and so elaborately and seamlessly weaves together is equally impressive and immersive. While the story comes from her distinctly queer perspective, that is not to say that there is not something in this book for everyone as it shines light upon the emotional traumas that unfold in our everyday lives.


Communications Coordinator Makenna Knighton

Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward follows a girl named Spensa who wants nothing more than to be a pilot and clear her father’s name. However, she almost misses the test to get into flight school because she finds M-Bot, an abandoned starship, while exploring—and Spensa’s challenges only get more difficult from there. While juggling escapes with M-Bot, tensions with her classmates, and her own impulsiveness, Spensa discovers important truths about herself and her surroundings, making it through to the surprising future after an engaging journey.

I love how this novel blends the science fiction and young adult genres, like Ender’s Game and How to Train Your Dragon combined at Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. With perfect pacing through the pleasantly long and thought-provoking narrative, you won’t want to miss Spensa’s riveting adventure—and the sequel, Starsight, released last month!


Managing Editor Payton Kline

Wendy Webb’s Daughters of the Lake begins when a perfectly-preserved body washes up on the beach near Kate Granger’s childhood home along the North Shore of Lakes Superior—but, the body has been dead for nearly 100 years, and Kate’s family had something to do with it. Through a series of dreams and stories told through Kate and the murdered woman, Addie’s, eyes readers see this chilling story unfold in the most unexpected and deliciously uncanny ways.

For those of you who have read the blog before, you know that I adore the Minnesotan author Wendy Webb—so it will come as no surprise that my absolute favorite read of 2019 was her newest book, Daughters of the Lake. With characters that still cross my mind to this day, a setting so gorgeous yet so ominous, and a plot so compelling that I often read into the early morning hours, I cannot sing high enough praises for this newest novel from the queen of Northern Gothic herself. For those of you looking for an entertaining, yet thought-provoking book to kick off the new year, look no further than Daughters of the Lake.


Editor-in-Chief Rachel Hagerman

Tara Westover’s Educated traces Westover’s journey from living with a survivalist family in the states without any formal education to earning a PhD from Cambridge University. This memoir reflects on Tara’s childhood working alongside six siblings in a dangerous scrapyard managed by her domineering father and learning from her talented healer and midwife mother. From here, it follows her departure from home into the seemingly secular world for education at BYU followed by Cambridge.

I heard numerous wonderful things about this popular memoir while I waited until it was finally available for pickup at my local library. I have to admit that I was suspicious that the book wouldn’t live up to the hype, but I was pleasantly proven wrong. I absolutely loved Westover’s writing style and reflection. I appreciated her brutal honesty about her mental states and her reactions to defining moments in her coming-of-age story. I found her educational journey inspiring and her relationship to faith, and the people who abuse faith, heart-wrenching.


The artwork featured on our blog post above was provided by local artist Bruce Black. You can view more artwork from Black at bruceblackart.com or on Instagram @bruceblackart.

An Unsettled Flying Sea: Reflection on a Poem by Frank O’Hara

In the late days of Tucson summer on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself overwhelmed by an excess of simultaneity. Calendars for work and school and my personal life needed further adjusting; a cross-town trip to find new eyeglass frames loomed; and I felt eager and anxious to start writing the weekly newsletter for my introductory English course section. I consulted my volume of Frank O’Hara’s poems for advice. Flipping the sturdy hardcover open, “Ode (to Joseph Leseur) on the Arrow that Flieth by Day” appeared.

As you’ll find in his poem, O’Hara’s agile and rapid mind departs from a quotidian Sunday radio broadcast described via an unlikely simile—“like dying after a party”—and arrives at the poem’s earth or sea cleaving conclusion a little over two dozen lines later. In between, we’re treated to an absurdist Mother’s Day greeting for Russia in the second stanza, what feels like an excerpt from an advertisement  (“Win a Dream Trip”) in the fifth stanza, the novelist Andre Gide’s name being dropped, and approval of a visit to listen to Aaron Copland’s Piano Fantasy (1957). I call this O’Hara’s cultured, joyous, caring grind—which isn’t a grind at all; it’s a slender-yet-sumptuous slice of the life of Frank O’Hara. Or in the life of any of us if we had the verbal skill and delighted in vulnerability as he did; I could only be pleased to write a poem or memoir or email that exuded such liveliness.

