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Blog – Posted on Thursday, Jul 04

Stranger Things Book Bag: 12 Must-Read Novels If You Love the Hit Show

If you’re as obsessed with Stranger Things as we are, you’ll know that the long wait for season 3 is finally over! Time to gleefully gobble up the next installment in the adventures of Mike, Eleven, Steve Harrington, Chief Hopper, and all the other residents of Hawkins, Indiana we’ve come to know and love.

That said, if you’ve watched Stranger Things before, you’ll also know that the episodes go by alarmingly fast. One minute you’re basking in an eighties paradise, the next you’re staring in horror at your laptop… and not because a Demogorgon has appeared onscreen, but because you’ve somehow devoured the entire new season in a day! Luckily, we have the solution to your post-binge woes: dive into our Stranger Things book list. Here we’ve put together 12 novels based on, inspired by, or that helped form the culture of Stranger Things.

Let’s start with the obvious — four officially authorized novels that further expand the canonical Stranger Things world.

1. Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

If one of the questions plaguing you throughout season one was, “What’s the deal with Eleven’s mom?” you’ll be thrilled to know that Suspicious Minds has the answer. This certified Stranger Things prequel takes us back to the summer of ‘69, when Terry Ives is but an idealistic young college student. This idealism leads her to MKUltra — a top-secret government project that promises to unleash the greatest of human potential. But Terry and her fellow test subjects soon become suspicious of the project’s mysterious nature, particularly in connection to its director, Dr. Martin Brenner. As they delve into the whispers of conspiracy surrounding MKUltra and Hawkins National Lab, they uncover increasingly mind-boggling revelations… and horrors beyond their wildest LSD-fueled dreams.

2. Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher

Where Suspicious Minds pulls back the curtain on Eleven’s mother, Darkness on the Edge of Town does the same for her adoptive father, Jim Hopper. As it turns out, Hopper wasn’t always the lone-wolf police chief of their sleepy little town — back in 1977, he was an NYPD detective with a wife and young daughter. This second Stranger Things prequel follows 70s-era Hopper, fresh off a stint in Vietnam, as he attempts to settle back into civilian life. Little does he know that his troubles are far from over, as federal agents arrive in NYC, purportedly to investigate a series of cultish murders. Soon Hopper himself is embroiled in the case, determined to uncover the truth before the agents make it disappear. Fans of crime thrillers and police procedurals will especially enjoy Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is just as exciting but more grittily realistic than the supernaturally focused Suspicious Minds.

3. Stranger Things: The Other Side by Jody Houser and Stefano Martino

Alternately, if your most pressing question during season one was, “What the hell is happening to Will Byers?” then this graphic novel is sure to satisfy you. Houser’s compelling narration and Martino’s evocative illustrations depict the heretofore-untold story of Will’s entrapment in the “Upside Down” — where a flesh-eating Demogorgon lurks, and the very air Will breathes is toxic to him. Having crash-landed in this parallel world, he’s immediately forced by the monster into a game of cat-and-mouse, which he’ll need every ounce of his skill and strength to win. Luckily, accompanying these nail-biting episodes are flashbacks to Will’s friends, who lend him imaginary encouragement and even maneuvers he can use to outsmart the Demogorgon… inspired by none other than their old Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.

4. Runaway Max by Brenna Yovanoff

Taking a turn into more earthly but just as intriguing territory, we have Runaway Max, which revolves around everyone’s favorite redhead (other than Barb, of course). After her mother remarries and relocates their family from California to Indiana, thirteen-year-old Max Mayfield resolves to keep to herself. However, this proves difficult when she attracts the attention of Lucas and Dustin at Hawkins Middle School. Reluctant to befriend them at first, Max is soon caught up in their incredible story — which this novel relays entirely from her perspective, digging into her home life and backstory before coming to Hawkins. But reader beware: when the focus shifts to her abusive stepfamily, things get dark in a very real way.

Speaking of dark and real, these next few books come from the extensive oeuvre of Stephen King — perhaps the single most obvious influence on Stranger Things (seriously, look no further than that title card). From kids solving mysteries to LSD-based government experiments, it’s be clear how these books laid a foundation for the series, and why they’re the perfect fare for its fans.

5. It by Stephen King

Stranger Things lovers may already be familiar with It — the 2017 adaptation features none other than Finn Wolfhard, aka Mike from Stranger Things. But even if you’ve seen the movie (or TV miniseries starring Tim Curry), the book is a real treat: King’s at his storytelling peak in this ever-shifting, surreally terrifying tale of a malevolent supernatural force that manifests as a razor-toothed clown. Naturally, it’s up to a gang of kids to try and stop “It”. And not just any ol’ gang of kids, but the self-proclaimed “Losers Club,” a ragtag collection of misfits including the stuttering Bill, the overweight Ben, and the impoverished tomboy Beverly. What seems like a doomed mission turns to triumph for our underdogs, who manage to force the being into early hibernation… but nearly thirty years later, “It” rears its ugly head once again, and the Losers must reunite as adults to vanquish it forever.

