The newest novel from Grady Hendrix is here and it doesn’t disappoint! The Final Girl Support Group is equal parts a deconstruction of and a love letter to slasher movies– there have been a few stabs at the subject matter in recent years, but this is the one that gets it right for me. Hendrix doesn’t lose sight of the fact that the book is meant to entertain while presenting social commentary.
A word of warning before we dive in: despite the fact that the novel centers on slashers and the women who survived them, it is not itself a slasher and isn’t really meant to be. Rather, this book uses the existing tropes and preconceptions revolving around those films to tell a new story about survival that is laced with peril and paranoia. It ultimately winds up closer in tone to a thriller chock full of horror references than to horror itself, a late second-act detour notwithstanding.
The Final Girl Support Group is about Lynnette Tarkington, the survivor of two brutal killing sprees whose life has devolved into constant paranoid vigilance and whose only real friends are the titular support group. See, in this universe slasher movies were all based on real-life events, sequels and all– it’s a grim proposition that grounds the story well and allows for a handful of grisly thought experiments. All the big names are here, but they’ve been slightly altered to protect the innocent (and the author, presumably from copyright suits). When a key member of the group is killed in what appears to be a new slashing, Lynnette knows that she has to intervene and make sure the rest of the group isn’t being targeted by the boogeymen of their pasts or by a new threat altogether.
When you strip away all of the references and meta context of the story (and best believe there are wall-to-wall references), this is a book about a trauma victim confronting her demons and learning how to function despite those traumas. The book is lightning fast and immediately engaging, but early on I actually found it difficult to fully root for Lynnette, which may be intentional. For most of the first act she’s equal parts a very unreliable narrator and an unrelenting ball of anxiety, the latter of which many readers will relate to, but it makes for a jarring introduction. It doesn’t help that she isn’t given much characterization beyond her hypervigilance until the book progresses and her backstory is slowly revealed.
Luckily, this makes Lynnette’s journey throughout the book that much more rewarding, as she’s a fully realized and complex character by the time we reach the final confrontation. The whole thing is about her journey inward as she becomes the badass survivor that she didn’t think she could be before, and there’s a lot to say throughout the book about healing and catharsis. Hendrix is a master of strong character arcs, and this one is no different– Lynnette’s transformation manages to be both an emotional look at victimization and a thoroughly entertaining story well suited to fans of the subgenre who are looking for something a bit more thoughtful.
If there’s anything in this book that I found a bit lacking it’s the climax, and only then because it feels a tad bit rushed. In a final unreliable turn, Lynnette reveals that she has more knowledge of the setting for the final confrontation than we were privy to, and while it works as a final way to grant her more agency it also makes everything feel too quickly and easily solved. Additionally, while there’s some strong commentary about modern violence thrown in at the end, it does feel like a sudden swerve that doesn’t entirely mesh with what came before it. Then again, if it’s more about the journey than the destination, The Final Girl Support Group is a definite winner.
Rating 8.5 out of 10 Sequels