I considered “Ode (to Joseph Leseur) on the Arrow that Flieth by Day” in terms of departure and arrival, making this choice because the poem resembles a travelogue. O’Hara tells us very briefly what he’s experienced and the individuals he encountered along the way. No one can say how much of the voyage that is the “Ode” occurred in O’Hara’s mind alone, and the poem feels that much more confidential because of that. On reading it, I felt like he’d been kind enough to share some amusing and insightful asides with me, encouraging me to consider my to-do list as something other than a burden. 

Upon further musing, I realize O’Hara’s “Ode” transports me to the barely-breezy summer days when I began writing this reflective post, when there was less to coordinate and complete, if only because the temperature was often above 100 degrees. I picture myself after setting down the hardback volume of poems, feeling encouraged and comfortable with the uncertainties ahead, I walk outside. There, I lounge in the summer air next to the cacti and the cars, just beneath the sun. The four cats I live with are intrigued by me, ridiculous in my pink sandals, bemused by my exposed torso under the cactus sun, my eyeglasses already ready. 

I lounge and consider the heaviness that hangs over “Ode” like the sun hanging over me. That heaviness resides in the poem’s title, which comes from Psalm 91:5, where it is part of a memento mori—a reminder to remember your death. Death, if we can follow with O’Hara—if I can follow his joyous, caring grind so well—is the last thing among those contained by summer days. It can be touched without resistance, with a gentleness like saying “summer” or “our sea” or “hello.”


We would like to thank Nick Mueller for this guest blogger reflection.

Book Review

Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich

Publisher: Okay Donkey Press  
Genre: Flash Fiction  
Pages: 176 pages   
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 3/5  
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Summary

In this flash fiction collection a myriad of victims come alive and show themselves beyond the circumstances they find themselves in. Each piece is set in motion by another murdered woman—including a girl, teacher, mermaid, and others—but there is more to each story than just the inciting tragedy. These stories are laden with grief, intrigue, occasional mystery, and ruminations of what might have been. These are stories of murdered women, but there is more here than meets the eye.   

Thoughts

This collection was thought provoking through and through. It is not often that we see something that seems so familiar, in this case the victim, given new life and dimension. Yet that is exactly what Ulrich has done, she has given a compelling voice to characters who in the past would have been hard to cast as anything but flat. Each story, no matter its length, feels both diverse and dynamic and these pieces are in heavy conversation with one another.

While this collection was overall both interesting and innovate, there were times when it felt too repetitive. When reading one story after the next they start to bleed together and the murdered mermaid becomes hard to tell apart from the murdered babysitter and the murdered girlfriend. That is not to say that there is no joy to be had from reading this collection, but it is perhaps a read best done over an extended period of time.


I would like to thank TNBBC Publicity for providing this ARC
in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Let it Snow: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

I remember falling in love with the novel Let it Snow during the peak of my John Green phase, at least 8 years ago. So, when I heard it was being made into a Netflix Original film, I actually screamed in excitement. I adore Christmas stories, so what could be better than three Christmas stories that are intertwined? Absolutely nothing. As with any book to movie adaptation, I was a bit nervous; however, despite minor differences, the film did not disappoint.


Let it Snow follows three different main stories, each one written by a different author; John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson. Each story is separate yet still connected at the same time, making it one of my favorite elements of the story.

The basic structure of the story consists of three different Christmas love stories, each at a different stage. One pair has been best friends for years, the other just met on the train, and the last is getting over a breakup. They are all trying to muddle through the world around them the best they can, and even with all the chaos around them, they may just find love.

With any book to movie adaptation, there were some changes implemented. I’m sure we can all agree that, generally speaking, this is our least favorite part about these projects. However, most of these changes were small, and the two major changes made the story even better. What changes? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Change 1: The first of these changes comes from the story of Julie and Stuart, known in the book as Jubilee and Stuart.


In the written version, Jubilee is on the train headed to Florida, but it gets stuck in Gracetown. She meets Stuart on the train and they spend the day together. Most of this stays consistent in the movie, except that Jubilee’s name becomes Julie, she is not headed to Florida, and Stuart is a famous musician.


Personally, I think this change allowed their story to come to life even more. Julie’s family plays a larger role in the movie and her character is more dynamic in some ways, and that makes her story with Stuart even more sweet.
She ends up on the train because she is trying to find a gift for her mother, not because she is being sent to Florida.
This was one of my favorite sub-stories in the novel and the changes they made in the movie made me love it even more.

