Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Like a Prayer: a Review of My Best Friend's Exorcism

Did you ever huddle up with a group of friends watching The Exorcist in the middle of the night because you knew your parents wouldn’t let you see it otherwise? Yeah, I did too. Do you remember staying up way too late eating junk food and singing pop songs into your hairbrush? If you put those things together, you get an approximate feel for Grady Hendrix’s new book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It’s an odd, yet enjoyable mix of teenage nostalgia and body horror.

It’s 1988 and best friends Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang are sophomores at the prestigious Albemarle Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. After a night of skinny dipping gone awry, Gretchen starts acting wrong. At first, it’s small things, things her parents and classmates don’t even notice. She curses; she talks back to her mom. Soon she gets worse and Abby becomes concerned for her best friend’s health and safety. Abby has to find a way to help Gretchen before she can destroy herself and everyone around her.

Hendrix has created a vivid trip down memory lane; you can all but smell the United Colors of Benetton and Aqua Net wafting off the pages. He ends up developing an accurate, yet not exactly subtle, metaphor between adolescence and demonic possession. It’s done so heavily, that about halfway through the book; I thought it could’ve gone either way. (Spoiler – it’s totally a demon).

My favorite part was a school assembly where the students gathered to watch The Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, which basically boils down to four muscle-bound brothers punching cinder blocks and talking about the power of Christ’s love. It wasn’t until reading that scene did I remember sitting through almost the same exact show in middle school (I think they ripped phone books). I was delighted to learn that not only did I NOT imagine such a presentation, but that similar events are pervasive enough to be included in a book like this.

My main complaint was a non-starting plot thread involving a dilapidated shack, Bell telephone wires, and the body of a missing girl. I thought it had a lot of potential (evil phone company!) and seemed like it was going to play into the conclusion of the story, but it got dropped without ever being mentioned again.

But it’s the strength of the friendship between Abby and Gretchen that really carries the narrative. Even when Gretchen is at her worst, lowest point, Abby still wants to be there for her best friend. Everyone else writes Gretchen off as acting like a psycho, but Abby knows there’s something more going on. I wanted so badly for Abby to be able to save her friend because you could really feel how much they cared for each other. And that’s what friendship is, right? When the chips are down, you stand by one another whether you’re facing homeroom or hellspawn.

Looking for something a little more frightening? Try Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye.

Want some more 80s horror nostalgia? Check out Stranger Things on Netflix. Minus the scares? Read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.


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