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Imaginary Friends in Horror Novels that Evoke Real Terror

Nothing is quite as scary as the imagination.

four horror book covers about imaginary friends

Maybe when you were younger, while your parents were too busy to play and you found yourself immensely bored, you created your own companion to keep you company: an imaginary friend. Someone who would always give you an enthusiastic “Yes!” to every single one of your whims and would make the hours of the day more fun and far less lonely.  

According to research, around 65 percent of kids up to age seven have created an imaginary friend and experience benefits from this type of play, including increased creativity, emotional understanding and sociability. 

But what if an imaginary friend starts acting cruel? What if suddenly your child’s invisible buddy is telling them to hurt others or themselves? How can you prevent harm from an entity that isn’t supposed to be real? 

These are the kinds of questions examined in horror novels that morph this innocent childhood phenomenon into something sinister and deadly.

Below are eight horror novels whose imaginary friends you’d hope your child would never conjure up. 

Imaginary Friend

Imaginary Friend

By Stephen Chbosky

The Washington Post describes this masterful 700-page horror novel as “a page-turning meditation on human suffering whose spiritual dimension does not become fully apparent until the entire story has been told.”

This New York Times bestseller follows a seven-year-old boy named Christopher and his mother, Kate Reese, who seek haven in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, after fleeing from an abusive household.

In a seemingly peaceful community, Christopher finds himself drawn to explore the woods at the edge of town after he notices a pair of fresh footprints leading down a trail. It is a decision that will alter him forever.  

He disappears for six days and reemerges from the woods with practically no memory of what happened to him; he merely remembers that a “nice man” helped him find his way out.

He is left with a voice in his head that urges him to complete an important goal by Christmas: build a treehouse in the woods. Although Christopher isn’t sure why, he knows that if he fails to complete his task, very bad things are bound to occur.  

With incredibly vivid descriptions, religious allegory, complex characters and a gradual build-up that explodes in an epic conclusion, Imaginary Friend is an unsettling read that you’ll be thinking about long after turning its final page.      

The Boy Who Could See Demons: A Novel

The Boy Who Could See Demons: A Novel

By Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Alex Connolly is a 10-year-old boy who is intelligent, sensitive and happens to be best friends with a 9000-year-old demon named Ruen.

Struggling to cope with his mother’s latest suicide attempt and acting out by harming himself and others, Alex is introduced to Dr. Anya Molokova, a child psychiatrist whose goal is to help Alex take accountability for his actions and rid him of his imaginary friend, who often persuades him to commit acts of violence.  

Dr. Anya Molokova’s work is tremendously personal to her, as her daughter, Poppy, suffered from early-onset schizophrenia. Therefore, with heightened motivation, she gets to work trying to understand Alex’s mind.

Yet the more she discovers about Alex and Ruen’s bond, the more she wonders if Ruen is imaginary or something more sinister.

This unforgettably captivating psychological horror novel provides a compassionate look into the effects of mental illness and will leave readers astonished by its shocking conclusion.

Small Spaces

Small Spaces

By Sarah Epstein

This YA psychological horror debut centers around 17-year-old Tash Carmody, who as a child, witnessed six-year-old Mallory Fisher get lured away from a carnival by someone Tash named Sparrow.

Although Mallory emerged from a hiking trail seven days later, the sweet, bubbly girl she had been before was gone—in her place, a frightened, distrustful, and mute child emerged. But no one was ever arrested in connection with the abduction.

An overactive imagination was to blame for Tash’s manifestation of a kidnapper that was never found. But when Mallory, now 15 years old, comes back into Tash’s life, suddenly Sparrow also emerges.  

Is Sparrow a figment of her imagination produced by unprocessed childhood trauma, or does Sparrow exist outside of her mind’s constraints? Regardless, Tash has a feeling that Sparrow is capable of immense harm.

Disconcerting and clever, this horror thriller will have your heart racing as you decipher what is real and what is not.   