Change 2: The other major change in the film is more notable and had a much larger impact on the plot. I mentioned that the novel follows three love stories, but the movie decided to add a fourth.

This one follows Addie’s best friend, Dorrie. Addie’s story follows her dealing with the hard part of a relationship—a breakup, or potential breakup in her case. This breakup is paralleled with the novel, but Dorrie’s story is not. She was given her own spotlight, as she struggles trying to figure out if the girl she likes reciprocates her feelings. This is an important adaption for a number of reasons.

The new representation of the LGBTQ+ community gives the film more nuance. Unlike the novel, the film also incorporates an initial stage of relationships that I am sure we are all familiar with: the “do they like me back” battle we have internally. Dorrie’s new storyline was funny, adorable, and wholesome—which is everything I loved about the book to begin with. I am not generally a fan of major changes in book-to-movie adaptations, but this is one I can most definitely get behind.

I can honestly say that I have watched the movie three times since it was released, and plan to keep re-watching.


You can find the movie on Netflix by searching “Let it Snow.” If you are interested in purchasing the book, you can buy it from Changing Hands’ website here. I hope you love them both as much as I do!

5 Highly Anticipated Reads of 2020

As the year is now winding down to a close, we enter a time of reflection of the joys 2019 held and begin to look forward to the future—a perfect time to look for new reads to brighten our 2020! Whether you are searching for new books to add to your TBR pile or a fun new book to gift to a friend or loved one, this list is guaranteed to fill your 2020 with delightful new reads. Some of these selections are beloved and long-awaited sequels, while others are relative newcomers to the bookish world, but all of them have something special to offer to every kind of reader.


The Kingdom of Back – Marie Lu. While Marie Lu is no stranger to the world of YA fiction, The Kingdom of Back is Lu’s first work of historical YA fantasy. This novel is centered around the two Mozart siblings, Nannerl and Wolfgang, and their love of music. Both siblings have a prodigious talent for playing and composing, but Nannerl’s ambition is hindered by the societal constructs of 18th century Europe that forbid women from composing. Wolfgang’s talents continue to grow and Nannerl’s hope dims further and further until a mysterious stranger appears offering her a deal that could cost her everything, or give her everything she’s ever wanted. This book tells a story of music, magic, and the unyielding bond between siblings.

Release Date: March 3, 2020


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins. This selection holds a special place in my heart, as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy was central to my literary journey as a middle school student. As of now, we don’t know much about what Collins has planned for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, but the novel will be a prequel to the trilogy, taking place sixty four years earlier than the events of The Hunger Games during the Tenth Annual Hunger Games. Although this novel will not include Katniss or Peeta (for obvious reasons) here’s to hoping that we might see some cameos of older characters from the original trilogy! This book is set to be released in May, giving us just enough time to reread the original books first.

Release Date: May 19, 2020


You Are Not Alone – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Hendricks and Pekkanen are already a highly-acclaimed writing duo, known for their top ten bestsellers The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl. Their latest novel, You Are Not Alone, is centered around Shay Miller, a woman without a job, apartment, or a love life. Her eyes are opened when she witnesses an average woman make the decision to end her life by jumping in front of a subway train and realizes that she could see herself traveling down the same spiral. She soon meets a group of glamorous, put-together women offering to take her in with the promise, “You are not alone.” As Shay becomes more involved with the enviable Moore sisters, she finds her life getting better and better, but at a terribly high price. As the stakes continue to grow higher and higher, Shay finds herself wondering if “You are not alone” is a promise, or a threat. This psychological thriller is sure to shock and fascinate all varieties of readers.

Release Date: March 3, 2020


Imagine Me – Tahereh Mafi. Imagine Me is the sixth and final book in the explosive Shatter Me series. Try as I might, there are no words to accurately capture the beauty of this series. The series is set in a dystopian future and is centered around protagonist Juliette Ferrars. Juliette possesses a singular ability that makes her both powerful and feared: anyone who touches her feels immense pain and can be fatally wounded. Juliette uses her abilities to try and overthrow the tyrannical Reestablishment destroying her world. The prose of this series is especially noteworthy, as some lines and passages are crossed out to reflect Juliette’s train of thought. The Shatter Me series tells a story centered around love, resilience, and triumph over adversity. For those who have already read the other books in the series, I’m glad you can empathize with my bubbling excitement; for those that haven’t, you have almost four months to get caught up before the final book is released!

