Great news! They’ve confirmed a Season 2 of Stranger Things.
I loved the first season of the Netflix original series. Only eight episodes long, but it never feels rushed. The Duffer Brothers did a great job giving us characters we care about and a monster that truly terrified me.
It's set in the early '80s and begins with four young kids playing a Dungeons & Dragons game. After the game ends, one never makes it home. The cast is excellent, the police are not jerks or incompetent, and even the bullies have depth. It's not perfect, but it's very close. And, it doesn't have a smarmy facade of nostalgia, the early '80s were good and bad. A little anachronistic in behavior, but that's expected.
It borrows and riffs off many beloved stories in the horror genre: Stephen King’s Firestarter, It and “The Mist,” Carrie and its clone The Fury, and the magnificent coming-of-age film Stand by Me based on King’s short story, “The Body.” It also draws on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Poltergeist, Akira, the video game Silent Hill, “final girl” slasher films, and even Sailor Moon. There are nods to Aliens, and the nerdy kids (who all ring perfectly true) reference things they love like The Hobbit and the Star Wars movies. And, their favorite teacher is a clueless science nerd who thinks a great date is watching The Thing on VHS.
I’ve read some other “if you like…” lists that mention everything from Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” to Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which are both great reads but really don’t evoke anything like what you get from Stranger Things.
So, here are 13 books I've read that reminded me of the show, in a good way:
1. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
There are scenes in this novel that haunt me to this day. It's similar to It, but so much darker and more concise. Four young kids growing up in a town haunted by the evil of its past, which they must confront to save their lives. And, it lacks the horrible ending of It with the “train.” Yuck.
2. Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale
Not quite as perfect as his masterpiece The Bottoms, but when a local girl goes missing, her oddball friends go on a Huck Finn-like adventure to find her, while avoiding the evil Skunk who haunts the swamps of the Sabine River. The Bottoms has young Harry witnessing a murder and trying to save a black friend from being lynched for it, and is possibly Lansdale's best. I’m told The Thicket and “The Boar” are also reminiscent.
3. In the Woods by Tana French
The first book by the master crime writer is her darkest and most haunting. Before Rob Ryan was police, as a young boy he was found tied to a tree in the woods near an ancient altar. The other two boys were never found. Now the land is about to be razed for developments and he goes seeking answers, as he remembers nothing of that night.
4. The Stories of Laird Barron
The Children of Old Leech are even worse than the otherworldly “Demogorgon” in Stranger Things, and they also love to hide in the boles of trees. Start with The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.
5. The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
Another creepy childhood tale of a family's yearly visit to an old Christian shrine in the hopes of healing their learning-disabled youngest boy. The miracle occurs, but the source is something far more sinister.
6. My own novella, The Summer of Blind Joe Death
A weird tale set in '20s Appalachia, where two young boys face the greatest evil there is. I dedicated it to Manly Wade Wellman, author of the “Silver John” creepy balladeer tales, and John Fahey, the banjo master. Very kind reviewers have likened it to Stephen King.
7. The Last Child by John Hart
If you don’t dig the supernatural, this book has the same small-town feeling—a young boy looks for his missing sister and finds all the darkness lurking in his hometown. It’s a great read.
8. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
If you want to read a Megan Abbott novel about a missing child that will haunt you, this is the one you want. One of my favorites, she captures the dreamy feel of pre-adolescence and the confusion and scares of growing up, as a girl looks for clues about her best friend’s abduction. Inspired by the case that inspired Lolita, Abbott’s take is from a young girl’s perspective.
9. Boy’s Life by Robert MacCammon
This classic bildungsroman is the eerie, folksy flipside to It, where a group of young boys meet a lisping friend with a magic pitching arm, fend off brutal bullies, and slowly learn that there is magic in the world when you’re a child—and not all of it is good. This book has sold over half of a million copies, and it’s one nobody stops talking about after they read it.
10. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates
Also non-supernatural, Foxfire is about a group of young women who go on a vengeful rampage against rapists and creeps and molesters in their town. So you get the same group dynamic, and the Demogorgon is that creepy uncle you’ve always wanted to see have a hand accident with his Craftsman lathe.
11. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
This classic is about a carnival that comes to town to lure with evil temptations and feed on the town’s children. It’s great in both movie and book form. Jonathan Pryce has never been more sinister.
12. Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan
If you want comics, this is a great story about a sinister invasion in a small town, fended off by…paper girls! Young badasses on bikes, this would make a great movie. I’ve only read Book 1, and I’m eagerly awaiting more. By the author of the excellent The Pride of Baghdad.
13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Two sisters living with their failing uncle in a sagging mansion, despised by the townsfolk after an incident where the family was poisoned at dinner by…well, that’s just not talked about. There’s really nothing like it—Merricat and Constance are mystifying, and the perspective from inside the loathed house that children throw rocks at or run past shouting rhymes makes this the ultimate small-town-with-a-dark-secret tale.
Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in 2017, and the editor of the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT. He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim (not as part of a clever heist). Hailing from Nutley, New Jersey, home of criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, Thomas has so far evaded arrest. He shares his hideout with his sassy Louisiana wife and their two felines. You can find him at www.thomaspluck.com and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.