Maureen Cooke

Before reading “My Best Friend’s Exorcism,” I’d never heard of Grady Hendrix.

If I had, I’d have known more what to expect from “My Best Friend’s Exorcism,” which is an engaging blend of gore and 1980s pop culture, including big hair and plenty of rock ’n roll references.

This novel and Hendrix’s other work are a bit idiosyncratic, such as his novel “Horrorstör,” in which zombies overtake Orsk, a department store quite obviously based on Ikea.

Technically, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” begins in 2016 with the main character, Abby Rivers, in her mid-30s, discovering, ‘The exorcist is dead.’ This simple, four-word sentence launches the narrative, which takes place primarily in 1988, when Abby and her best friend Gretchen Lang are high school sophomores.

Best friends since fourth grade, the girls start sophomore year normally. They face the same problems most high school girls face: crushes, bad skin, clueless parents, endless homework.

The girls’ ordinary lives are turned upside down after the two, with two other girls, try LSD one night. Nothing much happens at first, but then Gretchen disappears.

Early the next morning, Abby finds her friend in an abandoned shack — naked, freezing and inexorably changed. Gretchen is no longer the sweet, rather virginal, friend she’s always been.

She no longer calls Abby every night to share confidences; she grows distant and mean.

Still, Abby knows her friend, believes something happened to Gretchen to cause such a change and speculates that Gretchen has been raped. As the story unfolds, Abby begins to suspect her friend has endured something even worse than rape: demonic possession.

Abby turns to adults in her life — parents and teachers — for help, and they respond with disbelief, dismissing her concerns, which leaves Abby feeling hopeless.

Not until The Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, a revivalist weight-lifting group, performs at a school assembly does Abby dare to feel hopeful about her friend’s situation.

For during the performance, Christian, one of the brothers, staring intently at Gretchen, proclaims a demon resides inside her, and he challenges the demon to show itself, taunting, “You think you’re strong, but my God is stronger.”

Abby then seeks Christian’s help in exorcising the demon from Gretchen. Reveal any more, and I give away the best part of the book; suffice it to say, the story resolves a bit differently than I’d expected.

“My Best Friend’s Exorcism,” was definitely fun to read; Hendrix has a great feel for the 1980s, capturing the decade effortlessly. I loved the chapter titles, such as “We Got the Beat” and “Broken Wings,” all of which are songs from the 1980s.

Hendrix also has a great feel for teenage angst and the importance, and durability, of childhood friendships. I actually cried at the book’s end.

Nevertheless, as much as I enjoyed “My Best Friend’s Exorcism,” I cannot recommend it for everyone. The language and subject matter could possibly offend some readers, especially those from a conservative, Evangelical background.

Gen-Xers (and maybe fans of the 1980s) wil probably love this book.

(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)