Release Date: March 31, 2020


The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley. “Everybody lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth?” This is the question that aging artist Julian Jessop wrote in a green notebook labeled “The Authenticity Project” before leaving it in a local cafe. When Monica stumbles upon Julian’s notebook, she adds her own story and aims to find a way to make Julian feel less alone. Soon, a whole cast of characters have added their stories to the green notebook, and even begin to meet in real life, where they’ll subject themselves to the terrifying ordeal of being known. The Authenticity Project promises to be a lighthearted and quirky yet candid and outspoken narrative on the nature of honesty and love. This book is highly recommended for those looking for a book about the human condition and who want to change the way they think.

Release Date:February 4, 2020

Literary Event—First Draft Book Club: “Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson

What’s better than a bookstore? One with a bar where you can relax with a beer and read, of course.

This Wednesday, join the First Draft Book Club at Changing Hands Phoenix, as they discuss Kevin Wilson’s newest novel, Nothing to See Here.

In this heartwarming comedy, Madison asks her old roommate, Lillian, to help take care of her twin stepchildren—who burst into flames when excited.

Hosted by Barbara VanDenburgh, reporter for Arizona Republic, this book club is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your favorite reads.

For more information, click here.

Location:  First Draft Book Bar inside Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Wednesday, December 18

Time:  7 p.m.

Price of the book: $21.59

5 Short Story Collections to Make you Fall in Love with Short Stories

Even amongst bookish people, the topic of short stories can be a divisive one. Some readers see short stories as too tedious or time-consuming, while others readers might complain that they feel short stories lack the depth of a novel. Adding to this conundrum, some readers were never properly introduced to short stories and now feel too overwhelmed by the genre and don’t even know where to start. Whatever the case may be, we here at The Spellbinding Shelf celebrate short stories, inviting you to abandon all prior convictions with our comprehensive list of five collections that are bound to make you fall in love with short stories.


Her Body and Other PartiesCarmen Maria Machado.
Machado is known for the macabre undertones in her writing and for creating female characters who are not always wholesomely motivated. The ease of her prose makes this collection incredibly alluring, but there is more to it than that—these stories are dark, empowering, nuanced, sinister, and above all else, great fun to read.


Civilwarland in Bad DeclineGeorge Saunders.
This is a powerfully imaginative collection that tests the elasticity of language. It doesn’t matter if Saunders is writing about subversive capitalistic greed or an amusement park that is reminiscent of West World, these tales are impeccably crafted. Each story presents a strange new world that will leave the reader intrigued and wanting more.


Stories of Your Life and OthersTed Chiang.
In this collection, Chiang challenges the notion of what short stories are capable of. He builds dense worlds rich with unique language and dynamic characters. He experiments with time to decrease the flow of information to a drip, and yet every page will leave you yearning to know the tales extraordinary conclusion. Ted Chiang is an author worth reading again and again. 


Magic for BeginnersKelly Link.
While all of the authors on this list so far experiment with blending the lines between genre and literary fiction, none are so adept at it as Kelly Link. That is not to say that her stories are gimmicky or weighed down by superfluous magic systems and supernatural characters. On the contrary, Link’s stories are full of emotional truth and excavate the far reaches of the imagination. Simply put, these stories are magical, but their power does not come from casting spells, but rather, in their ability to entrance their reader.


The Best American Short Stories Series—series edited by Heidi Piltor.

Since 1978, the Best American Short Stories series has been a literary staple with anthologies cultivated by great writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Tobias Wolff, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore, Roxane Gay, and most recently Anthony Doerr. Each year, this anthology puts forward twenty short stories that represent the best published short fiction. Each collection offers new worlds of enchantment, heartbreak, and excitement. There is no better place to find scores of talented writers, and also a plethora of publications, to further explore short stories—which by now you’re bound to love. 

Book Review

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Publisher: Chiltern Publishing
Genre: Coming-of-Age Drama
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Buy Local

Summary

In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott turns the everyday lives of four girls into an entertaining novel of love, loss, and the exceptional power of family. Based on Alcott’s own upbringing, Little Women is a recollection of her childhood experiences, and life lessons while residing in New England during the Civil War.

The adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are captivating as they take on the challenges of growing up—exploring the balance between familial duty and freedom  and society’s expectations of women in the 1800’s. During the uncertainty and scarcity of wartime, the March girls brave illness, romance, societal pressures, and unconventional career ambitions under the watchful eye of their mother, Marmee. Each of the March girls comes of age and discovers who they are through their endeavors, courage, and love of family in this classic novel. 

