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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2007
Imaginary Friends is a short, but delightful book that is not only entertaining with it's phenomenal premise, but also full of heart.

The characters are well-fleshed out and the story itself provides a powerful message that you are sure not to forget. Imaginary Friends is a story about love, acceptance, finding oneself, and most importantly--the power of imagination.

A fantastic read for any age group, Imaginary Friends is sure to tickle your funny bone and warm your heart.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
What if, as an adult, you could see all the imaginary friends of all the children around you (but no one else could?) And what if these imaginary friends really didn't like you? That's the premise of Darren Pillsbury's book Imaginary Friends. Even though this probably could be classified as a young adult novel, it packs more than enough enjoyment for a grown-up reader like myself. And I found myself seeing this as a really cute family movie that'd be fun to watch...

Jeff Tanner is a toy executive trying to hold his family together after the death of his wife in a car accident. One of his sons (Brian) has withdrawn into a world where all he does is draw monsters. The other son (Davey) is a wise-cracking youngster who has a number of imaginary friends known only to himself. Add in a grandmother who lives with them and a next-door neighbor who provides day care for the two (and who Jeff has a bit of a crush on). During a Christmas dinner, Davey makes a wish with the turkey wishbone, and all of a sudden Jeff can see a number of strange creatures running around and creating havoc in the house. Of course, only Davey finds this normal, as they're his imaginary friends. All the rest of the family is convinced he's going off the deep end. Even leaving the house doesn't help, as every other imaginary friend in the world is out there to torment him. And we're talking "torment", as they are out to cause him physical pain...

The driving story behind the premise is that Jeff is putting Brian into a military school in an attempt to draw him out of his self-imposed shell. No one is convinced this is a good idea, Jeff included, but he doesn't know what else to do. As Jeff works through his emotions and grieving, he starts to learn what's really important, as well as gaining the respect of all his imaginary friends.

As this likely falls into a young adult category, we're not talking deep philosophical plotlines here. But even so, Pillsbury paints some incredibly funny and comical scenes. Davey's dialog is sharp, probably too sharp to be realistic for a kid his age. It didn't stop me from enjoying it, however. What I found interesting is that as I read this book, I was seeing it unfold as a motion picture. Stick Steve Martin in as the dad, a young Macaulay Culkin type as Davey, and it would be a lot of fun to watch. And the CGI effects with the imaginary friends could be outstanding...

I'm surprised this book is as good as it is, given it's Pillsbury first. But if he continues to put out books of this caliber, I may have to make some visits to the young adult section of the library...
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Meet Darren Pillsbury - and oh yes, his cadre of Imaginary Friends he introduces in this debut novel IMAGINARY FRIENDS. Pillsbury has managed to achieve that elusive ability to write a book for the entire family, whether that family is an intact family unit, an extended family, or for individuals who are eager to read uplifting, very funny, well written stories with a dash of the philosophical element that leaves the reader thinking. Pillsbury has a rich imagination and the ability to transfer that to the written page very successfully. He is a writer to watch.

Jeff Tanner works for WACK-O! TOYS INC. as a toy designer. He lives with his two small boys, Brian and Davey, and is a single parent since the death of his wife Susan three years ago, an event that left Jeff grieving and hollow but at the same time committed to raising his two sons to the best of his ability: Brian is the older and is withdrawn, spending his time sketching strange people and monsters; Davey is the clown with a rich imagination who was too young when his mother died to remember her. Susan's mother Granny Jobson lives with Jeff and the boys and is in her own somewhat detached world, spending her idle hours dancing with the memory of her deceased husband. Too near by for comfort live Jeff's parents - Grandmother and Grandfather Tanner - who disapprove of Jeff's meaningless occupation as a toy designer and are rigid in their response to the world and its occupants.

It is Christmas time and while this odd family gathers to celebrate (and remember the importance of Susan's impact), the household is somewhat disrupted by Davey's imaginary friends who create an ongoing ruckus. The atmosphere changes dramatically when Davey snaps the turkey wishbone and PRESTO! - Jeff can also see the hoards of imaginary friends Davey has been entertaining and those bizarre creatures turn Jeff's world upside down. Not only is his house and his relationship to his parents altered, his very job is at stake with some ludicrous toy proposals. A new face comes into the wild picture in the person of Elise, a neighbor whose presence begins to change Jeff's grief jaded eyes to open. How the new entry of Imaginary Friends, clearly visible to Jeff and Davey, affect the family Tanner is the roller coaster ride of the book.

