Let's Do the Satanic Panic Again: A Re-Review of My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Hello and welcome to a very special edition of Reading Has Ruined My Life!
Break out the balloons, grab the sparklers, enjoy some cake and ice cream; we’re celebrating the 100th post of RHRML!
I can’t believe we’ve made it this far. It feels like just yesterday I started this blog. Now it’s almost two-years-old and there are so many posts on the site. I’m just so proud. I’m a proud blog mom! And thank you to everyone out there reading this blog. Thank you so much for coming with me on this journey. It has been a wild ride. Here's to 100 more posts!
Now, if you’ve been with me for awhile, you may know that not all my posts are great. Especially some of my earliest works. I didn’t know what I was doing back then, and didn’t have my format fully figured out. Let’s just say, I can name many book reviews that I could re-review. And that’s what we’re going to do today. I’m going to redo one of my worst reviews.
So please welcome to the stage My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix!
This is one of my earlier posts, and it’s a mess. Truthfully, I wrote the bulk of this review, and formatted it, the night before it went up. I worked a very long shift and then came home to more work. I didn’t have my time management down yet, and it shows. Things are going to be better this time around. For me. Not for the characters because their lives suck! Let me tell ya a little bit about this book.
First things first, a spoiler alert is in order. I also need to include a trigger and content warning. My Best Friend’s Exorcism has mentions of rape and sexual assault, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, anorexia, and physical and mental abuse. Also note that this book is set in the American South during the 1980’s. There are some homophobic and racist remarks that are included because of the time period and setting. Also, another very important warning, the dog dies.
Synopsis time now. My Best Friend’s Exorcism tells the story of two girls: Abby and Gretchen. During her childhood, Abby had a birthday party where the only one who showed up was Gretchen. Thus their best friend status was cemented. Flashforward to high school. Gretchen and Abby are still going strong, until one night everything changes.
The two best friends are spending the night at their friend Margaret’s house. They’re doing what all the teens in the 80’s do. Drinking some beer, smoking some of that Devil’s Lettuce, and doing some LSD; you know, what every teenager does on the weekend. Anyway, after taking some LSD, Gretchen decides to go for a swim and proceeds to go missing. No one finds her until the next morning. When she is found, she’s found by Abby in a dilapidated, abandoned hut filled with graffiti and some Satanic symbols. Something smells fishy here, but it could just be the lake they’re near.
From this point forward, Gretchen is not the same. For weeks she doesn’t bathe, sleep, or change her clothing. Everyone at school ignores her. Everyone expect Abby that is. That is until one day they reverse roles. Gretchen starts bathing again and becomes the most popular girl in school. Suddenly, Abby is the social pariah and no one wants to fraternize with her. Worst of all, Gretchen doesn’t want to be Abby’s friend anymore. Something isn’t adding up, and it all has to do with what happened to Gretchen that one fateful night.
What follows is a tale of friendship, harrowing experiences that involve some gross out horror as well as scenes that can certainly mess up one’s psyche, and a lot of 80’s nostalgia. Are you ready to jump into this messed up world with me? You better be, because I have a lot of things I want to talk about.
Firstly, if you read my original review on My Best Friend’s Exorcism, I’m very sorry for that hot mess. But if you read it, then you remember most of my review was me saying, “I wish this book was from Gretchen’s point of view.” Part of that remains true. I would have liked to see things from her point of view, but I now recognize the issues that would bring up, such as: who is in control of her mind and body? I see now that it could give too much away if Hendrix wrote in her point of view throughout the novel. I just like books where there are multiple POV’s okay! I like knowing everything that is happening, but it makes sense that readers learn things at the same pace as Abby.
Moving on from that, I only have two main issues with this novel: pacing and the lack of action Abby takes. Nothing happens for the first two-thirds of the novel. Gretchen gets possessed fairly early on in the story, but that’s it. That’s great, awesome, I’m on board, but it just feels like nothing happens afterwards. Hendrix spends his time planting seeds for what’s going to happen as the novel reaches its climax, but for awhile it just feels like Gretchen is being a bully and she’s not really possessed.
Seriously, possessed Gretchen is the worst friend ever! After she gets possessed, she sends love letters to her one friend claiming they are from a teacher, encourages another friend’s eating disorder, and calls Abby ugly as hell. Talk about toxic.
And the worst part is she never gets in trouble for what she does. Because her daddy’s rich she gets away with all of it, she never faces any sort of consequences, and it’s practically all water under the bridge once everything is said and done because her victims move away or change schools.
Listen, everything Gretchen does is a necessary evil. And obviously a reader knowns she is possessed so she’s not really the one doing all these things. But our heroine spends most of the book watching all these things happen without doing much to stop what demon Gretchen is doing. Half the time the only thing Abby does is try to talk with Gretchen about the terrible things she’s been doing. Or Abby tries to talk to an adult about what’s happening to no avail.
What I’m getting at here is that there is no action until the climax. Things happen, but nothing happens if that makes sense. Readers don’t even meet the final major character until the halfway point of the novel. I’m talking about the exorcist here, and even once he’s introduced, he’s not brought back until it’s time to finally start the exorcism. Less talking more doing!
Listen, while these incidents are interesting to read about, I just want some more action in the earlier part of the novel. In fact, that brings me to the biggest plus this book has: the horror. Gretchen, our horrible, toxic, evil, demon infested mastermind, creates some disgustingly horrible situations.
If you’re familiar with this book then I know what you’re thinking about. Yes, it's the tapeworm scene. Grady Hendrix, are you out there? Are you reading this? I hope so because I have one question for you: WHY!!!??
The tapeworm scene is fucking disgusting. Yet I once again could not look away. I am not a fan of gross out horror, I hate having the feeling that I need to bathe in bleach to feel clean again, but my god, this scene is something. I knew it was coming. I waited the whole novel for it to happen, and every creeped out, visceral reaction my body had the first time I read this scene happened again the second time around.
Once I know a scare is coming, I’m not going to be effected by it. Except when it comes to My Best Friend’s Exorcism. I knew everything that was going to happen, but the scares still worked on me. That a sign of a good horror novel right there.
Let’s talk about something more lighthearted now. I want to give a shout out to Timothy O’Donnell who designed the cover of the hardback edition. Also shout out to Jonathan Pushnik who did the photography for the cover. Seriously, these two did an amazing job at creating this gorgeous 1980’s yearbook. I’m in love with it. The neon colors and 80’s nostalgia are a lovely juxtaposition to the story. And the inside of the cover is covered in messages and signatures so it looks like a signed yearbook. Love that. Ten-out-of-ten. Great job, everything is perfect. Seriously, the book cover fully captures the vibe of the novel.
By the way, the paperback cover, designed by Doogie Horner, looks pretty cool too. I love that it’s a VHS cover. If I saw this movie poster, I’d want to watch the film it’s advertising.
Overall, this is an interesting read to say the very least. Hendrix manages to mix 80’s nostalgia, horror, teenaged angst, and comedy all into one book. Sure, there are some tough scenes to get through, once again I am talking about that tapeworm scene, but this is an interesting story that I’m glad I revisited.
And I think on that note, I shall bid you all adieu. I will see you all next week with a review on a new release that came out just in time for Spooky Season. Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, wear your mask, and read some good books for me.