My Best Friend's Exorcism - Book Review

My sister is also a voracious reader, but growing up we didn’t have similar tastes in books. I liked Animorphs, she liked Goosebumps. She loved Nancy Drew, I loved Redwall. We both read The Babysitter’s Club, but she was a Kristy fan while I wanted to be Claudia. There wasn’t really anything we could bond over until in our tweens when we got our hands on Fear Street.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is a nostalgic trip for anyone who experienced the eighties, but for me it reminds me a lot of Fear Street Cheerleaders (my favourite thing ever from R.L. Stine).  The story centers around Abby and Gretchen, two best friends whose relationship is put to the test in 1988, when Gretchen starts acting strangely. She just isn’t herself, and Abby suspects a number of things; a bad trip, problems at home, and even sexual assault. In fact, it’s not just that Gretchen is strange; very odd things begin to happen when she is around. By the time Abby realizes her friend might be possessed, their friends are hurt and Abby has little time left before the demon comes for her.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for the most part, relies on pop culture references and tropes to tell its story. For about two thirds of the book, the story goes as you pretty much suspect: the scares get increasingly horrifying; friends turns against friends in misunderstandings; and parents and authority figures do not believe and actively impede their attempts to fix their problems. The scares are genuinely good and frightening; without spoiling anything, there’s one in particular that revived a irrational fear I had as a child, that I had forgotten about until now. Thanks, Hendrix!

It’s all by the numbers until the last third of the book, which saves it from becoming boring and predictable. I did feel that it leaned too hard on tropes before that point, risking the reader getting a little fed up with just how much the world is against Abby. Once Abby approaches the exorcist, however, it becomes far more than just another nostalgic homage to all things eighties.

Below there be mild spoilers!

One common trope in exorcism stories is that a girl is possessed, usually by exploring the occult, and a man must drive the demon (who is often sexually deviant) out of her to save her. There’s a lot of sexist baggage to unpack there! First, it denigrates occult practices like fortune telling and mediumship that are mostly practiced by women. Tainted by these evil feminine practices, the girl/woman becomes sexually perverse and must be stopped by a Church father. The demon in exorcism tales can often be read as multiple dangers of modern society: feminism, free love, new religions, and independence from traditional patriarchal religion.

 Without spoiling too much, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the first exorcism tale I’ve read that did not totally rely on a man to save the possessed; the power of friendship, not the power of Christ, compels you. Neopagans and Spiritualists may also rejoice; the source of Gretchen’s possession does not come from ouija boards or dabbling in magic. There is a lot of reference to the Satanic Panic of the 80s, but very little concretely ties into the plot.

The surprise twist is a breath of fresh air in the genre, and to me that more than makes up for the derivative parts of the narrative that drives us there. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a fun, gross, heartwarming tale of friendship in the 80s, and I challenge you not to cry when you read the last paragraph. I now know what I’m getting my sister for Christmas!

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix was published by Quirky Books in May 2016, but that amazing paperback cover was released July 11th 2017.  It is available wherever books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.