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Inside the mind of autism

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Matthew Dicks' novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

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With the pervasiveness of autism, it is a shame there is so little in the way of novels, films or any of the arts that portrays the lives of those affected by it. Unlike all the plays, novels and movies about those coping with AIDS, only one major movie, Rainman, made in the 1980s, has a main character with autism.

That is why Matthew Dicks' Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is so unique and an engaging read. The narrator is Budo, the long-time imaginary friend of Max Delaney, a boy who is on the autistic spectrum. Although Dicks never labels him as having Asperger's, the diagnosis becomes apparent through Budo's descriptions of Max's behavior.

Because Max has so much difficulty making friends, his imaginary friend Budo stays with him much longer than other children's imaginary friends. As Budo explains, imaginary friends "never last long. I once saw an imaginary friends pop up in Max's kindergarten classroom for fifteen minutes and then just disappear." Budo is a fully developed character, able to befriend other children's imaginary friends while Max tends to stay stuck as a stereotypical boy on the spectrum, full of repetitive, compulsive behaviors.

The story gets more sinister when a teaching specialist in the Learning Center, Mrs. Patterson, befriends Max, who, unable to discern her ulterior motives, takes her friendship at face value. Budo acts as his conscience, and how he guides his creator, Max, to make the crucial decisions needed to save himself, is compelling reading.

While sometimes the narration gets confusing (How can an imaginary friend know things his creator can't? How can Budo be someplace Max couldn't have been?), it is those kinds of questions that keep the reader interested. It's the idea that there is much more going on in the mind of someone on the spectrum that draws the reader in. And while as the story develops, Max becomes more human, he still remains intact with all his idiosyncrasies.

Matthew Dicks' dialogues between Budo and various imaginary friends are so lyrical and touching, especially when Budo defends his creator: "Max is not like any other person in the whole world. Kids make fun of him because he is different. His mom tries to change him into a different boy and his dad tries to treat him like he is someone else....With all that Max still gets out of bed every morning and goes to school."

This is a boy anyone could relate to.

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