Book Review: My Best Friend's Exorcism
Horror is a genre that is meant to be experienced. And for the most part, traditional publishers have been slow to adapt to the changes the horror genre has seen.
But not all traditional publishers fall victim to playing it safe. Quirk Books has been leading the charge on the new wave of horror books.
Their best-known title is 2011’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. which featured a story built around a collection of strange old photographs.
In their latest blockbuster, Quirk has managed to put out another amazing experience, this time taking the reader back to high school in the 1980s.
From the cover design (the hardcover was produced to look like a yearbook, the paperback to look like a VHS box) to a pre-built Spotify playlist complete with skating rink noises and 80s big hits, everything about this title draws the reader deeply into the story.
And what a story it is. Part exorcist horror book, part classic coming of age novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism tells the story of best friends Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang as they deal with the typical growing pains of high school.
But when Gretchen Lang disappears into the woods one night after experimenting with LSD, things begin to change.
Gretchen begins to isolate herself from friends and family, fall behind on her schoolwork, and lose interest in the activities she used to love.
Abby starts to fear that Gretchen suffered some terrible trauma in those woods.
Soon, Gretchen stops coming to school entirely. Abby tries to intervene, but to no avail. When she is finally about to give up on Gretchen, her friend turns up back at school, looking better than ever. But there’s something off about her. Something has changed in Gretchen’s personality, turning her into a callous monster.
It isn’t until Abby is forced to sit through a “performance” by weightlifting ministers (The Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show) that she begins to suspect that a demon has possessed her best friend.
Thus begins a gut-wrenching journey to the climax, where Abby is forced to go toe to toe with a demon wielding nothing but the power of friendship.
Author Grady Hendrix plays heavily with tone and setting in this novel, which takes the reader back to the ultimate Southern town, Charleston, SC, circa 1988.
Not only does Hendrix navigate us around the town with the easy skill of a native, but he manages to capture that strange mix of easy-going joy and world-crushing anxiety that accompany the transition from kid to adult.
To me, that’s where this novel shines: as a coming of age story. There are certainly scary scenes, some of which are downright chilling, but to label this book strictly as a horror novel would miss its true essence.
This book is not for everyone; fans of hardboiled horror, or genres like splatterpunk, will probably not enjoy this.
But if you enjoy stories that blend traditional horror tropes with punchy wit, and throw in a huge helping of heart, then this just might be the book for you.