Stranger Things has become the hit TV show of the summer, and for good reason. With its Steven-Spielberg-by-way-of-Stephen-King sense and old-school nerd sensibilities, it has appealed to a wide swath of viewers looking for something different yet familiar. Alas, there is only 1 season of Stranger Things so far – season 2 is greenlit! – so if you like the show as much as I do, here are some books to tide you over until next summer.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
When a horrifying crime scene unfolds in Detroit – the body of an 11-year-old boy is found fused together with a fawn – a detective and her daughter, a journalist, an artist, and a homeless man all deal with the ramifications of it in their own haunted ways. Detective Versado struggles to investigate under the harsh glare of media exposure and journalist Jonno Haim uses the opportunity to make a name for himself. Meanwhile, Versado’s teenage daughter and her friend set up honeypot schemes to trap online pedophiles. Sculptor Clayton Broom is terrorized by nightmarish hallucinations made real, and those visions attack TK, a vagrant tormented by his violent childhood. As the mutilated corpses pile up, the five perspectives intertwine.
Verdict: A psychological thriller with monsters, a tough yet downtrodden cop, and teenagers chasing bad guys.
The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
In this post-apocalyptic dystopian story, Melanie is a very special little girl. She attends an exclusive school with other unique children like her, and learns about myths and literature from her teacher, Miss Justineau, a woman Melanie has a blossoming crush on. Melanie is also a “hungry,” a zombie-like creature with a fungal infection that causes its victims to crave human flesh. She, Dr. Caldwell, Miss Justineau, and two military officials flee the safety of their camp in the English countryside to an infection-free refuge in London. Miss Justineau thinks Melanie is more human and capable of intelligent thought and complex emotion, while Dr. Caldwell wants to dissect her for study. Melanie may be the cure for the zombie plague, but first they have to London.
Verdict: Think The Walking Dead and Cormac McCarthy’s On the Road but starring Eleven.
The Hike by Drew Magary
One afternoon Ben decides to take a hike in the woods. A spontaneous turn down the wrong trail draws him away from the picturesque Pennsylvania countryside and everyone he’s ever known or loved. As he is pulled deeper into the nightmarish, two-mooned alternate dimension, he is chased by men with the skinned faces of Rottweilers stitched over their own, threaten with cannibalism by a giant woman, and enslaved by monsters. The past, present, and future fold together until time has no meaning. Along the way he befriends a sarcastic talking Crab and a proud 15th century Spanish sailor. The Producer, the being who set this whole play in motion, has grand plans for Ben…if he survives the journey.
Verdict: Ben journeys through his own version of the Upside Down.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
After their father is murdered, the Locke family relocates from San Francisco to Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Hidden within the centuries-old estate are magic keys that can only be found by children. Bode quickly collects a treasure trove of keys that turn the user into a giant, switch genders, opens the user’s head so ideas can be added or removed, crown the user the ruler of a squirrel army, turn them into a ghost, and more. But it’s the key that releases the malevolent spirit trapped in the well house that causes the most trouble. The spirit wants to conquer the world, one key and one soul at a time, but first it has to get rid of the Locke family piece by bloody piece. Only Bode, his sister Kinsey, and brother Ty can prevent the ultimate evil from killing everyone.
Verdict: Kids encounter a great evil from another dimension and must seal the gate before it unleashes others like it.
Lumberjanes vol. 1: “Beware the Kitten Holy” by Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Shannon Watters
“Friendship to the max!” is the slogan for this comic book. The five teen girls at the heart of the story, Mal, Ripley, Molly, Jo, and April, are the bestest of besties. The girls are all away at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, a summer camp for Lumberjane Scouts (kind of like Girl Scouts). In the woods around their camp lurks malevolent monsters, magical beasts, and secret caves. The girls explore the deepest parts of the forest and must solve puzzles and mysteries using friendship and intellect. It’s feminist, diverse, and all kinds of quirky, and it’s girl power that always saves the day.
