Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hooray for the 80s: A Review of My Best Friend's Exorcism

A Guest Review by Stanton McCaffery

My Best Friend’s Exorcism
 by Grady Hendrix is a fun and kind of campy ride through 1980s insanity, touching on everything from mullets and hair crimpers to Phil Collins and E.T. to the War on Drugs and religious paranoia. Hendrix pulls us in with nostalgia and girlhood drama to tell us a story about the horrors of growing up and the strength of friendship.  

Like Hendrix’s previous novel, Horrorstör, which was set up to appear like an Ikea catalogue, Exorcism’s cover and design are similarly grabbing—they look like someone’s high school yearbook, filled with cryptic messages, autographs, and inside jokes.

The book tells the story of Abby Rivers and her friendship with Gretchen Lang, the friend referenced in the title that Abby does indeed exorcize. Abby's from a working-class family, but is attending the snooty Albemarle Academy on a scholarship. There’s a class divide throughout the books that makes us empathize with and ultimately root for Abby.

Of one of the many things this book does well, it captures adolescent loneliness perfectly through Abby’s struggles and reminds readers that for a kid nothing feels quite as bad as thinking you don’t have any friends. Similarly, it reminds us of the power of young friendship. The first chapter tells how Abby, an adult looking back on her adolescence, now has people she casually refers to as friends, but that “she remembers when the word ‘friend’ could draw blood.”

In Amazon reviews Hendrix has won many deserving comparisons to Stephen King for his use of the mundane to get at the horrific and paranormal. It’s also worth mentioning how Hendrix, like King, disarms readers and lures us in with likable characters, goofy nostalgia (though in the case of King it’s for the 60s, not the 80s) and tight prose. Though Exorcism never quite goes for the jugular in shattering the world of Albemarle Academy the way King has shattered his worlds in, say, Carrie, we still see lives ruined and costs exacted on the protagonist and her friends.

And there’s nastiness here too. My favorite scene deals with a near-lethal dose of tapeworm eggs.

, while certainly enjoyable for older readers, can also serve as an entry point into horror for younger people growing out of the YA genre. The nostalgia and the obscure 80s references are laid on a little thick at times (there’s even mention of a shirtless Patrick Swayze in Skatetown USA early on), and some are surely to go over younger readers' heads, but the true strength of this book is in the characters and the relationships they have with one another. The book’s ending is particularly powerful in that regard.

My conclusion: Pick up this book and read it, whether you remember the 80s or not.

Stanton McCaffery was born and raised in central New Jersey, where he resides with his wife and son. He has degrees in history and political science and manages communications for a United Nations agency. He is currently working on his first novel. Find him on Twitter here.

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