Full of ‘80s nostalgia and supernatural hijinks, Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism is an excellent, spooky read. The story focuses on the friendship of high school sophomores Abby and Gretchen. After Gretchen spends a night lost in the woods at a sleepover, her personality and behavior drastically change. Abby investigates, with the help of a bodybuilder exorcist, to determine whether her friend has become demonically possessed.
Normally I don’t comment on a book’s cover in my reviews, but this book looks awesome. My edition is designed to look like a VHS box, with a classic ‘80s horror movie poster on the front. The ‘80s references are non-stop in this book. Every chapter is titled with the name of a classic ‘80s song. I found Spotify playlists that compile all the songs mentioned in the book, which made for a fun reading soundtrack. My favorite horror element in the novel was the well written body horror. My favorite scene, involving the character of Margaret plus oodles of worms, was outstandingly disgusting. There is a group of bodybuilding brothers that speak and perform at high schools to spread Christianity (one of the quirkier additions to the story). One of the brothers also happens to be an amateur exorcist that helps Gretchen later in the novel. The heart of the story is the friendship of Gretchen and Abby. Their love for each other is a powerful force in the book and comes into play at the novel’s conclusion. Like many of these high school, supernatural stories, I wish the parents were less absent and clueless. I also wish that Hendrix had broken more of the typical demonic possession tropes in this book, but what he has created is well done.
There are many instances of characters saying problematic, homophobic, or racist things in this book. Memorably, for spirit week the high school has a slave day where “slave” students must serve their “masters” for the school day (WTF). I went to google and was horrified to learn that this was a legitimate thing that used to happen in some US schools. I believe that Hendrix included these problematic moments intentionally, to critique the past. While the book celebrates the ‘80s, Hendrix does not shy from showing some of the era’s flaws.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a Halloween read that isn’t too intense. Fans of Stranger Things, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or ‘80s movies and music will find a lot to enjoy. I’m looking forward to reading more of Hendrix’s horror novels in the future.
In Mike Curato’s excellent graphic novel Flamer, Aiden Navarro, a queer Filipino-American teen, comes to terms with his sexuality while at a Scout summer camp. Aiden is attending camp between the end of middle school and the start of high school, a critical time for any teen. During the week Aiden grapples with fitting in, a peer crush, and bullying. Aiden becomes progressively isolated during summer camp leading to the novel’s dramatic conclusion. Curato’s graphic novel focuses on themes related to the intersectionality among queerness, race, body image, and religion.
The fantastic artwork in Curato’s novel is mainly sketched in black and white, but fiery pops of color are used to evoke emotional moments in the story. Curato perfectly captures the brutal and gross words of adolescent boys. Throughout the story at summer camp, Curato expertly weaves in key moments of Aiden’s childhood throughout the narrative. Aiden is given a strong character arc that leads to a well-deserved development at the story’s conclusion.
I devoured this graphic novel in one sitting, because of how engrossing and relatable the story was. I am a gay male who is also an Eagle Scout, like the author. The story makes me nostalgic for the fun of scout summer camp, but Aiden’s story also reminds me of situations I had in Scouting where I felt different than my heterosexual peers. Aiden goes days without showering to avoid being naked around any of his fellow campers, until he is noticeably smelly. While I didn’t abstain from showering, I remember waiting to shower when fewer people would be around. Removing clothes around my fellow scouts made me anxious. I’m sure being naked around same-sex peers is stressful for most adolescents, but for queer boys there is added stress because they may also need to face their burgeoning attraction towards other boys. I also remember conversations about girls starting around that time amongst fellow scouts. I distinctly recall feeling different from my fellow scouts. I didn’t feel the same way as them when talking about girls and sex, but I learned to join the conversations and fake the same feelings for the sake of fitting in. At that time being called gay was one of the worst possible insults, hence everyone using the phrase “no homo” to defend their “straightness”. Unfortunately, Aiden can’t blend in with his fellow scouts and he is bullied for simply being himself.
The book is immensely helpful for young teens. Curato’s book has the power to save lives of at-risk queer teens grappling with their identity, as well as building tolerance in straight readers. I wish this was taught in middle school English classes instead of the typical dated, heteronormative “classics”.