Though a generation older than the protagonists of this book, I loved the evocation of 1980s pop culture—like The Breakfast Club meets Teenage Exocist. There actually was a great Satanist panic in that time, which wasn’t funny – peoples’ lives were ruined – here played out in a snobby Charleston school without very much to be snobby about. Abby is a scholarship girl whose ne’er-do-well father has 200 lawnmowers in front of their house (is that upscale from a Buick on breeze blocks?) to repair for $20 each when he gets round to it; her mother is a hard-working but short-tempered nurse. All her classmates skip Abby’s tenth birthday party except Gretchen, and they become BFFs through fair and stormy weather. I am so envious a guy could write such a lovely account of a friendship.
Albemarle Academy was well up (or down?) on my list of horrible schools. The teachers communicate to their students in threats and cheap sarcasm and the headmaster is guilty of the grossest favoritism towards wealthy parents like Gretchen’s. Even worse (from my point of view) was the school chaplain, who though an Episcopal priest thinks like a teen counselor, so is utterly clueless faced with a diabolical possession. But even worse, conveys private information about one student to another, totally violating the ethics of chaplaincy. Appropriately, a fundamentalist weightlifter proves more helpful, not because one brand of religion is better than another, but because real spirituality is required, however bizarre and hilariously off-the-wall the situation. (That the form of prayer that actually works should be so pop-culturally secular proves something about Abby and Gretchen’s true spirituality, which is derived from their mutual relationship.) There’s also a dog that comes to an end reminiscent of a famous National Lampoon cover and a VW Rabbit (what Golfs were labelled then in America) called the Dust Bunny.
Funny, moving, nostalgic, sometimes infuriating and maddening (especially towards the adults who won’t listen to Abby or worse) are only a few epithets describing my feelings listening. It’s good to have the text too, for its visual effects, especially the teen-magazine quizzes. (“Is Your Best Friend Competing with You?”). This is a light-weight book, though we have moments we really fear for Abby and Gretchen. Think of it as a wonderful chocolate soufflé.