When I first heard about the expansion of the Stranger Things universe into the literary realm–probably last June, when the announcement was made–I got pretty excited. A large part of the appeal of the hit Netflix series (set to debut it’s third season later this year, in July) is that it is as much an homage as it is a pastiche of ’70s and ’80s films, not to mention a hefty dose of Stephen King-inspired monsters and situations, so as a pretty big fan of both I think it’s fair to say that I had some high expectations about what we were going to get.
Third up on the docket (and, to date, the only book based on the show that I own) after a behind-the-scenes book and an in-universe companion is the prequel novel Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds, released on 5 February, 2019, written by Gwenda Bond and published (in the US and Canada, at least) by Del Rey.
I won’t hold you, dear reader, in suspense: I enjoyed the book! And don’t worry, I won’t give too much away about the plot. What I will tell you is this: The book is set in 1969-70, and details the MKUltra tests that Terry Ives (that’s Jane-alias-Eleven’s mom) was part of. So, in other words, this book is not only a prequel to the show…it’s pretty much the prequel to the show, or at least, most of the character and story beats related to Eleven, the Hawkins lab, and the Upside Down.
NOTE: Before reading the book, I recommend watching both released seasons of the show, because Suspicious Minds weaves in elements from the original series and the sequel. I think that’s all I’m going to say on that front!
So, what did I enjoy about the novel? Well, like any good character-driven book, Suspicious Minds focuses on bringing us into the world in a believable way and making us care about the characters and what they’re doing. It’s definitely shorter than most King books, but I absolutely had a similar sensation of immersion into the world and the sort-of seeming minutia of the characters’ lives. Terry and her friends’ mission becomes your own, much in the same way that the kids’ adventures in the show or the adults’ heroics grip the audience. I think one of the biggest compliments I can give the novel is the fact that, although I knew at least some of the details going in–what was gleaned from the show, including Terry Ives’ fate–it does a tremendous job of building tension, keeping you in the dark about what’s coming next, and, ultimately, it almost made me forget about the fact that I knew how it all ended. Or maybe it just didn’t matter, because the story had enough presence (in both a temporal sense and a metaphorical one) to keep me invested. I feel like this is particularly high praise for a prequel story, where one of the major hurdles to overcome is the sense of, “I know this story ends–so how can you make me care?”
Without giving away major spoilers–and I feel like there are quite a few cool twists in the book, not to mention details and nods to the things you see in the first two seasons–there’s not too much more for me to say. I really enjoyed the book and the glimpse behind the keypad-locked doors of the Hawkins lab, and if you’re a fan of the series, I think you will, too.