This summer, a nostalgia-laden sci-fi series premiered on Netflix and took America by storm. Stranger Things quickly became a darling of the pop culture world with its copious references to 80s films and sci-fi/horror icons, as it told the tale of a gaggle of kids in a small town hit by the disappearance of their friend, Will Byers. If you’re anything like me, you’re jonesin’ for more creepy, supernatural, totally radical stories to hold you over until Season 2. According to the Duffer Brothers, Season 2 drops in 2017, so we’ll have to wait a bit. Here’s a list of 10 books sure to tickle your fancy as you wait for the Demagorgons to come calling again.
1. It, by Stephen King. I’d be remiss if I didn’t lead with this book. In 1958, a group of outcast kids, dubbed The Losers Club, rid the town of Derry of a child killer in the form of a killer clown. Twenty-something years later, the clown comes back and the now-grown Losers Club has to finish what they started. The Duffer Brothers are loud and proud about the book’s heavy influence on their show, and with a new adaptation coming down the pike, you’re gonna want to check out (or re-visit) this epic, terrifying novel by one of the best horror authors ever.
2. Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang. Are comic books your preferred medium? Dive into this saga about a crew of paper delivery girls in 1988 who encounter some (forgive me for what I am about to do)…strange things. Odd lights in the sky, townsfolk vanishing, men in masks, and badass female protagonists on an adventure…what’s not to love?
3. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. Still packing a punch today, Bradbury’s follow-up to Dandelion Wine contains many of the same characters and is based on Bradbury’s own childhood. Teenagers Jim and Will, next-door neighbors and besties, check out the local carnival when it comes to town. This traveling carnival is sinster, though, and the boys will soon live to regret their curiosity – if they can make it out alive. Dealing with themes of age, time, and the power of youth,this atmospheric and chilling read has withstood the test of time.
4. Firestarter, by Stephen King. Did Eleven’s storyline give you life? Give this 1980 sci-fi thriller a look-see. Like Eleven, the protagonist is a kid who was the subject of some bad government experimentation, and gained superhuman abilities as a result. Unlike El, however, Charlie McGee has pyrokinetic talents that make her quite the weapon. After she and her father (also a victim of the experiments) escape from The Shop, they become fugitives.
5. Disappearance At Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay. Were you blown away by Winona Ryder’s performance as Joyce Byers? Try this genre-straddling book that blends dark fiction, supernatural horror, and psychological thriller as we follow the mother of a missing boy in her search to find both her son….and answers. The web Tremblay weaves becomes more and more tangled as the mother grapples with local authorities and learns of the local lore among the townsfolk. See a more in-depth review of the book here.
6. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. When it comes to storytelling, The Duffer Brothers are more subtle with their nods to icons of the 1980s; author Ernest Cline submerses you into pop culture references, as he knows you’ll love every minute of it. This isn’t a dark tale at all; it’s a sci-fi nostalgia trip through the framework of a video game. If you reveled in the Dungeons and Dragons scenes from Stranger Things and swooned over the amazing soundtrack and LOTR love, you’ll have a good time with this book, which is also being adapted into a film, directed by the man himself – Steven Spielberg.
7. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. All aboard the feels train! During the season finale of the show, our hearts collectively broke when we caught a glimpse of the loss Sheriff Hopper has suffered. Themes of loss and forgiveness are heavy in this dark tale about a boy visited by a monster in the night. The boy’s mother has cancer, but that’s not what the monster represents. If you want something dark that will recreate the swelling tempest you felt in your chest during that CPR scene in Stranger Things, I recommend picking up a paper copy of this book, not only for the story, but for the surreal, beautiful illustrations.
8. The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen. If you’re a Constant Reader like me, you read the foreword and afterword as if they were part of the story. Stephen King often talks about his inspiration for certain stories of his, and this is one of the stories that had an impact on him (particularly present in his novella, N). Were you totally okay with not having all of the answers by the end of Season 1 of Stranger Things? Did the fact that the Upside Down was minimally explained only deepen the mystery and appeal for you? If you like to let your imagination fill in the blanks, try this horror classic. It involves a scientist obsessed with “lifting the veil” between our world and the spiritual world. He seems to succeed, and the reader is left to fill in the blanks as we learn of a mysterious woman, the deaths of several high society bachelors, and the ancient myth that brings all of these things together.
9. Harrow County, by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook. Did you find the Upside Down both unsettling and beautiful? How about the Monster itself? You may like this creepy work of art that draws heavily on the Southern Gothic and witch lore. Back in the day, some townspeople in Harrow County decided that one of their own was a witch and, as such, they lynched and burned her alive. Before her gruesome death, she informed them in so many words that this was a poor choice, and that she would return. And return she did, much later, in the form of a teenage girl on a farm. Accompanied by the gorgeous artwork of Tyler Crook, this comic is tragic, creepy, and atmospheric. Support your local comic book store and pick this up.
10. December Park, by Ronald Malfi. Harting Farms, MD. October of 1993. The first body is found. A slew of children then go missing, and their fates are considered to be in the hands of an enigma called The Piper. The cops are no help, and so a group of teenage boys decide to investigate the matter themselves. December Park is the ensuing coming-of-age story. There are boys on bikes making fart jokes, sure enough, but don’t let that fool you — this story gets tense.
So, what did you think of the list? What would you recommend to friends to read while they wait for Season 2 of Stranger Things to premiere? Add suggestions below!