Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we delve into the topics on the tips of readers’ tongues and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.
The Duffer Brothers’ Netflix phenomenon, Stranger Things – a blend of horror, science fiction, and 1980s nostalgia – returned to the streaming service this past weekend with seven episodes featuring your friends Eleven, Mike Wheeler, Hopper, Joyce Byers, and all your faves (like my personal favorite, Mr. Clarke). And by all accounts, it’s an ambitious epic, filled with secret government projects, unfathomable horror, and Kate Bush needle-drops galore.
You’ll have to wait until July to watch the final two episodes of Season 4, but we have lots of like-minded reading suggestions for Stranger Things fans of all ages to tide them over through June!
It’s a bit difficult to find picture books that are good pairings with Stranger Things, as so few picture books feature anything close to demigorgons, and very few have ample ’80s references. But one exception are the picture books created by Calgary artist Kim Smith. Her Pop Classics Illustrated Storybooks – like Back to the Future, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird – capture all the classic moments of these pop-culture milestones that are often referenced throughout Stranger Things, and a great introduction for the youngest readers to the genre of science fiction.
Probably the closest title in tone and subject matter to Stranger Things is the Last Kids on Earth book series by Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate. Suburban middle schoolers playing video games, eating inhuman amounts of candy, and battling the forces of the supernatural and monstrous (usually zombies)? Check, check, and check! And there’s nine books to enjoy so far. Join Jack Sullivan, his friends Quint, June, and Dirk, and his trusty Louisville Slicer as they battle monstrous hordes in this heavily illustrated book series (which was also adapted into a Netflix series – Finn Wolfhard even voices Jack!).
Another middle-grade title that’s a good match for Stranger Things is Sneaks by Catherine Egan. Three kids (Ben, Charlotte, and Akemi) uncover a secret society in their town to keep interdimensional sprites (called ‘Sneaks’) from slipping into our universe. And while the Sneaks may seem not as dangerous as some of the creatures from the Upside Down, they are planning to pull a much more dangerous creature – along the lines of a Mind Flayer! – into our world!
Most books by Melissa Savage (The Truth about Martians, Nessie Quest) could fit on this list, but we’re going to recommend Karma Moon: Ghost Hunter, in which a girl (Karma), whose father is a TV ghost-hunter, stays in a haunted Colorado hotel to help her dad’s flailing TV series. However, there are a few problems – namely Karma struggles with anxiety, and the Stanley Hotel seems to be home to a real haunted house!
And if you can wait until July – you’ll need to wait until then for the Stranger Things season finale anyway – you might like Strangeville School Is Totally Normal by Darcy Miller and illustrated by Brett Helquist. Harvey Hill is the new kid at Strangeville Middle School, trying to blend in, until he realizes his new school is filled with strange sea creatures, giant rats, and a Bermuda-Triangle-like lunch room. A school that might fit in really well in Hawkins, Indiana.
For YA reading, you can’t do better than the genuine article – actual licensed Stranger Things books, like Runaway Max by Brenna Yovanoff (which focuses on Sadie Sink’s skateboarding loner, who shows up in Season 2) or Rebel Robin by A. R. Carpetta (which focuses on the inner life of the fan-favorite third-season introduction portrayed by Maya Hawke). And you can pre-order the third book in the series, Lucas on the Line by Suyi Davies, about Lucas Sinclair in his own words, out this July.
Likewise, you may enjoy Matthew J. Gilbert’s How to Survive in a Stranger Things World, a hardcover gift book filled with wisdom and guidance to help you through school, friendships, and your town’s darkest secrets. Plus, it’s jam-packed with photos from the television series.
But if you’re looking for something with a similar feel to the show, rather than an officially licensed book, you might like Wilder Girls by Rory Power, which matches (if not surpasses) the show’s creep factor. A feminist Lord of the Flies with a splash of body horror is how we’d describe this mind-melting debut science fiction novel about three girls locked in quarantine at their island board school as a body-altering illness begins to infect everyone else.
You might also be intrigued by What We Harvest, the debut novel from Ann Fraistat that hinges on dark horror in a small town. Hollow’s End is a town that provides food for much of America with its miracle crops, but that bounty comes – as Wren and her family discover – with a deadly price! A blight called ‘Quicksilver’ poisons the land and turns the livestock into staggering, infected zombies. Can Wren and her ex Derek save Hollow’s End?
And Pete and Alistair Montague may be a bit older than the Party in Stranger Things, but they – along with friends like Charlie, Rachel, and Rowan – investigate mysterious goings on in their town of Port Howl in Nathan Page and Drew Shannon’s The Montague Twins graphic novels. The books in the series have definite ST vibes, but are set about twenty years earlier, so there are more Donovan musical cues than Echo and the Bunnymen. And, like Eleven, the Montagues have a few tricks up their sleeves – including some witchy powers.