By Scott Thomas

The house they spent every summer in during Kris Barlow’s childhood gifted her with many lovely sun-filled memories. But that all ended when her mother passed away, and it transformed into a painful place marred by heartbreak.  

However, three decades later, after her husband is killed in a car accident, it’s the only place she believes might coax a smile out of her eight-year-old, who hasn’t been the same since her father’s passing.

But the serene lake town of Pacington, Kansas, holds dark secrets. An evil—sinister and unrelenting—has made itself at home in the place she always viewed as safe, and a long-lost friend is ready to welcome them home.

This is a story that explores grief and the fragile recollections of memories that haunt us throughout life. 

The Tall Man

The Tall Man

By Phoebe Locke

The scary stories that are passed down from one generation to the next—the tales that keep us up at night that we whisper into our friend’s ear during sleepovers—are often harmless enough. This isn’t true for Sadie.  

The unsettling story of the Tall Man who is said can make you “special” if you do as he pleases has affected her well into adulthood, causing her to abandon her daughter Amber as a baby to keep her safe.

Years later Amber must stand trial for murder. Through alternating perspectives and timelines, author Phoebe Locke takes readers on a chilling journey into the human psyche and skillfully depicts how a scary legend can become our reality if we’re not careful.  

Let Him In

Let Him In

By William Friend

Grief manifests in unusual ways. So after Alfie’s two twin daughters begin expressing, shortly after their mother passed away, that a man has been visiting them in their room, he feels unsettled but chalks it up as an imaginary friend they created for comfort.

His daughters call this figure the Black Mamba, and he can supposedly turn into various animals and take them on adventures.  

But when the girls start including the Black Mamba in their everyday routine, even going as far as setting an extra place for him at the table, Alfie becomes concerned and calls Julia, his late wife’s sister and psychiatrist, to ask for guidance in slowly ridding them of this concerning crutch.  

Then Alfie begins experiencing night terrors and paranoia. Ridding this presence might be more difficult than he thought, as he will be forced to face the dark secrets of his past and their home to ensure his daughters’ protection.

Let Him In is a heartwrenching debut horror novel that will have you sleeping with all the lights on when it’s time to go to bed.  

Imaginary Fiends (2017-2018)

Imaginary Fiends (2017-2018)

By Tim Seeley

Imaginary Fiends is a 6-issue horror comic miniseries that introduces readers to Melba Li—a 10-year-old girl who tried to kill her friend, Brinke Calle, after her imaginary friend Polly Peachpit told her to.

Melba Li was sent immediately to a mental health facility, and on the eve of her 18th birthday, was set to be transported to federal prison, but was instead visited by FBI Agent Virgil Crockett with an enticing agreement.  

Virgil explains that the spider girl, Polly Peachpit, who has attached herself to Melba since she was young, is known as an I.M.P. (Interdimensional Mental Parasite) who feeds on the weak-minded and persuades humans to do whatever the parasites choose. Since I.M.P.s are invisible to everyone but their host, Virgil asks Melba to persuade Polly to help destroy other I.M.P.s, and in return, Melba can prove her innocence.  

But will Melba be capable of controlling a stubborn, jealous, and possessive monster whose sole wish is to keep Melba for herself? Readers will have to pick up this addictive nostalgic horror series for themselves to find out.  

Best Buddies: a Supernatural Horror Novel

Best Buddies: a Supernatural Horror Novel

By Jordan Bach

Have you ever had a friend who expected every single good deed done for you to be reciprocated? Kate’s young son has a friend like that, but this friend can’t be seen or heard from by anyone else and demands favors.

Favors that are becoming more sinister each time his invisible companion gives her son information about the future that will benefit their family or make school life a bit easier for him.  

Kate wonders how far this friend is willing to go to receive payment. And whether she should prevent someone from making life easier for her son when she’s unable to do the same. Every act of kindness comes at a cost, right?