There are sidebars of tenderness - Brian is placed in a boarding school at the insistence of Jeff's parents in hopes that Brian will learn to adjust to the 'real world', Granny Jobson's dancecapades offer sweet insights for Jeff and his ability to let go of his past and find promise in Elise, the family unit alters with mutual understanding and communication: 'imaginary' morphs from negative to positive. Without becoming banal or morose the story winds down with 'lessons' of growth and a bow to love that is simply irresistible. This is a book that can be read aloud in family gatherings by the fire over the course of a few evenings - especially (but not limited to) during the holidays. It is richly written, fully of wildly funny images and incidents, and gives us a family, bruised but not defeated, that we truly want to know. Darren Pillsbury has the gift, and it is one most worthy of sharing! Grady Harp, November 07
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Jeff Tanner is an up and coming executive and toy-designer at the WACK-O! toy company. It is a smallish player in the toy market that emphasizes products with maximum short-term profit rather than longevity and quality. The company is run by a blowhard named Caruthers. Jeff and a few others disagree with this, but they have bills to pay. Tanner has another big problem. His beloved wife and mother of the boys, Susan, the glowing heart of the family, died a few back and left Jeff with two young sons to raise. When the story begins Brian is 8 and Davey is 5. Brian has completely closed into himself and draws constantly. Davey is explosively outgoing, but in a delightfully exasperating way. Susan's mother, Granny Jobson, lives with Jeff and the boys, but a neighbor, Elise, watches the boys while Jeff is at work. Elise also cares for her mother who is exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer's. Jeff's parents are the heavies of the story, not because they are bad, but because they are simply so boringly adult, respectable, and insistent upon realistic expectations.

You can see the dramatic potential of this story and I don't want to give too much away because it is a delightful family story that is set right around Christmas. A few other details are that their local mall has a big Christmas tree display with ornaments from the local folks including a hall of fame from past years. Each year Jeff, Brian, and Davey go to see the ornaments including Susan's. They have mixed feelings in being proud that she is in the hall of fame and displayed every year and wishing they had her decoration at home. Oh, and Davey keeps getting blamed for odd occurrences in the home like pyramids of toilet paper in the bathroom. He insists that it is being done by a little boy with his face, which Jeff knows is simply a childish way to avoid blame. Davey makes a wish using the Christmas turkey wishbone that changes the entire course of direction for this family. He wishes that Jeff could see all the imaginary friends. While Jeff has a hard time grasping Davey's insistence that his friends are simultaneously imaginary and real. Oh, and the painful part of the story is that Jeff has decided, for Brian's own good, to stick him in a residential military school to try and get him out of his introversion and mania for drawing. Brian is to enter the school the day after Christmas.

The punch of the story happens when Davey's wish comes true and his dad begins to see his imaginary friends although Jeff knows nothing about the wish or what it is he is beginning to see. The problem is that Davey's wish was a bit too general and Jeff begins to see every imaginary friend of every kid. I liked the way the imaginary friends were used to enhance the story by moving the plot and helping the point of the story get told without ever taking over the story. This is a story about a family, not a comedy about goofy monsters.

I think this story would be a terrific movie or made-for-cable-TV movie. Surely, the kinds of creatures talked about in this story could be computer generated at a reasonable cost nowadays. I hope somebody picks this up. In the meantime this is a terrific read. It is a story you can read with your kids without embarrassment or having to skip over scenes or trying to explain why it is characters in a book get to use bad language. If you are homeschooling your kids, you can consider this book as a reading assignment, as well. Frankly, I don't read much fiction anymore because I am bored to death with its ever present narcissism and endless focus on sex in the most selfish ways. This book is a family story with more realism about how families actually work and what people who care about each other really do, for good and bad, than much more celebrated books do. I hope you will get a copy of this book and enjoy it as much as I did.


Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 8, 2008
Jeff Tanner is a toy executive at Wack-O! Toys, Inc. where profit is the most important thing. Jeff used to find his job fun creating new toys but since his wife Susan's death three years before it seems his creativity is all dried up. Jeff has two young boys, Brian who is eight and Davey who is five. Susan's mother, Granny Jobson, also stays with them and helps cook. Jeff also hired Elise, a young woman about his age, to stay with the boys while he is at work.

The story begins on Christmas Eve and the boys are excited or at least Davey is. Brian is very quiet and draws constantly so sometimes it is hard to tell when he is excited. Jeff promised a trip to the mall to finish up their shopping. Grandfather and Grandmother Tanner, Jeff's parents, are also coming over for the holidays. They wish Jeff had become a lawyer or a doctor so a lot of complaining from that quarter. Davey feels his dad is just not too fun anymore and is tired of being blamed for tricks that his imaginary friends have done such as make a big pile of toilet tissue in the bathroom. Davey and Brian snap the turkey wishbone with Davey wishing his dad could see imaginary friends.

