Best friends Abby and Gretchen have been inseparable since the fifth grade. Now in high school, their friendship is stronger than ever. Or is it? Following an evening where Abby, Gretchen and their two friends partake in a little drug experimentation, Gretchen wanders off into the woods. When Gretchen returns a few hours later, Abby knows something is up. Gretchen seems.. different. As Gretchen’s personality and appearance begin to slowly degrade, Abby desperately attempts to uncover the mystery behind her best friend’s behavior.
I’ll have to admit, I was apprehensive about reading this one. I had heard good things, but I was worried it would feel too gimmicky. The novel takes place in the 1980s with each chapter named after a corresponding popular song of the era (“Sunday Bloody Sunday, “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, “Jenny 867-5309”). The cover art looks like an old VHS tape and there are inserts of pamphlets, advertisements and yearbook excerpts. There’s even a corresponding playlist on Spotify from the publisher. This all felt a bit much, to be honest. But since it is a spooky season, I decided to give it a shot.
I’m glad I did.
This didn’t feel like an Ernest Cline special (Ready Player One, Armada) where the references are painfully shoehorned in. This felt more like window dressing on a really solidly built house. Hendrix did a tremendous job establishing and building upon the powerful bond between Abby and Gretchen. Maybe I’m old and crusty now, but I had a hard time understanding why Abby would continue to push forward when faced with such overwhelming odds. Maybe I’m too much of a defeatist. I’d probably go sulk in the corner and moan about how everyone hates me. However, that’s the power of youth and optimism. Abby just had to find a way to save Gretchen.
The pacing and plotting of this novel is excellent. Grady continues to deconstruct Abby’s world brick by brick over the course of the book’s brisk 337 pages. While I wouldn’t say the book was particularly on the scary end of things – there is a particular scene near the novel’s climax that was extremely gross – the novel is more concerned with drawing the reader in and hooking them emotionally on Abby and Gretchen’s friendship.
The ending seems to be the most divisive amongst most readers. There were parts that I enjoyed and even laughed out loud at (“Hot damn, we got ourselves a demon!”), but I did think it became a bit corny at times. I’m not writing it off completely, but it lost me at a few points.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a strong story about the importance of friendship and the power of an unbreakable bond between two people. There’s a good amount of eighties nostalgia that thankfully falls short of the obnoxious “do you remember this?” department that can plague and hinder other novels. Don’t expect many blow-away scary scenes, but it’s a fun page-turner that can fit right onto your spooky-season shelf.