6. Firestarter by Stephen King

If your favorite parts of Stranger Things are the government conspiracies and experiment-induced mental powers, you’re going to love Firestarter (which is basically direct source material for the show). The titular firestarter is actually very similar to Eleven: Charlie McGee, a girl born with pyrokinetic abilities after her parents participated in a government experiment involving —you guessed it — LSD. Now Charlie and her father are on the run from the agency that created them — and wishes to eliminate them. The suspense in this one is particularly acute, with Charlie and her dad desperate to stay one step ahead of their foes, plus the additional concern that Charlie could lose control of her powers and destroy everything in her path.

7. The Body by Stephen King

Best known as the basis for the 1986 film Stand by Me, this novella is a bit of an outlier in King’s bibliography — more a coming-of-age tale than a horror story, despite its macabre premise. The Body begins with four friends who decide to search for a missing boy’s corpse in hopes of becoming local heroes. Naturally, they get way more than they bargained for, and are forced to confront their personal traumas in different ways. One boy mourns the loss of his older brother, who was killed in a car wreck; another strives to understand his abusive father, who has PTSD. This death-based mission culminates in a stand-off with some bullies who are very much alive, during which an unlikely hero takes charge… and a hidden weapon reveals itself.

8. Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.

The films of John Carpenter are another major influence on Stranger Things, and if you want to experience the full impact of one of his most iconic works (The Thing), you should definitely read this book first. It details an Antarctic expedition gone horribly wrong — which may sound familiar if you’ve read At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. The difference is that in Campbell’s story, the threat is a tangible alien creature, which our protagonists make the mistake of resuscitating from its frozen state. As you might expect, the “thing” then commences killing, consuming, and co-opting the appearance of each of its victims. The result is a scintillating combination of physical and psychological terror, as the researchers realize that any one of them could be the creature — and that in order to prevent it from reaching the outside world, they must kill each person it becomes.

9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

This dark fantasy novel takes its title from the witches’ chant in Macbeth, and its story is suitably supernatural. Two thirteen-year-old boys, Will and Jim, excitedly attend an October carnival called “Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.” But during their visit, something strange happens: they see the adult Cooger ride backwards on the carousel, turning him into a boy of twelve. The boys follow him out of the carnival, expecting an explanation — only to find their questions compounding exponentially. Besides the curious case of J.C. Cooger, the cast of characters in this book is particularly spellbinding: carnival workers like the conductive “Electrico Man,” the boys’ seventh grade teacher who morphs into a blind child, and a “Dust Witch” who plagues the boys’ dreams. In other words, Something Wicked is most definitely the stuff of nightmares, best paired with a Wes Craven film.

10. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

If you haven’t already immersed yourself in the world of Ready Player One, know that it’s just as vividly imagined — and, surprisingly, chock-full of eighties references — as Stranger Things. Set in 2044, this novel follows the virtual adventures of Wade Watts, a teenager who escapes his uneventful life through a mass multiplayer VR game called OASIS. Of course, in the wake of an IRL energy crisis and mass economic decline, OASIS is more than just a game; it’s where most people spend their time, many of them searching for an “Easter egg” that will allow its champion to inherit the entire OASIS fortune and business. When Wade discovers the first key to this treasure, he realizes he has a damn good chance of winning. That is, if he can escape the career players who want him dead… and not just in the game. The thrill is palpable, the danger all too real, and the reward is greater than Wade can possibly imagine. Luckily, the pop cultural details of the game — included by its eighties-obsessed creator — add a dose of lighthearted fun to an otherwise suspenseful and complex story.

11. Paper Girls by Brian Vaughn and Cliff Chiang

Ever wished for more female characters in Stranger Things? If so, you’ll find your saving grace in this colorful comic book series from Brian Vaughn and Cliff Chiang. Paper Girls kicks off when the titular girls (who meet on their paper routes — so quirky!) are accosted by another group of teenagers. They chase the attackers into a neighborhood construction site, where they discover a strange energy-emitting contraption… that turns out to be a time machine. The girls quickly realize that the other teenagers hail from the 71st century, and have traveled back to 1988 to change history, against the will of their predecessors. Our heroines are soon inexorably entwined in this supreme intergenerational conflict — and besides that, have to deal with the disorienting personal consequences of themselves randomly being transported back and forth in time. As if getting up early for their paper routes wasn’t hard enough.

12. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Finally, we have Meddling Kids, an oft-featured favorite of ours on Reedsy Discovery and a quintessential read for Stranger Things and Scooby-Doo fans alike. What makes this book so great, you ask? Well, take a brazen group of crime-solving kids, add a spoonful of trauma from a night spent on a haunted lake, let it stew for thirteen years, and you’ve already got the perfect recipe for a dramatic reunion. Then sprinkle in tongue-in-cheek tropes and references to every “young detective” series over the past century — from Nancy Drew to the Famous Five — and you have a delightful mashup that’s equal parts brilliant homage and genuinely haunting horror, following a group of mystery-solvers determined to make sense of their nonsensical world. Not unlike a certain Netflix series we know.

***

Still craving more Stranger Things-style reads? Why not check out some Stephen King short stories, or this primer on cosmic horror? And if you’re feeling really ambitious, there’s always the 100 best horror books of all time.

(Image credit: Netflix)

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