Just when I think I’ve started to gravitate away from YA books, gems like this reel me back in. I’ve heard My Best Friend’s Exorcism described as a cross between The Exorcist, Heathers and Beaches, and you know what, that’s about right. This book is all 80s vibes, malicious demon exploits (slash mean high schooler antics), and the amazing power of friendship. And gosh, it’s good.
Who, What, Where?
Our story revolves around best friends Abby and Gretchen who have been tight ever since they were ten years old. While partying at their friend Margaret’s lake house, the girls take LSD and Gretchen mysteriously disappears into the woods only to return hours later disoriented and dishevelled. Although Gretchen claims to be fine, in the weeks that follow she begins to act strange, scared and, eventually, cruel. As terrible things start to happen to their classmates, Abby tries to put the pieces together and starts to wonder whether Gretchen might in fact be possessed by a demon.
Time After Time
If you love 80s nostalgia, come right this way. I know I normally criticise books for an overreliance on pop culture references but, much like Ready Player One, this is an exception because I had a blast. I mean, even the chapter titles are named after 80s songs! The feel of the story and setting details (complete with ‘just say no’, rumours of satanic cults, and crazy 80s diet fads) are spot on, even the attitudes of the characters are believable for the time. The story itself also follows a similar trajectory to an 80s horror/teen flick and balances creepy and gory against a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach to high school drama. It’s probably why it’s so bingeable.
Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Although MBFE deals with horror themes like demonic possession and it’s marketed as involving “unspeakable horrors”, don’t go in looking for something genuinely scary. That isn’t what it is, and you’re bound to be disappointed. Sure, there are a couple of gross out moments, one of which involves a tapeworm, but it’s more on the side of paranormal thriller. Almost like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The possession itself happens fairly early but the book does require some patience afterward with regards to Gretchen’s transformation. It’s somewhat of a slow burn to reach the sly demonic mayhem you’re probably looking forward to most but, for me, it’s worth it.
Never Gonna Give You Up
While the nostalgia and high school horror is fun, the heart of the book is the friendship between Abby and Gretchen in all its Phil Collins sing-a-longing, roller-skating, late-night phone calling, ET loving glory. Hendrix fantastically sets up the bond between the two early on and it’s so easy to believe that the girls are as close as sisters, especially in the face of their difficult home lives. Despite being severely tested, it was lovely to see just how far Abby would go to save her friend, even at the risk of potentially permanently blowing up her own life. The exorcism scene itself hit me hard in the feels because the Devil may be strong, but ain’t nothing stronger than the love of high school besties.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
I really enjoyed this book but there were a couple of little things that let it down. First, there are a few issues with the editing, particularly names, which caused some confusion during certain scenes. Not the end of the world, though. Second, I wish we’d gotten more clarity as to how Gretchen became possessed. We’re given a few puzzle pieces but never told how they fit together. Third, there are some references made to satanism and a murdered girl that are never expanded on. It’s kind of odd and I’m left wondering, was there a purpose or was it simply referencing the 80s satanism panic? Guess I’ll never know.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Sorry, couldn’t resist using another 80s song title. If you’re looking for a quirky and fun take on 80s horror that blends creepy with coming of age and features a heart-warming female friendship, pick this one up!
(If I gave out extra points for awesome covers, the paperback edition pictured above would get so many. The old VHS look is ridiculously cool).