The high school movies of the 1980s get a Satanic twist in Grady Hendrix’s excellent follow-up to Horrorstör, in which a pair of teenage friends get torn apart when the Prince of Darkness comes between them.
Our heroine is Abby Rivers, a smart, hard-working girl who keeps her grades up to stay in the prestigious, wealthy academy where the upper crust of Charleston, South Carolina send their perfect children. Gretchen Lang has been Abby’s best friend since her 10th birthday party, but after trying acid leads to Gretchen spending the night lost in the woods, Abby starts to worry.
Gretchen’s acting strangely, kind of dangerous even, and it seems to be other people who are paying the price. Is Abby’s best friend simply moving into the next phase of her adolescence, or is there some darker force at work?
Hendrix has a tremendous amount of fun with his 1988 setting, channelling the spirits of teen movies past (there’s a lot of Heathers) and adding a strong dose of Chuck Palahniuk-style horror. It’s not just about the music references and style choices (although both are crucial), it’s about the terror of Satanic cults, the obsession with diet fads, the possibility of a touring Christian bodybuilding troupe, and the terrible finality of having your bedroom phone removed.
He makes sure that we’re fully invested in Gretchen and Abby’s friendship, with all its touching details, minor spats and total mutual dependence, before he introduces the classic possession tropes of suicidal animals, terrified messages from beyond and endless vomiting.
That endless vomiting is just the beginning of the body horror shocks, and readers should be alerted to the fact that there are some truly impressive/absolutely revolting gross-out moments to go along with the genuine chills and dark humour.
At the book’s heart, however, is an incredibly powerful friendship that Hendrix understands is absolutely essential. We never question how far Abby is willing to go for Gretchen because we understand that giving up isn’t an option. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is sharp, scary, gripping, funny and gross, but it’s also surprisingly sweet.