Middle Grade Monday – Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas
Jacques Papier lives a relatively happy life with his family. He and his sister Fleur are thick as thieves, and she makes sure he’s never forgotten, even though it seems as if everyone else in their lives are determined to ignore him. It’s almost as if he’s invisible to everyone except Fleur. And then one day, he meets a rollerskating cowgirl who opens his eyes to the true facts of life: she is an imaginary friend, and so is Jacques (which is why she can see him.)
This news sends Jacques into a spiral of existential despair – who is he, and is he anyone if he is apart from Fleur? Jacques joins Imaginaries Anonymous to help him deal with this crisis, and meets the Oogly Boogly, who gives him some news – he can leave Fleur and be his own person. When he decides to act on this information, however, it doesn’t turn out quite as he imagined. What is does, though, is send Jacques on a voyage of self discovery. Along the way he helps several other children with their own struggles and learns his purpose in life.
This is a sweet, gentle, thoughtful, and very funny novel, and perfect for middle grade readers in the 7 to 11 year old range. I was fascinated by Jacques’ thought processes. The novel does get really deep into the meaning of existence, but that focus is well balanced by both the humor and the innovative writing. I was so intrigued by the ideas in this book, actually, that I invited the author to write a short piece about them.
The Imaginary and The Real
by Michelle Cuevas
Author of Confessions of an Imaginary Friend
I think the question I am asked most when working on a book is: “What is it about?” I think that’s a great question. Because really, with an infinite amount of books to write, why this book, these characters, these themes?
I would say my newest novel, Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, is about the word real – what it means and why it matters. It’s about the way everyone feels invisible sometimes, and about the things we can all do to feel seen.
I started with the image of a boy. Jacques Papier, age eight, believes that he is hated by all – teachers ignore him when he raises his hand, he is never chosen for sports teams, and even his parents need to be reminded to set a place for him at the dinner table. But soon, Jacques learns the truth – he is actually his sister Fleur’s imaginary friend. Cue existential crisis. The whole ordeal would be alarming for anyone, I think, but also relatable.
Feeling invisible is hard. There are the cars to dodge, and the school buses that drive away before you can get on. There are the birds that land on your head and try to make a nest in your hair.
I’ve felt invisible from time to time too. In crowded unknown cities, at night swimming in a dark lake; when I was small and would hide in the lilac bush, or when my parents forgot who was picking me up one day after band practice and I sat waiting and wondering.
There are, of course, ways to feel less invisible.
Singing. Dancing. Waving your arms around and yelling like there are volcanic lava fire ants in your pants. Doing something small and kind for someone else, that usually does the trick. Telling the truth, whatever that may be, even if it’s just to say, out loud, “Hey! I don’t like being invisible!” Getting to know someone more invisible than you can help too (I, for example, had two imaginary friends as a child named Poodie and LaLa. Feel free to tease me about those names…) I think the best way is to take up all the space that’s available to you – to be yourself, and to see yourself. Never be that that ship that wants to stay sunken, that needle that hides in the haystack, or that pearl that stays buried forever beneath the sand.
In Margery Williams The Velveteen Rabbit, a stuffed rabbit wonders what it means to be real. “Real isn’t how you are made,” explains the Skin Horse to Rabbit. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
While writing this book, I thought about that question a lot, what that word “real” meant for Jacques Papier, and what it meant for me personally. And I think it’s whatever makes you feel the most like you, whatever or whoever brings you home to yourself. For me, that’s friends, family, and writing.
And so that leads me to My Second Most Frequently Asked Question: “How did you become a writer?” That’s a harder question, but I’ll try to answer it. I worked in museum education during and after college, and then went to graduate school to study fiction writing. There, we concentrated on writing short stories and novels for adults. I found myself writing some very weird stories – including one about a man with a talking houseplant and another about a woman who woke up every day to find a deer drinking from her toilet. My (wonderful) classmates often said, “This just doesn’t feel real enough…” And I would think, “It’s not! I made it up!” I started to despair, thinking that writing stories for adults wasn’t for me. But what to do? And then my mom sent me a care package, which included some children’s books she remembered I’d loved. I enjoyed them so much, I started reading more – Kate DiCamillo, and Roald Dahl, and EB White. And so, inspired by these books, I started (secretly) writing my own novel about a very talented painting elephant, one who held the brush in his trunk and raised an orphan from a baby. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I was having fun and feeling more like myself. That book would turn out to be my first published novel for children, and the kind of book I continue to write. I feel thankful for that every day.
And, as a bonus, it seems that no reader under the age of twelve ever says, “This just doesn’t feel real enough.”
Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas is available tomorrow. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Filed under: Middle Grade Monday
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
SLJ Blog Network