I’d really hoped to make it through to the end of the school year without anyone needing another sick day. But no such luck. The children and I woke up hacking and coughing like a TB ward, so they’ve been watching Scaredy Squirrel and reading Captain Underpants, and I’ve been crying my way through the last couple of chapters of My Best Friend’s Exorcism.
I’d been wondering if the waves of 80s nostalgia would bring me to tears in the end. They didn’t, exactly, but the final exorcism scene (in which the kernel of goodness required to banish a demon takes glorious pop-culture form) did the trick. (I’m running a low-grade fever, so that probably helped).
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is exactly what it says on the cover: a possession-and-exorcism story. It’s also a tribute to friendship, and a playlist in book form. The spectres of some real horrors of the era, like Satanic-hysteria and false accusations of abuse, dance neatly around the edge of the book, lurking in rumour and urban legend and talk shows.
This isn’t just a horror story, it’s a full-blown 80s epic, containing snatches and hints of all that made the era great and terrible and ridiculous. As such, parts of it are probably lost on younger readers.
That might explain why I’ve already stumbled across a review complaining about a “racist line,” only to find out that the shocking line in question is someone telling a starving character she looks like an Ethiopian. Kids: the famine in Ethiopia was the go-to reference for world hunger in the 80s (there’s still famine in Ethiopia, but in North America it seems to have disappeared from the news). So the character isn’t referencing their race, she’s referencing their circumstances. All teenagers in the 80s had seen and heard about, and were expected to care about, the plight of the starving Ethiopians.
(What makes that even more painful is that the book is perfectly honest about the real racism of the 80s. Things referenced that are actual instances of racism: a rich neighbourhood where any black person except the one guy who lives there is asked if they’re lost; a school performance of We Are the World in which one student performs in blackface; a high school using “slave day” as a fundraiser.)
But the past is another country, and we did things differently there. Badly, quite often, which would be why Live Aid failed to fix much of anything.
We did music well, though. Even our exorcisms rocked, at least in this version. Go listen to the playlist, and bask in the nostalgia.