Picture yourself on a boat or a lakeshore,
with pastel balloons and ominous skies;
Some monster calls you, you answer quite slowly
— the girl with the GLOWING RED EYES!
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix, is a work of art. You can tell just by looking at the cover. There is a LOT going on here! It tells a story all by itself, but go on and read the book, too. I can’t promise you’ll be glad you did, since I don’t know you, Gentle Reader, but I’d be amazed if you’re not interested!
The first thing to notice — well, no, the first thing I noticed was the girl with the glowing red eyes, but I’ll get back to her in a bit. The first thing to talk about is the cognitive dissonance introduced by the cover. It has a yellow smiley “BE KIND, REWIND” sticker at the top right. (The Young Adult audience of today won’t remember this, but there used to be things called videotapes, sort of like DVDs, but once you watched them, the next viewers couldn’t watch until rewinding to the beginning. But I digress.) Just below and to the left, there’s a green “A NOVEL” sticker. Then at the bottom, it says VHS, which refers to the most common, if not the best, format of videotape. This book/movie disparity is explained by the fact that the story is about the filming of a direct-to-video flick that never even got released, because things went horribly awry during the location shots.
You might think the troubled taping was the fault of the girl with the glowing red eyes, the titular possessed best friend in need of an exorcism. Well, it’s actually the production company’s fault, for buying old books and candlesticks and crucifixes from a creepy antiques shop, in a misguided bid for “authenticity,” instead of making their own, non-cursed props. (Or maybe it’s originally the state Tourism Development Authority’s fault for directing the movie people to this place. But I digress.) Anyway, do you see the Greek temple on top of the clock tower in the background? Who does that? The town where the filming took place, that’s who — it was a weird place with a strange history before any of this happened.
You see, Templetown is saturated with mystic energy, because a sizeable segment of the population there still secretly worships the old gods and goddesses. So when a film company making a low-budget ripoff of The Exorcist accidentally taps into that energy, due to the old Christian conflation of pagans with devil-worshippers, and of daimons with demons, its imaginary plot turns all too real.
But at its heart, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is about the power of friendship. The cover shows the youthful BFFs, Curly and Braids, having fun roller-skating together. They are inseparable until the movie crew comes to town and picks Curly as a body double for the show’s preteen star, and she comes under evil influences. Curly’s new powers seem to manifest innocently enough at the start, with balloons popping up out of nowhere, but when her eyes start glowing red, and when cross necklaces start floating upside down, and when she sends a murder of crows to attack her Aunt Madge just for insisting she needs to return to school instead of continuing to hang around the movie set, and when the director/producer “mysteriously” falls to his death from the temple-tower, and when shadows start stalking the town, Braids finally realizes that she has to risk everything to save her bestie’s soul.
Templetown’s unusual backstory may have contributed to the troubles here, but it is also the community’s salvation. Braids prays to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, for a solution to this dilemma. Athena sends one of her sacred owls to help, along with a friendly naiad, but she also prevails upon her sister goddess Iris to lend her aid. You don’t see Iris on the cover, but the major part she plays in the plot is indicated by the rainbows on both sides. (Iris is also an appropriate savior because of her secondary aspects as goddess of communication and new endeavors. But I digress.) I won’t say exactly how she tackles the problem, or how things are resolved — I don’t want to spoil the entire plot, after all — but suffice it to say that Templetown becomes a quiet little place again, by the end, and the best-friends relationship between Curly and Braids enters a new dimension.
My favorite thing about this book is its wonderful portrayal of young female friendship. Curly and Braids are pretty different girls, with different heritages and religions, and different strengths and weaknesses, but each is charmed by the other’s special nature, and they have each others’ backs with ordinary issues like school bullies, even before we get to the supernatural parts of the book. Braids narrates the story as though Curly is driving most of the action, but by the end, both Curly and the reader see how exceptional Braids is, too.
What I love second most about this book is its imaginativeness. Who would have thought of combining a YA horror story with film follies and modernized Greek mythology? Not me!
But it all hangs together convincingly, so you don’t have to slow down from the urgency of the plot to figure out why something happened the way it did. That brings me to the third thing I love about My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which is just how well this story is told. Allowing for the fantastic premises, the story totally makes sense, and the characters are believable and relatable. I enthusiastically recommend it for a fun, engaging read!
A Book by its Cover is a (renewed) monthly joke column featuring a review based on the cover and nothing else. Any similarities in our review to the book are purely coincidental and proof that we are awesome. You can purchase an actual copy of the very real book by following links from http://www.gradyhendrix.com/my-best-friends-exorcism/