It's a good old-fashioned exorcism! Between zombies and vampires and various other horrifying and world ending tragedies, here's a horror trope that I haven't seen much of. Grady Hendrix's last book, Horrorstör (aside: do you know how hard it is to type an umlaut? Too hard) was a raucous good time of the Haunted Capitalist Mecca variety. So naturally I was up for My Best Friend's Exorcism when it showed up on Netgalley.
It's 1988, and Abby and Gretchen are inseparable best friends. Abby practically lives at Gretchen's house, because although her parents are strict and religious, they are also happy and well-to-do, while her own family lives on the edge of poor and the edge of despair.
One night, after an abortive LSD experiement, Gretchen is lost in the woods for the night, and when she comes out, she's...not okay. Little things, like not changing her clothes or bathing; big things, like saying she feels fingers touching her all the time. Gretchen needs help, but no one will listen and nothing seems to help her. It just seems like things are getting worse and worse.
I'm not going to give away the twists and turns, because that's what make a horror novel great, but I'll tell you that it gets worse before it gets better--so much worse that I kept wanting to put the book down because I was so worried about Abby, even past the point where I'd pretty much given up on Gretchen. But Abby won't give up on her friend, even when it looks more and more like that stubborn loyalty will be the end of her.
There is all kinds of grossness here (body fluids, bugs, dead animals) and all kinds of drama, and it's all compelling. But the absolute best part is the setting--it's 1988, and it's a private high school in Charleston, and Abby is from just over on the wrong side of the tracks. She doesn't have nice things unless she buys them herself, and she can't afford a dermatologist so she wears too much makeup, and she just doesn't quite fit in.
As with any horror story, it's about something besides the monster. This one is about being an outsider, and finding that all the systems that have protected you and are supposed to protect you are actually turning against you. The '80s theme was charming and nostalgic, but it also put us in a world where a psychologist was a desperation move, and a scholarship student might be looked at sideways. A lot of closed-mindedness and saving of face happens here, and while these aren't things that don't exist today--well, 1988 was another world in a lot of ways.
Like I said, there are blood and guts. And self-harm and demons. And the horrible, creeping tension of realizing that no one is listening to you, and that trying to help is just going to ruin your life. And a good old fashioned exorcism. God, high school is terrifying.