This goofy, spooky, surprisingly touching novel by the author of the amazing Horrorstör (reviewed here; you know, the book that looks like an Ikea catalog!) hit just the right spot for me this week. It’s an entertaining, light read that also contains moments of horror, deeply icky things, and a descent into either madness or evil, depending on how you look at it.
The inside covers and pages at front and back mimic a high school yearbook, and it’s pretty hilarious. We see a combination of silly in-jokes, clueless teacher signatures, and even the standard, meaningless “have a great summer!”.
MBFE takes place in the 1980s, and takes full advantage of the music and clothing to create an air of nostalgia that’s fun and a bit cringe-worthy. E.T. posters and roller rinks and Merit Menthols abound. Kids worry about getting VD, and Geraldo Rivera airs an explosive exposé of satanism.
The best friends of the title are Abby and Gretchen. Abby is from a poor family, but her BFFs are part of the old-money Charleston elite. They attend a ritzy private school (Abby on scholarship), where the student handbook is the Bible. An upright life is expected, although money buys a certain amount of latitude for the more privileged students.
Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade, and their closest circle includes two more rich girls, Margaret and Glee. They’re all spoiled and lazy (except Abby, who works non-stop to afford the things she can’t expect from her do-nothing parents), and one bored summer evening, something goes wrong. After taking an exploratory hit of acid (which does nothing for any of the girls), Gretchen decides to skinny deep in the river… and disappears into the woods, only to be found the next morning, naked, covered with mud, and offering no explanation for what’s happened.
Things get weird. Gretchen withdraws into herself. She stops bathing and changing her clothes. She shuts out her friends and begins to alienate everyone. Abby is the only one who refuses to be pushed away, but when she tried to get help for Gretchen, she ends up shunned herself. And things go from bad to worse, as the people around Gretchen begin to have weird and dangerous and scary developments in their lives.
Author Grady Hendrix nails the gross and disturbing bits, from disgusting smells to suicidal flocks of birds to horrible skin outbreaks. I suppose for teen girls, bad acne could be supposed to be demonic! But beneath the horror elements, there’s also a compelling story about friendship and devotion, and the lengths to which best friends will go to save one another.
The 80s vibe is pitch-perfect, with extra points for excellent use of the Go-Gos and Phil Collins lyrics.
I read My Best Friend’s Exorcism all in one day, and really just had a great time with it. The grosser, ickier moments are balanced out by Abby’s internal strength and resourcefulness, her dedication to saving Gretchen, and the spot-on depiction of high school cruelty and power plays. The Charleston setting is a nice plus too.
This is a horror spoof, and there’s plenty of humor, but really — take me seriously when I say that if you tend to be squeamish about things like tapeworms, cadaver labs, and horrible skin conditions, you might want to skip this one. But, if you enjoy the horror genre and don’t mind when things get squicky for the sake of a good story, check it out!
Title: My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: May 17, 2016
Length: 336 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk Books