The plot takes on an even more hilarious note now as Jeff is not only able to see Davey's imaginary friends but he can see EVERYONE'S imaginary friends. There is lots of laughing, yelling but also many touching and sensitive scenes as Jeff relearns to use his imagination, to connect more strongly with his sons and some other bonus rewards.

A short and funny book that would be great for kids from ages 10 and up but may require a bit of patience from adults as Jeff does do quite a bit of yelling. Highly recommended to read and read aloud with your family!

Valerie Matteson
Ann Arbor, Michigan
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2007
I read this entire book on a plane home for the Christmas holidays, (perfect timing, as the book revolves around this season), and I couldn't put it down! Darren Pillsbury is SUCH a great writer...indeed, he has a way with words. What a lovely surprise for a first book. I really enjoyed all the characters and especially, the kind and gentle love story. Each chapter was so visual, I could picture all the scenes so clearly. Very touching as well....I do believe I had some teary eyes in a couple parts! I am looking forward to reading "Peter and the Vampires", Pillsbury's 2nd upcoming novel. Although I'd even enjoy a sequal to "Imaginary Friends", how the relationships develop and grow further, because I didn't want to leave the characters. Also, I would just love to read more hilarious scenarios with the colorful, "imaginary" was a pleasure.

In summation, I believe Pillsbury certainly has a gift as a writer. A great imagination, well thought out and creatively worded. His work is comical, touching and simply a joy to read. Keep 'em comin' Pillsbury!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2012
Right off the bat, the main character, Jeff is incredibly likable and easy to sympathize with; a single dad, raising 2 young and very eccentric kids, fighting romantic feelings for the nanny. The extent to which he fights his feelings for her is golden, especially when he's deciding on her christmas present. I really was laughing out loud.

The book is fairly funny but there are also moments of seriousness and heartbreak which make the story richer. As the book went on though, I found the jokes becoming more heavy-handed and cheesy. Davey's character was a good example of this. At first he was really cute but quickly crossed the line into annoying. Something else that threw me off with Davey was the way he spoke. He's a little kid that speaks like he's 30.

Also, the whole "weirdos" thing got old. They never really did anything other than freak Jeff out and attack him. And oh man, the attacking went on and on and on.

Those were my only real problems with the story though. It was well-written and engaging. The characters overall were very clearly defined and unique.

I would recommend this to anyone wanting to read a light, heart-warming book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Meet Jeff
Jeff designs toys for a living
Lucky Jeff

... or, as Darren Pillsbury tells us, maybe not so lucky after all.

Jeff works long hours designing toys for a company that cares about nothing except profits, even though some of their new products - to put it mildly - suck, big time. His parents think he's wasting his life and that he should get a REAL job.

He has two young sons, who are being cared for by his mother-in-law, assisted by an attractive young lady on whom he has a serious crush. Jeff is both afraid and reluctant to make the first move, even in his imagination. The reason for this is twofold - firstly, his wife Susan had passed away in a tragic accident three years earlier, and he has not yet been able to deal with his bereavement, and secondly, Jeff is a wuss.

His older son Brian is a loner, preferring to draw cartoon figures than interact with other people, and Davey, the younger, is a smart aleck with a knack for getting himself and others into trouble.

As you can see, Jeff has his fair share of problems, but little does he know that things are going to get a whole lot worse. Jeff decides to send Brian off for some special schooling, and Davey gets a hold of the turkey wishbone, and before Jeff knows what hit him, he's seeing crazy critters everywhere. Ill-proportioned babies with bug eyes and other freakish creatures start appearing and following him around, and soon it's open warfare - Jeff vs. All the imaginary creatures in the world. The problem is, only Jeff can see them.

Written in simple language for pre-teen readers, with lots of gross-out toys, mischief and a lot of screaming (mostly by Jeff), this book also has messages about love, life and family that are especially appropriate during the Christmas season.

Amanda Richards, January 2, 2008
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2012
After trying to pick up the pieces following a family tragedy, Toy Designer Jeff Tanner begins to realize that his hasty glue job is in fact coming apart at the seams. Friendless and adrift, now even the world of imaginary friends has turned on him, sparking a descent into madness that may cost him the few relationships he has left. His only chance is to let go of the past and accept the future - a future that may well be full of nightmares.

A good read that moved along briskly and had plenty of heart. Jeff seemed to do an awful lot of screaming and he seemed a rather pathetic, passive hero at times, but it had some great moments.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2008
I really enjoyed "Imaginary Friends." It's written with a sense of fun, a lot of imagination, humor and heart. This would make a good movie. There are a number of entertaining set pieces as well as smaller more poignant personal moments which add depth to the story. Though this seems at first to be geared more toward kids and pre-teens (which I am neither), I still had a good time reading the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a creative, adventurous and funny tale.
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