Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Title: The Final Girl Support Group
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: July 13, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

The Final Girl Support Group is set in our contemporary world, but with one key change: Remember all those slasher movies of the 80s and 90s? The ones where seemingly unstoppable madmen stalk groups of victims through the woods or at summer camps, using increasingly bizarre weapons to kill and kill and kill? In the world of The Final Girl Support Group, those movies are film adaptations of real-life murder sprees. The surviving Final Girl of each horrific act of murder sells her franchise rights, and the film versions make them into pop culture superstars… and highly scrutinized attractions for all sorts of stalkers and murder fans and other dangerous folks.

As the book opens, the support group is meeting, although after 16 years, it’s unclear to some of the members why they continue to meet. Nothing changes, and they devolve into bickering, yet they all need the group in their lives. For the women in the group, their lives after their incidents have taken different paths, yet none can be said to be truly healthy or normal. One woman is a junkie, one married for wealth and lives a pampered life surrounded by security walls and cameras, one, confined to a wheelchair, is a political activist, and our narrator Lynnette lives a life of absolute paranoia and devotion to safety. Only Dani, living in a long-term relationship on a remote ranch, and Adrienne, who runs a camp for victims of violence at the same site where she was once a Final Girl, seem to be anywhere close to living truly fulfilled lives.

When Adrienne fails to show for group the day after news coverage shows a new massacre at her camp, the group is fearful and soon learns the worst — Adrienne has been tracked down and murdered. They all flee, each seeking some form of safety. For Lynnette, she knows in her bones that nowhere is truly safe. She has countless escape routes and backup plans, but when all fail her, she has to go on the run and start to rely on people besides herself, something she’s never been willing to do.

The Final Girl Support Group is a horror story in which we learn, in bits and pieces, about the horrific scenes of violence that each of these women survived as young girls. It’s also a story of escape, with a road trip thrown in, and a story of friendship and connection, as this group of women — who have only their victimhood in common — are thrown together despite mistrust and even outright dislike to try to defeat the ultimate bad guy.

I tore through the book pretty quickly, but I’m not sure that it truly worked for me. The story is somewhat disjointed — we learn about each woman’s particular horror story over the course of the novel, but having the details doled out as they were kept me from truly understanding their experiences as we meet them. I never felt particularly connected to some of the characters, and actually found it confusing to keep them all and their particular traumas straight.

Lynnette is fascinating, although being inside her mind can be exhausting. I wish we’d learned more about her awful history earlier in the book as well. There seem to be a lot of barriers before I could feel like I had a good grasp on who she is and, more importantly, what happened to make her the way she is.

The book includes media snippets in between chapters, talking about the Final Girl movie phenomenon or including excerpts of articles about the girls or pieces of their police interrogations. These are fun, but again, something about the pacing and the way information is included made the overall narrative feel confusing to me.

I did really like the overall concept — that slasher movies are basically depictions of real events, and that certain franchises get sequels because in their real lives, the bad guys keep coming back, over and over and over. For a Final Girl, it’s never really over.

The Final Girl Support Group builds to a fast-paced, dramatic sequel that feels worthy of a scary slasher movie scene all its own.

I’ve read most of Grady Hendrix’s other novels (there just one I still need to read!), and I’ve loved them all so far. He writes bizarre, quirky, weird horror, and it’s usually right up my alley. The Final Girl Support Group didn’t quite work for me the same way his other books have. I got caught up in the story, but always felt like I was missing something. I recommend it, but not quite as much as, for example, Horrorstor or The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

  1. I pretty much agree with you. This was fun and it had some great moments, but it was uneven for me, and I just couldn’t picture these characters as grown women, for some reason.

  2. At least from the review, I can see why this book would fall short. I tend to not like meta-fiction anyway, so that’s one strike against it (for me). The biggest problem I can see is the nature of 80s slasher movies working against the concept. The characterization is obviously bad, and a part of me thinks it’s either by design or a “yes, we have low-budget bad actors, but it doesn’t matter” “zen of shoddiness” approach.

    Basically, highbrow horror tries to go for developed characters you’ll feel sorry for when they’re killed. Lowbrow horror goes for stock dummies where you don’t. Trying to make the latter into the former might cause problems. The go-to example for me is when Austin Powers cut scenes of the dead enemy goon’s grieving familes, and I could understand why.

    Also, this book sounds like it probably was inspired by the real story of the original Final Girl actress, Adrienne King, who after being pushed into the spotlight from Friday The 13th had to leave it because of a stalker.

    • Interesting about Adrienne King — I’m not familiar with her story, but I think it’s a very good bet that the author’s naming of a character Adrienne is a tribute to her. I think your points are valid, and I’m sure the author was trying to address some of this as well. He refers to the slasher formula quite a bit — there’s the jock, the cheerleader, the virgin, etc — and then uses this story to dig deeper.

      And — having just looked up Adrienne King now that you mentioned her, I learned that she’s the narrator for the audiobook version of this book!

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