Eleven-year-old Benji Saintaubin dreams of becoming a hero like the ones in the books he reads while banished in the dark attic of his family home. But those heroes are all strong and handsome, not like Benji who uses a crutch and hides his disfigured face. When his father dies, leaving behind an unfinished story about an imaginary boy who must defeat a cruel and mighty dragon, Benji’s safe and secluded world is turned upside down.
After venturing out of the attic and onto the perilous streets of 19th century London, Benji finds himself separated from his mother in a frightening and unfamiliar world. Nearly trampled to death and sold into slavery, Benji comes to believe his father’s story may be more fact than fiction after his captor reveals a dragon-tail tattoo around his arm and plans that could destroy Benji. If he ever hopes to escape, be reunited with his mother and finish his father’s cryptic story, Benji must trust that a crippled boy can discover the unseen power needed to defeat a brutal and powerful dragon.
Join Benji on his treacherous journey in this compelling, edgy and inspiring middle-grade novel by debut author Mark Eldrich.
I received this book from the author for the purpose of this review. All comments and opinions are entirely my own.
A tale of misfortune. And a boy who overcomes.
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) is one of my personal favorite books. It’s the characters who can’t help the misfortune they’ve been given, but choose to respond in ways that put so many fortunate others to shame. The Imaginary Boy reminded me of Oliver Twist. It is in no way a retelling (to my knowledge), but the inspiring, gut-wrenching scenes will leave its readers in ghastly awe, yet walk away inspired.
Benji is a misshapen boy. His face is contorted, his arms and legs are crooked, and his back is hunched. But Benji has more spirit, and more pure love and care, than anyone. His innocence and way of looking at life makes this story worth reading.
It is a tale of misfortune. Which means that it is a tough read, and a sad one. Bad thing, after bad thing, after bad thing, befalls Benji as he so desperately tries to reunite with his mother. But through it all, Benji never loses his courage.
According to Goodreads, this is a middle grade novel. And while Benji certainly fits the age group himself, I would advise parents and teachers of this age-group to recommend it to children with caution, simply because some of the topics and scenes could be triggers to anxiety especially for foster and adopted children. There is death of a best friend (in which Benji blames himself), death of a father, separation from a mother (which Benji is told that she no longer wanted him and lost him on purpose–this gave me many ready flags for foster children), physical and mental abuse, bullying, and of course, Benji being told that he is ugly and unwanted every time he encounters someone new.
There are many teachable topics through the use of this book too though, and it could really be used to teach children how not to be afraid of other kids who are misshapen. So I would recommend this book, because it is so very good, but only at parents’ and teachers’ discretion.
I give it 5 out of 5 stars.
There is no cursing or any sexual content of any kind. There is abuse, brief mentions of blood and death, insanity, bullying, a brief scene portraying child-work slavery, and feelings of being unwanted by parents.