As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media–books, comics, movies, and television–to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
When I first saw My Best Friend’s Exorcism pop up on a suggested list of books, I didn’t give it much thought. The title alone put it in the dreaded horror/comedy genre that misses far more often than it hits.
But after months of Goodread’s algorithm doggedly insisting I would enjoy it, I gave the book a shot. Less than 24 hours later, I’d finished one of the most entertaining and terrifying horror novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading (and yes, it was actually pretty funny, too).
My Best Friend’s Exorcism takes place during the 80’s in Charleston, South Carolina–and not a fictional version of the Holy City, but the real thing…as in the novel’s main protagonist, Abby, LIVES ON MY FREAKING STREET!
Anyway, Abby and Gretchen are life long best friends until they get to high school, where a combination of personal differences and a demonic presence begins to turn Gretchen into a literal monster while also destroying their friendship.
As Gretchen falls further under the demon’s influence, Abby and a group of bizarre allies (which includes a member of the not-at-all-subtle stand in for the Power Team) embark on a quest to save her best friend’s life and soul before it’s too late.
Okay, I will fully admit that part of what I loved about this book was the setting. Grady Hendrix paints a picture of my home city so detailed and specific that I could actually see the locations perfectly in my mind. But a story needs a lot more than a familiar setting to work. Thankfully, Hendrix is also a master of writing interpersonal relationships.
Gretchen and Abby’s friendship could’ve easily fallen into the trap of being a lazy/repetitive metaphor for how people grow apart as they get older. Instead, Hendrix handles the girls’ relationship in a way that is just as complex and frustrating (in a good way) as many high school friendships are.
He’s also careful not to use the ’80s setting as a wacky running gag fueled by half-baked nostalgia. Instead, it offers a glimpse into the past that will remind many of us middle-aged readers just how different things in the world were–while at the same time demonstrating how much teenage social drama and angst is still exactly the same…
…and yes, there are still some funny/embarrassing moments that only the 1980s could provide. These moments are especially plentiful in the various advertisements and photo pamphlets sprinkled throughout the book, helping to enhance the reading experience without detracting at all from the narrative.
Speaking of funny, Hendrix is also a master at making his readers laugh, especially at times in the when it seems completely inappropriate to do so. His skill for crafting humor from mundane and/or morbid sources is matched by his ability to scare the living crap out of you. Gretchen’s possession is both tragic and supremely terrifying, making her able to shift effortlessly from sympathetic victim to grotesque villain.
The ending of the book ties a little too nice of a bow on things for my taste.
Don’t get me wrong–there is plenty of permanent damage done and multiple lives shattered. But it still felt like things concluded a little neatly.
That being said, the overall ending is still fantastic.
Mix a glass of Sixteen Candles and Mean Girls, then spike it with two shots of The Exorcist and one shot of The Last Exorcism. Add a small dash from the good aspects of Jennifer’s Body, and you’ve got a near perfect coming of age tale buttressed by a chilling undercurrent of supernatural malice.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the type of book that will entertain even the most jaded horror literature fan–and maybe even scare them a little. And if you grew up during the ’80s or have ever lived in Charleston, prepare to go on a trip down memory lane that will often times feel much too real.
Now if you’ll excuse, I need to go unplug my landline phone again. The demon living inside Gretchen is still trying to call my house….