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Monday, February 8, 2016

What Are Friends For?

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books, May 2016) pits poor Abby Rivers against the devil in a fast-paced nostalgic thriller that seems slow-going at first but develops into something extraordinary. Abby and Gretchen become best friends in grade school, and their friendship endures into high school. They attend Albemarle Academy in Charleston, an expensive girl’s prep school. Gretchen and Margaret and Glee have wealthy parents, but Abby’s father lost his job and they relocate into the worst part of town. Still, Abby’s friendship with the other three continues as they explore womanhood and dropping acid and teenaged rebellions and skinny-dipping in the woods. It’s the acid and the skinny-dipping in the woods that does them in.
Everything unravels after that. Their neat little world falls apart when Gretchen gets sick, acts weird, and isn’t herself. Abby misinterprets everything. She makes herself the school pariah, alienates Gretchen’s parents and the school principal, and finally rejects Gretchen when Gretchen most needs Abby’s help.

Adults live in their own fantasy world. Adults are unable or unwilling to view the world the way a child or a teen does. Abby learns this lesson the hard way when every adult she turns to for help refuses to believe her. All adults, that is, except for musclebound Brother Lemon, the bodybuilder and wannabe exorcist.

This novel so perfectly captures teenage angst during the 1980s and 1990s that the characters come alive and the tension between them becomes palpable. The songs, the cars, the teen magazines, the descriptions of Charleston and its people and environs where Good Dog Max rummages in the trash all blend seamlessly together to invoke vivid images of a bygone time and place. Nothing lives forever but the memories of what once was. It’s the good memories that save us.

Thanks for the memories, Grady Hendrix. I’ll remember My Best Friend’s Exorcism forever.

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