Fans of Hendrix’s previous novel, Horrorstör can rest easy. His followup book is enough like his first that you’ll enjoy it from cover to cover, but it’s dissimilar enough to keep you from feeling like you’re reading a bad sequel.
For the unfamiliar, Horrorstör resembles an Ikea catalog and is, indeed, also set in an Ikea-like store. It’s a gory supernatural horror novel packed with easter eggs, layers of meaning, and jokes. My Best Friend’s Exorcism, in contrast, is less overtly postmodern but still creepy and threaded with humorous moments. While the constant pop culture references can, at times, recall the overindulgence of Ernest Cline, mostly they feel about right, considering that the main characters are in high school (and in high school, obsession with pop culture is not indulgent but a natural state).
The two main characters are young women, best friends since meeting in the fifth grade. One is rich and the other poor; one is from a strict religious family while the other’s parents are wholly secular. When we begin to see the darker aspects of the wealthy girl’s home life, it looks easy to predict where the story goes–but it doesn’t go there, not really. While the actions of her parents are definitely worrisome and suspicious, it turns out she’s actually possessed by a demon. Yes, the title refers to actual demonic possession and exorcism.
If readers can suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in an era when backmasking, rock lyrics, and TV plot lines could incite a national furor over the fate of young souls, they won’t find it hard to enjoy a plot involving an actual demon from hell interfering in an adorable high school friendship. Hendrix nails the essence of what it’s like to be a sixteen year old girl so perfectly that sections of this book could’ve been lifted from Judy Blume, if Judy Blume also wrote about tapeworms erupting from the mouths of snobby rich girls or topless, lovelorn teens trying to fling themselves from school rooftops. The plot twists are genuinely gripping, the exorcism passages are original without dismissing genre convention, and the ending was beautiful enough to make my eyes water a little. Best of all, the language and imagery of the grossest passages are executed so well that they might pop into your head a week or so later and ruin your dinner.
In short, if you’re looking for a fun read with enough depth to make it interesting, My Best Friend’s Exorcism belongs on your bookshelf. It’s not as groundbreaking as Carrie (but how many books are?) or as nuanced as Shirley Jackson’s horror writing (though what is?), but it’s a compelling twist on an interesting subgenre and well worth the time spent in reading.