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How to Make a Friend (2015)

With a less than demonstrative mother and two older siblings who hardly give her the time of day, Alice finds companionship and belonging with her imaginary friend Sam. He's a means to an end, a childhood defence against loneliness who disappears when Alice grows up. Or is he? After suffering a head injury in a car crash and facing crippling loneliness once again, Sam comes back into Alice's life. Whilst at first it brings some solace, soon his presence becomes overbearing and then dangerous. But how does Alice get rid of him when she doesn't know if he really exists? Fleur Smithwick's novel is an intriguing and imaginative book. The whole concept is refreshingly different and makes for a novel kind of read. At times I wondered whether the Sam plot could have been handled differently, but Smithwick does well with what is essentially a challenging narrative device. There's some great tension in here and the book has a sinister, malevolent thread that becomes quite unsettling even in the epilogue and I liked the way Sam's nature is left open. I expected more fallout from the subplot about Alice's friend Rory and felt this was somewhat idealized but thought the characterisation of Sam was perfectly pitched between innocent, caring friend and malevolent, possessive tyrant. The concept poses a lot of potential pitfalls and it does sometimes become a bit absurd but largely Smithwick does well to hold everything together and make this a solid narrative. (JC)

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