Book: “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix
Publishing Info: Berkley Books, July 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.
In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.
But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I’ve mentioned it many a time before, but I really enjoy slasher movies. They’ve been my jam since I was a middle schooler who was way into the likes of “Scream”, “Friday the 13th”, and “Halloween”, and as time has gone on I’ve explored many a franchise, many a slasher killer, and many a Final Girl. It’s a trope that’s a bit rooted in sexism and misogyny, as the virginal ‘good’ girl is usually the one to live to the end, though that’s been subverted a number of times in the past couple decades (“Scream” was probably the first to really do it right). Problematic or not, I do love a good Final Girl. A few books in the past few years have decided to explore what life would be like for a character like this after the monster movie has ended, and the newest foray into such exploration is Grady Hendrix’s “The Final Girl Support Group”. Because no one can deny that any Final Girl who survives a slasher killer, sometimes over multiple movies, would undoubtedly need therapy.
“The Final Girl Support Group” has a number of members, all of whom are middle aged women who have survived horrific, traumatic attempted murders that were then turned into film franchises. While the characters are technically original characters by Hendrix, all of them are clear analogs for some of the most popular Final Girls ever seen on screen (and their first names are usually the same as the actresses that portrayed these characters, with a couple subversions. It’s super, super fun). Marilyn (the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” analog) has married rich and dove into charity work; Dani (the “Halloween” analog, though a reference to Danielle Harris in later movies as ‘Jamie’ would probably be too on the nose) has become a gun hoarding hermit whose only companion is her wife, Michelle; Heather (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) has dived deep into conspiracy theories and addiction, as no one believes that her monster is, indeed, supernatural; Julie (“Scream”- another name change but her last name is Campbell) is wheelchair bound and now an activist; and Adrienne (“Friday the 13th”) has turned the summer camp of her trauma into a mental health wellness organization for women who have been affected by violence. But our first person protagonist is Lynette, who survived an attempted murder by a man whose dark obsession with Santa Claus drove him to kill people while wearing a Santa Suit (a la “Silent Night, Deadly Night”), and she is the one who probably needs the group more than the other members. When the other group members are wanting to disband, Lynette clings to the group, and when Adrienne is murdered she immediately believes that they are all in danger. It was an interesting choice to have our protagonist be Linnea Quigley’s character from “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, as technically, she isn’t a final girl- in the movie, she doesn’t survive, much less fight back against her would be killer. So in this, as a ‘real world’ version, Lynette has been kind of thrown to the wayside since she was too incapacitated to earn her Final Girl stripes. But it opens up a wealth of possibilities, and it makes Lynette somehow more vulnerable than the others in her insecurities and need to belong since she isn’t seen as a ‘fighter’. And in turn, that makes the story and the desperate choices she makes as they all try to survive once again compelling and frustrating, as well as very, very sad in some ways. While I think that Hendrix could have done more with her, and perhaps it would have been more interesting to follow another of the Final Girls (honestly, I want an entire book about Marilyn. I LOVED her), it felt correct that Lynette was the one we got, because she’s almost the one we could trust the least (outside of Heather. DAMN, poor Heather).
In terms of the plot as Lynette tries to figure out how to keep herself and her group mates alive, and to figure out who is targeting them, I was able to predict a few things here and there. I wasn’t as invested in that aspect of the story, as it’s pretty run of the mill. What makes this book work is that Hendrix has penned both a love letter to slasher movies, and found a way to deconstruct them and take them down a few notches without being smug about it. The slasher genre absolutely has problems with sexism and exploitation, and Hendrix makes us confront that by seeing just how incredibly messed up and traumatized these women are. Final Girls are seen as heroic in the movies because of their resilience and ‘goodness’, but in this book all of these women were basically brutalized by men, and then their lives were ruined because of it. However, that point doesn’t make it any less fun to see him play with these characters, and leave in all the fun easter eggs and treasures for readers who love the movies that their characterizations come from. I was grinning ear to ear throughout a lot of this book. And Hendrix, while making our Final Girls a little tragic and traumatized, also makes a few of them VERY funny. Marilyn had me in stitches half the time, and Heather has some hilarious snipes and sarcastic moments. Hendrix is still having fun, and the reader knows that you are allowed to have fun as well as confronting what the actual fallout of this kind of character would have be face.
“The Final Girl Support Group” was a really fun read for this slasher movie fan! It’s horror with heart and humor, and fans of the genre really need to check it out.
Rating 8: A fun love letter to one of my favorite horror movie genres, “The Final Girl Support Group” will be a blast for fans of slasher movies everywhere!