Imaginary Friends: Background information when reading The Adults

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The Adults

by Caroline Hulse

The Adults by Caroline Hulse X
The Adults by Caroline Hulse
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 368 pages

    Nov 2019, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Adrienne Pisch
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About this Book

Imaginary Friends

This article relates to The Adults

Print Review

Artistic rendition of a girl with an imaginary friendOne of the most memorable characters in The Adults is not one of the titular adults, but a four-foot-tall purple bunny named Posey. Posey is seven-year-old Scarlett's imaginary friend, and - like a real person - he has fears, desires and opinions. But how normal are imaginary friends?

A study from the University of Oregon suggests that by age seven, 37% of children have created an imaginary companion. After age seven it becomes increasingly less common, though there are instances of imaginary friendships that carry into the teen years (and even adulthood). Boys tend to create male imaginary friends, while girls don't have a particular gender preference. These make-believe companions can come in all shapes, sizes and species. After all, they are only as limited as the child's imagination. And just like real friends, imaginary friends often get into disagreements with their creators. This is true of Scarlett and Posey; however, Scarlett is in the statistical minority when it comes to her belief that Posey is real. Without prompting, 40% of children in the University of Oregon study noted that their imaginary friend was indeed imaginary. When directly questioned, the percentage of children that acknowledged this fact rose to 77%.

In The Adults, Scarlett's attachment to Posey is contentious. Patrick and (to a lesser extent) Claire feel that it increases Scarlett's tendency toward isolation, that it is age-inappropriate, or that it indicates mental problems. Matt and Alex think that it is a perfectly natural part of childhood. Research indicates that children with imaginary friends tend to be more empathetic than those without, and they tend to have superior coping skills. However, they are often less popular among their peers. Studies have also shown that children might create these fictional personas to work through trauma, but that it isn't an indication that trauma has occurred. So, the takeaway? Making imaginary companions as a child is a completely normal behavior.

Some children go a step further to create paracosms - imaginary worlds that are often developed with remarkable detail. These worlds might have their own geography, peoples, cultures, animals and so forth. One can argue that this is the type of skillset that facilitates the creation of immersive worlds by writers and other creative professionals. The interplay (or lack thereof) between paracosm and imaginary friend creation hasn't been explored, but both of these phenomenona offer insight into the level of complexity that young children have in their imaginations, and how a strong imagination might turn into a life skill in adulthood.

Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of imaginary friend creation is that - according to research psychologist Marjorie Taylor - children often forget all about them. When Taylor performed follow-up interviews with children two years after they stop playing with their imaginary friends, they frequently had no recollection of the friend she described. We can't know if Scarlett will remember Posey long after the events of The Adults, but his unique character will stay with me for a long time.

Girl with an imaginary friend, courtesy of Swaddle

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Adrienne Pisch

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Adults. It originally ran in January 2019 and has been updated for the November 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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