Someone recently asked me this: "If you could choose any category to play in Jeopardy, what would it be?" My immediate answer: "80s pop culture, please!" To me, the 80s were a wonderful and awkward decade of perms, mullets, "mom jeans," and wood paneling, alongside some of the best films, books, music, and art. Reminiscing about Spielberg films like E.T. and The Goonies, Jim Henson's Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth, Atari & Nintendo, Michael Jackson, Alf, Rainbow Brite, Milton Bradley's Simon, Pop Rocks, Saturday morning cartoons, and toy prizes in cereal boxes, among many other things, will probably always give me a case of the warm-fuzzies. Questionable hair styles and fashion aside, the 80s were both quirky and fun.
Now that I've confessed my love for the 80s, I suppose it comes as no surprise that I was immediately drawn to Netflix's original series Stranger Things. Set in the small fictional, rural town of Hawkins, Indiana, Matt and Ross Duffers' series resurrects the 80s and pays homage to the pop-cultural products of this decade. In Stranger Things the Duffer brothers have created a story that combines elements of the Spielbergian adventure or Stephen King novel that so many, including myself, love: a group of small town kids band together for an adventure that includes a fight against an evil villain, government conspiracy, or supernatural force. The kids of Hawkins, Indiana search for their friend, Will Byers, who is stuck in an alternate dimension called the Upside Down, battle against a monster called the Demogorgon (named after the Dungeons & Dragons villain) with the help a mysterious girl named Eleven who possesses psychokinetic powers. What's not to love?!
Since the first season of Stranger Things was released, I've spent some time searching for books that shared some of the same elements to tide me over until the release of the second season which will finally be here on October 27, 2017. Maybe you really love Stranger Things' plot and characters, or you really enjoy reveling in 80s nostalgia, or perhaps you love everything about the series! Whatever the case may be, I discovered a few books that appealed to me for some or all of the same reasons that Stranger Things drew me in. Enjoy!
The Boys of Summer by Richard Cox
This story revolves around a circle of friends who come-of-age and form a strong bond over an unusual circumstance - a tornado that tears through Wichita Falls, Texas in 1979. One of the boys is left in a coma for four years. When he wakes, he befriends a group of boys who form a club they name the Boys of Summer. Twenty-five years later they reunite and as they reminisce, they realize that their memories of the past do not align with reality. Like Stranger Things, this story is set in the 1980s and includes a sort of unexplainable, supernatural twist.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Wade Watts, the main character in this futuristic, dystopian tale, is a high school student from Oklahoma City who escapes the reality of poverty, famine, and disease by immersing himself in a virtual utopia known as the OASIS. When the 80s obsessed creator of OASIS dies, he creates a series of puzzles within his virtual world and promises that the winner will inherit his vast fortune. Wade Watts, along with a small circle of friends, competes in an increasingly violent quest to win the game. If you really enjoyed Stranger Things' nostalgic nod to the 80s, you'll appreciate the pop-cultural references to music, movies, and video games in Ready Player One. By the way, a film adaption directed by Steven Spielberg is in the works for 2018!
It: A Novel by Stephen King
Of all the books I'm listing, It is probably the most similar in plot to Stranger Things. As I mentioned earlier, the Duffer brothers appear to be heavily influenced by Stephen King's works. Both of these stories are about a group of small town kids who band together to fight a monster. The group dynamics are similar. However, the monster in It is a clown who lives in the drain beneath Derry, Maine, while the monster in Stranger Things lives in an alternate dimension called the Upside Down.
Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons's novel Summer of Night is also very similar in plot to that of Stranger Things, but it takes places in the 1960s rather than the 1980s. Set in Elm Haven, Illinois, a sinister being stalks the town's children. In both stories, a child goes missing, strange things begin happening, and a group of friends go on a mission to fight the evil lurking in their town.
Firestarter by Stephen King
Eight-year-old Charlie McGee possesses the ability to set things on fire using the power of her mind. Both Charlie and her father have developed superhuman abilities through shadowy government experimentation and are on the run from the secret government agency trying to take advantage of Charlie's gift. Like Eleven, the female protagonist in Stranger Things, Charlie is also a telepath, but her abilities are pyrokinetic.
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn
Also set in the 80s, this graphic novel strives to recreate the Spielbergian adventure, but in this series the adventures are led by a band of young, female misfits. Their story begins as they deliver newspaper in the early morning hours following Halloween of 1988. This series includes supernatural elements, mystery, and suburban drama.
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates
Five teenage girls from upstate New York form a sisterhood to protect one another against the world and its oppressors. Both Stranger Things and Foxfire take place in another era, but the latter is set in the 1950s. Each story centers around a group of friends working together to fight a monster. However, in Foxfire a group of girls form a gang to bring justice to a variety of criminals. The group dynamic is similar in some ways, but the monsters they fight are a very different kind.
The Boy Who Drew Monsters: A Novel by Keith Donohue
A ten-year-old boy develops agoraphobia after nearly drowning. He begins to draw increasingly disturbing pictures of monsters that take on a life of their own and haunt everyone around him. Like Stranger Things, this novel explores the complexities of boyhood, as well as adulthood friendships. It's a coming-of-age story with a horror twist.
My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Also set in the 1980s, My Best Friend's Exorcism is a fun story about a high school girl named Abby who not only witnesses a series of strange events that coincide with her best friend's increasingly strange behavior. Like the characters in Stranger Things, the protagonist in this story goes on a mission to save a friend no matter what the consequences.
The Last Child by John Hart
Thirteen-year-only Johnny Merrimon's twin sister disappears and when everyone else in town seems to have given up on the case, Johnny keeps searching. A year later, another girl disappears and Johnny risks everything as he embarks on a final, desperate mission to find both girls. With the help of a giant-sized man and Detective Clyde Hunt, Johnny uncovers terrible truths about his hometown. The Last Child shares the following with Stranger Things: a mother frantic over the disappearance of her child, a teenage boy goes on a mission to find his missing sister, and unexpected twists and turns. There aren't any supernatural elements or alternate dimensions in The Last Child, but the tone is similar, albeit darker.
Love the music of Stranger Things? We have the Volume 1 and 2 of the Stranger Things soundtrack.