Let me start by saying that this is one of the most fantastic books I’ve read this year. I’ll likely also end with that same phrase. (I will NOT copy/paste, it’s good enough to type it twice.)
The idea behind the book is that Figments, or imaginary friends, are quite real, and that most kids can see them until a certain age, after which they fade into the background on their own. Some don’t take the transition well, and that’s where the I.M.A.G.I.N.E. agents come in, Acronym-agency style, to prevent any mischief from a lost Figment with a grudge. There’s a brilliant moment when we learn what I.M.A.G.I.N.E. stands for, and it’s just one of many self-lampooning moments from the author that reminds you what it can really mean to enjoy a COMIC book.
The main players, while letting themselves have some self-depreciating moments, also are really striving for what they want, and it makes the plot compelling without going too far. You care about these people and find yourself rooting for just about everyone. You even can have some feels for the antagonist, which always makes them more real, and I think elevates them from the mustache-whirling villain for me. The story follows the rules of the world without bothering to explain them all to us, which I think is simply fun, and the points where you feel the intro to a boring set of exposition is classically undermined by “Classified” and “we don’t have time for that right now” moments that let you kick back and just enjoy.
Brian Joines has created a wonderful, heartbreaking, and uplifting world with such precision and grace that you are hardly even aware of the world building, it’s just kind of there. There’s no point where I didn’t buy into the world completely, and when it seemed like I might have, Joines lets a moment in to remind you that this is all fun and games. He explains what he needs to to make the story work, but he eschews hefty dialogue to fill his universe with the minutia that would drag down an otherwise “hang on to your butts” ride. He has the power to take simple, stereotypical characters and light a fire under them to create memorable presences within his world, and everyone takes themselves only as seriously as they need to, which I think is a touch of a master storyteller.
Bachan makes beautiful art and really brings a spectacular life to the creations that Joines has suggested. This is a world full of creatures imagined by the young innocents that the story is aiming to protect, and he does a masterful job of fleshing out these stranger-than-life Figments who populate the world. There are a couple of hidden gags for the folks who are really paying attention, but the world itself has a vibrant life that seems ready to leap off the page. It’s a Technicolor world that seems as welcoming as it is wacky and is a treat for the eyes.
If you are looking for a fun gift for someone of any age, this is the book to pick up. There’s something wonderful about it that will grow with young readers who I think would enjoy it over and over as they grow and learn. It’s also a great book to remind us oldies what it was to enjoy this kind of book in a way that never speaks down to its audience. There’s magic in these pages, and that’s why I feel it’s one of the most fantastic books of the year. (See! No copy/paste. That’s love!)