Book Review: MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM (2016) by Grady Hendrix
Updated: Mar 6
If this one looks a little weird, it's because it is. It's also exactly what it looks like: a 1980s-set horror novel that includes demons, exorcists, teen drama, and lots of references to retro pop culture from an author who knows his way around the genre.
Gretchen and Abby have been best friends ever since Gretchen was the only one who showed up to Abby's E.T.-themed roller-rink birthday party in 1982. They've been stuck at the hip ever since--until in tenth grade, when Gretchen starts acting weird. She starts wearing the same clothes every day, her hair looks like a rat's nest, and there's this weird substance caked in the corners of her lips. Unlike Gretchen, Abby is from a lower-class household, so Gretchen's uppity parents start to suspect that Abby is a bad influence on their daughter. Teachers at their academy think she's giving Gretchen drugs.
The worst part of all? Gretchen not only lets the blame fall on Abby, but she perpetuates it. She wrecks the lives of their other friends too. Abby has no choice but to fall back on the only thing that might work: a good old-fashioned exorcism with the help of a young guy with big muscles who thinks he knows what he's doing. If they fail at extracting the demon, Abby will get kicked out of school and her life will be permanently ruined.
Meh. Hendrix's prose felt a little scattered to me. I kept tripping up on the sentences and had to go back and reread carefully. I wasn't a huge fan of his descriptions, either. I know you need them to set the scene, but they went on a little longer than I thought necessary and made the scenes drag. I zoned out so many times reading this book because of the detail overload and felt my attention span waning.
Then there's the perspective from which this story is told. This book is told from the point of view of Abby. I thought it was third person for the longest time until the narrator made some observations that revealed it's actually an omniscient point of view--observations that Abby obviously wouldn't have known. I don't know whether that was intentional or not, but it jerked me out of the story nonetheless. I really think the story would have fared far better as a first-person narrative from Abby's point of view.
This YouTuber named Erica sums it up perfectly in her review. As a whole, "the writing was so hard for me to get into" and the book felt "very underwhelming." Erica and I seem to be in the minority with this opinion. The premise is cool, the '80s vibe is cool, but the execution is lackluster. Interestingly, most YouTubers will tell you they loved the book.
Unfortunately, the plot was also underwhelming. There really isn't much going on, to be honest, and there isn't much of that horror aspect going on until the end. It takes a backseat to nostalgic references, teen drama, parent drama, and other random stuff. Now, I don't mind a character-driven novel--in fact, I tend to prefer them--but I don't know that this book is really character-driven, either. I got a good sense that the girls were close friends, but they didn't really have distinct personalities to me. Their friend Margaret was the most interesting.
The plot also felt a little one-dimensional. There were a couple of subplots with Abby and Gretchen's friend group, but because those secondary characters weren't too developed, I didn't really find them compelling.
Even though I wasn't connecting with the characters, I'll give props to Hendrix for his realistic depiction of teenage girls. Abby and Margaret have some insecurities about their looks that surely hit home for female readers. This accurate portrayal of female adolescence is an impressive feat, considering male authors (Stephen King, cough cough, Edgar Cantero, cough cough) tend to objectify their female heroines or focus too heavily on their sexual attributes. I think the word "breasts" only showed up four times in the whole book--not bad, Hendrix, not bad!
The most poignant scene in the whole book is when Gretchen tries to get Abby to wipe off all her makeup at school, going as far as smearing it off herself, even though she knows Abby wears it to hide her acne. Gretchen preyed on her best friend's greatest insecurity, and that's exactly what girls do in real life.
Rating (out of five):
I originally gave this book three stars until I really analyzed it here. It doesn't really deserve more than two stars, unfortunately. Points for the fun '80s references, though.
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