Verdict: A quintet of young women explore magic, mysteries, and mayhem in the woods.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The story begins with our unnamed protagonist returning to his childhood home in Sussex, England, for a funeral. While there, he wanders down to the end of the lane by his house to an old farmhouse he used to frequent as a child where he reminisces about his past. He recalls a tragic event with a drifter who stayed with his family for a time, then committed suicide in the family car. His death summons an ancient supernatural being, and the narrator seeks help from his friend Lettie Hempstock and her female relatives, all witches. As the wicked goddess begins tormenting the narrator, the Hempstocks use all the magic they have to defend him. This is a dark tale about loss and love, of selfishness and sacrifice, built on the bones of a Grimm fairy tale.
Verdict: A tragic mistake brings a great evil into the world and one young boy finds himself at the center of it all.
Paper Girls vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
It’s dawn the morning after Halloween in 1988, and 12-year-old Erin has just started her newspaper delivery route in her residential neighborhood in Cleveland. Three other girls, Mac, Tiffany, and K.J., team up with her, but what is supposed to be an easy route becomes a life-threatening experience. All of a sudden their neighbors and family members vanish right before their eyes. The girls are caught between two vicious factions of sinister, murderous humanoid beings: one a race of technologically advanced yet linguistically anachronistic adults, the other rebellious teenagers determined to crush the adults’ power hierarchy. They don’t know if the creatures are from an alternate reality or an alternate future, but the fate of the world is in the girls’ hands.
Verdict: Science fiction, fantasy, and the 80s collide as these tween girls fight to save the world from invading forces from an alternate reality.
Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson
In this Southern Gothic YA tale, Hurricane Josephine rips through Savannah, Georgia, and a young biracial girl named Carly dies in the storm. A year later, her best friend Dovey, now heavily medicated, begins seeing Carly’s ghost around town. Dovey decides to get off her medication and her whole perspective on the world shifts. Soon she discovers the storm was the product of some terrifying supernatural monsters hellbent on ruining as many lives as possible. Old friends may not be as trustworthy as they once were, and new allies may have their own ulterior motives. Adults aren’t what they seem and the world proves to be a much darker place than Dovey ever imagined. Dovey seeks out the help of her human best friend, Baker, and newest crush, demon servant Isaac. To save Carly’s soul, Dovey must risk her own.
Verdict: Three teens take on a demon.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Set in 1962 a few days before Halloween, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, a pair of 13-year-old boys, encounter a nightmarish circus traveling through their small Illinois town. The circus sets up at three in the morning, a time known as the “soul’s midnight.” Soon, the adults in town are drawn to the night circus by its siren-like call, and disturbing things start happening to them. The ringleader of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, Mr. Dark, grant the townsfolk their darkest desires, but the cost of that wish fulfillment is too high. Will and Jim witness Mr. Dark magically changing the townsfolk and try with all their might to undo the devastation the circus has wrought. The boys must do battle against an ancient evil hell bent on destroying their town.
Verdict: Two teenage boys take on a demon.
Tales by H.P. Lovecraft
A collection of some of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s most famous stories. Lovecraft is one of the preeminent horror fiction writers, and wrote dozens of short stories, novelettes, and novellas from in the 1920s and 1930s. He died in 1937, destitute and unknown, after a painful battle with cancer. Fame and respect came posthumously, and many contemporary horror writers claim Lovecraft as a direct inspiration. Of particular interest to Stranger Things fans are “The Music of Erich Zann,” a story about an old German musician who plays the viola to keep monsters from an alternate dimension from escaping into our world; “The Lurking Fear,” about a man hunting a demonic creature slaughtering the inhabitants of a rural New England village who in turn is hunted by the monster; and “The Call of Cthulhu,” where a professor and several sailors accidentally unleash a primordial, monstrous god.
Verdict: It’s Lovecraft. What more is there to say?