Synopsis: The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries—and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?
A few years ago I started a book club with two of my closest friends to re-engage in reading fictional novels, and most importantly, to make time in our busy schedules to see each other. Once a month each of us would take turns selecting the next novel and then at the end we would gather at someone’s home to dissect it. We would banter about the novel’s plot points, characters, theories and interpret dialogue or events that would happen. And you could always tell who chose each month; not surprisingly I always seemed to select horror-themed novels among the fantasy, sci-fi and mystery genres. We read Clive Barker, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and H.P. Lovecraft. It was always fun coming up with the next novel that was accessible for all of us.
I had heard of the author Grady Hendrix from his book Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of 70s and 80s Horror Fiction, which I owned a copy of. It was this book that got me interested in hunting down classic horror novels such as The Omen, The Exorcist, The Exorcist: Legon, The Amityville Horror and Rosemary’s Baby. I loved it because I was reading horror from authors who were not Stephen King (no offence against him, it is just whenever you look up novels in the horror section you mostly find King). But another pleasant surprise was that Grady Hendrix was also a horror author with his first books being Horrorstor and My Best Friend’s Exorcism. As much as I wanted to read Horrorstor, the thought of reading about a haunted retail store while I was still working in one (not haunted) was not very appealing to me. I wanted an escape from my day to day life, not read a horror novel about it. So, I decided to tackle my fear of demonic possession and read his second novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. I picked up a paperback copy( which looks like an 80’s VHS tape) from Chapters and was ready to scare myself and others. However, due to some life-changing factors, the book club got put on hold, but that did not stop me from finishing this new book.
I was not disappointed. My Best Friend’s Exorcism was such a fantastic and creepy read! It starts out simply like an 80s teen movie with two young women entering into their sophomore year of high school who have been best friends since they were 10 years old. It reminded me of the film Pretty In Pink (1986) but instead, it is a friendship/love story between two girls from different ‘sides of the tracks’. Abby comes from a low-income dysfunctional household and Gretchen in an upper-class home with socially acceptable, yet distant, parents. However, these differences never keep the girls separated despite how old they get and their interests change.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is relatable to young women; you experience Abby and Gretchen through their changes as they hit puberty, start dating, and have to make decisions about their lives after they turn eighteen. Along with all the gossip about movies, music, boys, fashion, hairstyles and everything young women in high school talk about. You see a friendship that becomes a fully developed sisterhood after they experience a harrowing event together. What is also really wonderful about this book is the 80s vibes throughout it. I was also enjoying Stranger Things (2016) at the time, so the fact that each chapter’s title was a reference to a classic 80s song got me really into it. I even found the accompanying playlist for the book on Spotify: My Best Friend's Exorcism Playlist!
The theme of demonic possession and its connection to womanhood is present in the early-onset of the book and continues throughout it. As Gretchen begins to exhibit signs of what Abby believes to be a possession, it becomes conflated with Gretchen also showing signs of mental distress and natural feminine changes. Hendrix is great at building up atmospheric suspense and dread with moments of relief that leave you feeling both terrified and sad for Abby and Gretchen.
I am looking forward to revisiting this novel this month as we explore Grady Hendrix, especially with everything I have learned over the past two years about the monstrous feminine and the tropes of demonic possession connected to womanhood. Hopefully one day the book club will be revived so we can talk about this amazing fictional gem.