Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Coming of age...with demons

My Best Friend's Exorcism

 By Grady Hendrix

Publisher: Quirk Books 

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars


A coming of age novel with demons.

That is My Best Friend's Exorcism in a nutshell. It's the 1980s. Abigail Rivers at turning 10 in 1982 become friends with the slightly odd Gretchen Lang who is the only person to attend her birthday party.. Both slightly nerdy and very intelligent, they bond together as best friends, helping each other get through those awkward years as teenagers. But it starts to fall apart after a night of experimentation with LSD in the late 80s. Gretchen begin to act strange, sometimes acting terrified and other times being cruel. She plays mean tricks on her friends often setting up Abby as the scapegoat. Abby know there is something very wrong with Gretchen but no one believes her. Until she meets a bodybuilding evangelist who is willing to believe that Gretchen is possessed.

Grady Hendrix's alternately snarky and scary novel is drenched in the 80s. There are lots of references to the era and the more you are familiar with the times, the more you will feel at home with our two teen protagonists. However the bond between Abby and Gretchen even at its most tenuous times is what most readers will connect to. It takes a long time in the novel for the exorcism topic to take center stage. For the longer part of the tale, Abby simply does not understand what is going on with her friend and when she tries to tell others about what is happening, she is the one that becomes the pariah. It is this threat to their friendship and the challenge it entails where the real meat of the story is.

Yet when the signs of possession happen, they happen with a bang. While much of the novel seems mild and sweet, those sudden shocks brings us back. Either Gretchen is a incredibly viscous and evil person or she is truly possessed. The scenes of possession and the eventual exorcism are quite explicit, especially for a book that veers on Young Adult.

It is a fine line the novel follows between light and dark. However there are points in which the authors stretches for credibility. While the teens are believable most of the adults, especially hte parents, are too stereotypical in character or just too callous in their reactions. Despite a crackerjack climax, things fall together a bit too quickly and easily when the fireworks are over. And as mentioned before, I was never really sure if this was meant to be YA or adult. The song titles for chapters is cute but adds very little to the mix except to become annoying. Some of the scenes seem too intense for teenagers and some others seems too youth focused for adults. Yet it is the way the author portrays the friendship between the two teens that keeps the book centered. Over all , it is a very different coming-of-age epic that will appeal to young adult and older adults alike.


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