Grady Hendrix gets it. If you’re wondering what it is he gets, I’m about to tell you. He gets the female mind. Gets the traumatic teen years and what it means to carry it with you into adulthood. Just like he got the soul sucking trauma of the retail workplace with his horror novel, Horrorstor, the one I tell people is like Superstore meets Hell House. His latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, (out now) could quite easily be pitched as Mean Girls meets The Exorcist.
Abby and Gretchen are best friends living in Charleston, South Carolina in 1988. Sophomores at a prestigious Catholic high school, they—together with their friends, Margaret and Glee—are all about good grades, good music, and a good time. One such good time includes dropping a little acid at a sleepover. The drug induced hang out leads Gretchen to jump into the lake naked. When she doesn’t resurface, the girls begin to panic, but Gretchen is ultimately found, shaken but otherwise okay. Hoping to write the night off as a bad trip, Abby promises Gretchen everything will be fine. But as the days move forward it becomes clear that is not the case.
Gretchen becomes increasingly ill during which she begs Abby to always be her friend. Confused, Abby vows to never abandon Gretchen and begins to worry that something horrific happened while she was missing. When Gretchen miraculously gets better and returns to school better than ever, more popular than ever, and more cruel than ever, Abby finds herself out of her league. It isn’t until a traveling Christian group comes through their school and preach about the cunning, manipulative powers of the Devil that Abby wonders the impossible: could her best friend have been possessed? As the truth unravels, Abby and Gretchen’s friendship is put to the toughest test imaginable, and neither may survive the aftermath.
Hendrix, as showcased in Horrorstor, has a signature style. He writes with this perfect blend of humor and horror that graces the pages, making you laugh out loud on one page before he has you cringing with his incredible detailed narrative the next. All horror stories, whether films or novels, have a certain degree of humor to them and Hendrix knows how to maintain that balance. Aside from his ability to write a well plotted formula, the understanding he holds of females and their ever-changing roller coaster of emotion is what truly defines this novel. The possession of Gretchen and the way she transforms is so metaphorical in the way friendships—at any age, but especially in high school—change, you may wonder how many of your ex-friends could have possibly been possessed.
He nails the overwhelming emotional tidal wave of a young girl’s mind. One that is often molded by the influences she sees, the people she looks up to, and the standard set by society in general. Do we not sometimes want to adhere to society’s rules, but be ourselves at the same time only to learn that’s impossible? It’s one or the other. Have we not all had that one friend who was our shadow during a certain age and then suddenly, without warning, they abandoned us because they discovered new things about themselves and that new attitude didn’t include us anymore? Reading passages of MBFE I was reminded of friendships during my own time in high school and how within a year or two those I considered my closest friends left me out to dry. No other explanation given other than, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Abby’s isolation was all too familiar to me.
MBFE carries more than high school friendship drama between the covers. The 80’s setting is full of nostalgia for those who grew up in the era. Each chapter is a song title from the 80’s, matching the flow of the story wonderfully. There’s also a subtle class division plot of the typical poor vs rich mentality, something that comes heavily into play as Gretchen’s possession worsens. In the end, though, MBFE is about the power of female friendship. Abby’s refusal to give up on her friend, her best friend, touched my heartstrings and made me realize that when it comes to those real friends in your life, how far you’d go to protect them by any means necessary. It is not the faith in the exorcist that Abby hires that will save Gretchen. It’s the faith in the love they share as friends. Best friends. In the trials they’ve faced. In the secrets they’ve shared. In the true love they would never let anyone come between. It’s a testament to those present friendships we hold dear.
Horrorstor was a fantastic modern day haunted house tale. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a reinvention of the seen before demonic possession. Hendrix has proven himself a horror writer to keep your eye on. I personally can’t wait to see what plot he decides to tackle next because I’ll expect what I’ve come to love about his writing: horror, comedy, and passion.