by Lee Bacon (Author) Katy Wu (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

The story of a boy and his imaginary friend--told by the imaginary friend.  Zach should've outgrown his imaginary friend by now. He knows this. He's 11, long past the days when kids are supposed to go on epic make-believe adventures with their invisible friends. But after the death of his father five years ago, all Zach wanted was an escape from the real world. So his imaginary friend, Shovel, hasn't faded away like the other kids' have. Their imaginary friendship grew stronger. But now Zach's in middle school, and things are getting awkward. His best friend ditched him for a cooler crowd. His classmates tease him in the hallways. He still misses his dad. Reality is the worst. Which is why Zach makes regular visits to a fantasy world with Shovel. But is Zach's overactive imagination helping him deal with loss or just pushing people away?

Poignant, humorous, and breathtaking, Imaginary is an inventive story of friendship, loss, and growing up . . . as only an imaginary friend could tell it.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review

Spot art depicts a charmingly appealing Shovel and a racially diverse human cast: Zach and his family present White, Anni is cued as East Asian, and some supporting characters read as Black. A witty, heartfelt, and sophisticated story about the consequences of grief. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12).

Copyright 2021 Kirkus Reviews, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

When Zach loses his father at age six, the boy reacts by burying some of his dad's things deep in the backyard, saving only a knight with a green sword, the result of a memorable afternoon the two spent together. To help cope with his father's death, Zach also maintains a relationship with fuzzy purple imaginary friend Shovel, shown cartoonishly cute in b&w art by Wu (Sylvia's Bookshop). Five years later, middle school looms large and uncomfortable for the now-11-year-old, who must navigate his lingering heartache as well as endure bullying from former best friend Ryan, the only other person who knows about Shovel. When a fight between the assumed-white former friends lands them in detention along with Zach's new compatriot Anni, cued as being Asian American, the three reluctant companions find themselves struggling to determine whether Zach and Ryan's relationship is salvageable. Employing Shovel's narration, which is directed at Zach, Bacon (The Last Human) tells a familiar story of deep loss and friendship that combines gentle humor and ardent wistfulness, making the themes of trauma suppression and the reluctance to move on feel both personal and universal. Ages 8-12. Agent: Sarah Burne, the Gernert Company. (Oct.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Spot art depicts a charmingly appealing Shovel and a racially diverse human cast. . .A witty, heartfelt, and sophisticated story about the consequences of grief." — "Kirkus Reviews"
Lee Bacon
Lee Bacon is the author of several books for young people, including The Last Human and the Joshua Dread and Legendtopia series, as well as the original audio story The Mystery of Alice. His books have been translated into 23 languages. Bacon grew up in Texas and now lives in New Jersey. Katy Wu is a designer and children's book illustrator currently based in Portland, Oregon. She's worked on a number of children's books, as well as with animation studios such as Blue Sky, Cinderbiter, Pixar, and Laika. She has also worked at Google as a "Doodler," creating Doodles for the Google homepage.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
October 20, 2021
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, 10/01/21

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