If there’s one thing I love more than coming of age stories, it’s horror. A novel that combines the two? Perfection. It’s all too easy to find relatable characters and experiences when you’ve lived through your teenage years and can reflect on them in an open and honest way. And while most of our demons might not be literal, I think we can all agree that sometimes high school just sucks. Be warned, there are literary spoilers of all kinds ahead.
MBFE (see what I did there?) was actually my first foray into Grady Hendrix territory. I know, I’m a little late to the party. I first heard about Hendrix when attending a screening of Satanic Panic at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival, which he wrote the screenplay for. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and was caught by the wry humour throughout the script as well as the genius idea of a satanic cult living in the middle of an upper class suburb. Needless to say that when I read that Hendrix was primarily an author I was intrigued, and was exceedingly curious to see what his style looked like in the literary world.
I wasn’t disappointed. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is chock full of demonic possession, deception and 80s pop culture references. Each chapter being named after a popular song of the decade doesn’t hurt either.
For anyone who hasn’t picked this up yet, the novel follows best friends Abby and Gretchen. Inseparable since a disastrous 10th birthday party for Abby, the characters have the kind of friendship you only find at a young age. They have the best kind of relationship of early adulthood: spending all of their free days together, late night secret sharing, and the small jealousies that are pushed aside by two girls who have a close bond.
A weekend at the cottage for them as well as tertiary friends Margaret and Glee mean the usual teenage shenanigans: smoking, drinking, swimming in the lake and being bored. Sprinkle in a little peer pressure to drop acid and you’ve got a typical high school girl’s weekend. Gretchen wanders off into the woods, and when she’s found a few hours later, she’s different.
Gretchen was cold. Gretchen was tired. Gretchen had spent all night in the woods. They’d hang out later that night, Abby told herself. They’d rent a movie or something. Nothing was wrong here. Don’t worry. Be happy
Once back at home, Gretchen behaviour becomes more and more erratic. She won’t shower, wears the same clothes every day and begins provoking her friends and classmates into fights. In the true fashion of 1980s teen stories, parents and teachers see this as acting out, mood swings and drug use. By the time the 2000s rolled around, our media no longer portrayed adults in the same oblivious, inconsequential Charlie Brown style. A story like this takes you back to that feeling of getting into a sticky situation without your parents knowledge. Those were the days. Though to give some credit to these fictional parents, Abby’s mother has a beautifully written standoff with the school principal worthy of any family drama you’ve ever watched.
Gretchen’s shift from borderline asylum patient to shiny new penny happens in a snap. Suddenly she’s the most popular girl at school, looking sharp and friends with everyone…except Abby. Hendrix brilliantly navigates Gretchen’s fully possessed form; manipulating her peers and causing chaos all around her. She becomes the quintessential mean girl, but worse because of her deceptive nature. And as usual, while she’s being tormented by a malevolent entity, there’s only one person who can save her.The only person who knows who she really is: her bestie.
Grentchen’s hand stopped moving, and Abby couldn’t help herself: she looked down. Rushed letters were written upside down so that the words faced her: not me not me help me not me
Through all of the built up tension and supernatural occurrences worthy of any possession story (regurgitated tapeworms, massive bird suicides and a bodybuilding exorcist), the constant thread that holds the story together is Abby’s determination to save her friend. Their relationship is the heart of the story. I think that the deeper message in this story is not to do with being possessed by a demon, but about the course of friendship, and how those we meet at a young age stay with us forever, even if our relationships don’t progress the way we thought that they would. It’s realistic about it’s portrayal of friendship, love and he general course that our lives can take as the years go by.
This novel made me feel genuine emotion; it made me reflect on my relationships past and present, and to feel love for them. Time goes by, and people lose touch. But everyone you meet has an impact on you, and stays with you throughout your life in some way – no matter how minor it may seem. I for one can’t wait to see how this story translates to the big screen, since a film version is already in the works.
So yes, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is like a teenage version of The Exorcist. It has a nostalgic horror that’s quite dreadful at times, and harkens back to Heathers and A Nightmare on Elm Street. But mostly it’s about love, growing up and the unbreakable ties of a friendship spanning 75 years…all wrapped up in permed hair and a faded denim jacket.