Don’t worry, be happy : )
Months ago, I stumbled upon Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and I knew I had to make it my own. It’s the story of Abby and Gretchen, best friends since an ill-fated, ET-themed fourth-grade birthday party brought them together, who seem to be successfully transitioning into teenager-dom. That is, things are grand until one night the girls, joined by two other friends, decide to drop acid at a sleepover and Gretchen runs off into the woods, missing in the darkness for hours on end.
When Abby finally stumbles upon her best friend after searching for her all night, Gretchen is naked and terrified. She seems to have been attacked, but she won’t elaborate on what happened in the woods. And then things get weird.
When I first heard about this book, I knew only the barest facts, and I knew immediately it would be for me — 1980s aesthetic; pop culture references; teenage antics; horror tropes turned on their heads, à la Scream. A few weeks ago, I found myself making an impromptu bookstore run for another title, but saw Exorcism on the new release shelf. Hardcovers are expensive, so I typically don’t (/can’t afford to) buy them unless they really mean something to me. Once I had My Best Friend’s Exorcism in hand, I knew I was about to be making an additional purchase.
Starting from the outside in, the book is a beautiful package. The end papers are designed like a high school yearbook, with scribbled messages for Gretchen from many of the classmates we’ll meet over the course of the story, and the last dozen or so pages are mock booster ads. Inspirational quotes, well wishes, and small business ads abound, giving post-high school readers a wave of nostalgia and drawing all readers into the mindset of the story’s main characters.
Within the pages of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, yes, you’ll find horror and gore and all manner of disgusting, demonic antics. I don’t often have physical reactions to books (crying, nausea, etc.), but I’ll admit that this book both tugged at my heartstrings and turned my stomach on more than one occasion. All of the crimes against humanity that Gretchen commits while under the control of an outside force are truly vile, and one in particularly ripped my guts out — you’ll know it when you read it.
But beyond the late 80s hit songs as chapter titles and the excellently done exorcism horror, you get a story that becomes a phenomenal allegory for being a teenage girl. Abby knows there’s something wrong with her best friend and is willing to do anything to save her, but none of the adults in her life — not her parents, not Gretchen’s, not her principal or teachers — believes her insistence that Gretchen was attacked in some way, and changed irrevocably.
And here is the real accomplishment of My Best Friend’s Exorcism: its portrayal of best-friend-hood. What does it mean to love somebody so utterly, so completely, so that the lines between family and friend begin to blur? To love unconditionally? To care so deeply that you’re willing to put your reputation on the line, to put even your life at risk, in order to save her? It’s a different kind of love than any other that you might feel for a family member or a significant other, an ease and comfort on the good days and a deep hurt and confusion on the bad. But no matter what, come boy troubles or big dreams or, yes, even demonic possession, you’ll always be there for your best friend. And that’s totally bitchin’.
Have you read My Best Friend’s Exorcism? If yes, what did you think? If not, what is wrong with you? Drop me a comment!