Thoughts

Every once in a while, Hollywood brings an adaptation of Little Women to the silver screen to remind us what a treasure this story is to behold. This December, audiences will be treated to a version that is sure to introduce the novel to a new generation of women and men alike. With a powerhouse cast of Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothee Chalamet, it will no doubt be entertaining.

Audience members and readers will likely identify with one or more of the March family members. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are respectively the traditional elder sister, ferocious feminist, sensitive soul, and spoiled artist, respectively. Yet, they are fully realized characters with desires, flaws, and needs that transcend those labels. As such, the story’s relevancy has not diminished with age, and it underscores many of the challenges that even girls today face. New readers will discover timeless themes of familial duty, independence, courage, and generosity. 

What is most striking about this novel is that Alcott dared to re-imagine what a woman’s future could look like by sharing her own experiences through the character of Jo. While its feminist principles are somewhat dated—as its original publication date is 1868—Jo March remains a timeless role model. She defies convention in favor of following her own path to becoming a writer, despite the obstacle of her gender, undoubtedly helped along with the support of her family, especially Marmee. The adventures of the March family, set against the grim background of war, are both charming and life affirming—making Little Women a truly poignant novel that will remain so for each new generation of readers. 


For those of you who are interested, check out the trailer for the upcoming film below!


Guest blog post courtesy of Sharon Enck.

Literary Event: The Piper Writers Studio Faculty and Student Showcase

Are you hungry for the avant-garde of the literary world? Do you find yourself seeking out the newest, previously undiscovered works of up-and-coming authors? Are you the first one of your friends to ask “have you read this yet?” If so, then be sure not to miss out on The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing annual student showcase.

Creative writing students from all walks of life will be presenting their original works in an evening of story, poetry, and literary celebration. Included will be works of of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, food writing, science fiction, historical fiction, and more. The evening will also feature writing from several published and award-winning authors.

This marvelous event is sure to be filled with the creative outpourings of burgeoning artists, plenty of twists and turns, perhaps some surprising reveals, and most certainly some ground-breaking and thought-provoking word play!


Date: Sunday, December 15, 2019
Time: 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Location: 
Fair Trade Cafe, 1020 N. 1st Avenue, Phoenix
Cost: Free

Click here to RSVP for this event.


The Piper Writers Studio is “committed to supporting writers in every stage of their development” with “challenging and diverse educational opportunities.” Anyone, not just ASU students, can attend the not-for-credit classes held in this division of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The studio welcomes writers of all levels of experience and seeks to help them grow from the point they are at, be that novice or seasoned professional. Class sizes are small, and are taught by local and visiting faculty. Please visit piper.asu.edu/classes/about for more information about classes, instructors, etc.


Book Review

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Pages: 706
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary

20 years in the making, Stephen Chbosky’s second novel Imaginary Friend takes on a whole new genre compared to his previous best-selling novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Imaginary Friend follows seven year-old Christopher and his mother, Kate Reese, on the run from her abusive ex-boyfriend. She decides the small town of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania is the perfect hidden gem. However, one afternoon, a mother’s worst nightmare occurs when Christopher wanders into the woods and doesn’t come back out for six days.

When Christopher does return, he is different. He can do things he couldn’t do before, thanks to the nice man. His only goal is to build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, with the voice in his head guiding him the whole way. If he fails, the world as he, and everyone in the town, knows it will change forever.

Thoughts

Going into this, I was not sure what to expect because the premise itself is so different from my beloved The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But, I can say with confidence that Chbosky did not disappoint—I found myself tearing through the pages, desperately wanting to solve the mystery and connect the dots. Every character revelation and plot twist felt surprising yet inevitable, leaving me speechless by the end of it.

As with any good horror novel, I will probably have nightmares for a couple of days, but it was worth it to go on this journey with Christopher and his mother. The characters were so vivid that I felt like they were telling me the story themselves. It was terrifying, but in a thrilling way that really makes you think about the world and speculate about what lies beyond it—what we have control over and what we don’t, and what may lurk in the shadows.

Imaginary Friend reveals the power of family, of friendship, and of a mother’s love in the most bone-chilling, mind-blowing way. 20 years after his debut novel, Chbosky is back to remind us that no matter who we are or what our past is, we are not alone: in the the real world or the imaginary.