Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act….different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?
Over the past few years, I have been delving more and more into the horror genre. At one time I couldn’t get enough of it but I was too young to watch or read most things. Then I developed an anxiety disorder and found myself too easily frightened. However, my love of the genre never really went away. There is something about a dark, creepy story that gets under your skin. I still don’t know what it is, but I started keeping an eye out for horror novels when I checking the Kindle sales and that is how I came across My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix.
That Cover Art, Though
Of course, the first thing you notice about this book is the cover. I suppose you can say the same for any book but this one, in particular, grabbed my eye. I’ve been finding myself enamoured with the 80’s retro vibe a lot of shows have been embracing the past few years, from Stranger Things to GLOW.
I just love the colourful nature of 80’s fashion, the big curly hair and the amazing pop music, the rise of some truly great horror and alternative music and fashion… yes, the ’80s was a terrible decade in many ways, but there’s something to be said for it. And the cover art for My Best Friend’s Exorcism screams ‘the 80’s does horror, and here’s the VHS from the back of your dad’s cupboard’. So of course my first thought was: “oh hey, I wonder if this will scratch that Stranger Things itch,” and the short answer is: no. It won’t. But it does many other things really, really well.
A Friendship Like No Other?
The shining jewel of this novel is the friendship between Abby and Gretchen. They met as kids at Abby’s E.T. themed roller-skating party when Gretchen was the only other kid from class who showed up. They’ve been thick as thieves ever since. Gretchen is there for Abby when her dad loses his job and they fall into poverty, and Abby is there for Gretchen when her parents’ discipline turns violent. Beautifully, what divides them only seeks to make them stronger. Then comes high school when they have more friends, but they are still each other’s BFF. Until something changes and Gretchen starts acting really weird and then withdrawn until Abby loses hope of ever calling Gretchen her friend again.
Gretchen raised her head and looked at her bedroom door. “I’m going to kill her,” she whispered. Then she wiped her nose and looked up at Abby. “Don’t ever tell I said that.”
Ultimately, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a story about whether the strongest friendship can withstand the forces of hell. I shan’t spoil it, of course, but it was their relationship that brought on the tears for me. In fact, this marks the first book that has made me properly cry since The Half Blood Prince (going back probably 15 years), and that is high praise. 10/10, would sing along to Phil Collins with.
We hear the story entirely through Abby’s perspective from a 10-year old girl to a 16-year old high schooler. I really loved how the prose evolved as the girls aged, and is clearly influenced by the life events that make her who she is. I read the whole thing as a movie playing in my head, which is wild to me as somebody who struggles to visualise clearly. The writing in My Best Friend’s Exorcism is enriched by ’80s pop culture and the outlook of a teenage girl, even when she does start going through it, which brings me on to…
The Midway Slog
Now, the reason this book wasn’t quite a 5-star read for me and I’m still pondering whether or not to add it to my favourites list on Goodreads is because of the midway slog. You know when a book starts strong, but to get to the epic climax you have to build the world, its characters and have the story go through a few ups and downs, but the middle part seems to linger just a little too long? The midway slog. I don’t say this to be mean, I rated it 4.5-stars on StoryGraph, but there was a chunk of the book that I found myself getting frustrated with. Abby wasn’t grasping what Gretchen was dealing with, what was happening to their other friends, none of the adults would listen to her when she tried to ask for help and it crawled for a moment.
Thankfully it didn’t last too long and the action picked up. Things start happening, and Abby starts to realise what she needs to do and we’re off once again.
The Horror is There
That said though, Hendrix does not hold back with the horror. There are moments that had me going “oh no…” and moments I frankly wanted to vomit (can we say in a good way? That might sound a little strange), and moments that gave me chills. There was nothing that had me feeling afraid of the dark after reading like the real scares would, but that isn’t why I’m into horror. I want the creep factor, the peek at what’s lurking in the dark and the things that happen when you don’t quite follow the rules.
Hendrix gets a big pack of kudos from me for not going the easy route with the possession. I really thought he was going with the cliché of the demon possession trope for a moment, but he didn’t and I learned afterwards that he’s pretty well acquainted with ’80s horror and the whole Satanic Panic that gripped the US. So it’s only natural he’d write a book right in the heart of the Satanic Panic and both embrace and flip all of those delightful tropes many of us know and love… or hate.
It’s all the little twists in My Best Friend’s Exorcism that add to the horror in delicious ways, the things that in some cases may have been somewhat predictable but the execution was so well done that it barely even mattered. I love it.
Who Should Read My Best Friend’s Exorcism?
I recommend this book for anybody who loves stories with a retro vibe, if you love things like Stranger Things or Fear Street for the throwback feel, you may like My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It is chock full of ’80s references. I should mention it is interspersed with all sorts of images of story and era-appropriate news articles and fliers and such which were really awkward to enjoy on Kindle, though your mileage may vary with these things. Also, all of the chapter headings are titles of ’80s songs and Quirk Books has put together a Spotify playlist to go along with the book. It is absolutely glorious.
If you love stories about friendships and how they may or may not survive horrific events, this book is for you. And if you love supernatural horror, here’s a good one. It’s not quite up there with some of the better supernatural horror movies I’ve seen, but it’s great and I’m super hopeful for the My Best Friend’s Exorcism movie that’s currently in production!
If you do find yourself needing content warnings, please make sure you check them on StoryGraph for this one as it has a lot of them.
Now, I need to get my hands on the rest of Grady Hendrix’s bibliography because I believe after reading My Best Friend’s Exorcism, I’m a fan.
*denotes affiliate link