I loved the NetFlix original series Stranger Things. It’s only 8 episodes long, but 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.
I recently read a list of “you might like…” books and wasn’t satisfied. It had the usual literary-friendly pre-genre picks like Arthur Machen and some other great books like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, but … they really aren’t anything like the show. Stranger Things owes a lot to the following sources: Firestarter by Stephen King, also It and Carrie and its clone The Fury, and Stand by Me. The works of H.P. Lovecraft. Poltergeist, Akira, and the video game Silent Hill. 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 shows his date The Thing on VHS.
Here are some books I’ve read that reminded me of Stranger Things in a good way:
Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. There are scenes in this novel that still haunt me. It’s similar to It, but so much more concise and darker. Four young kids growing up in a town haunted by the evil of its past, which they must confront to save their lives.
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.
In the Woods, by Tana French. The first one by the master crime writer is darker and more 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.
The stories of Laird Barron. The Children of Old Leech are even worse than the otherworldly Thing in Stranger Things and they also love to hide in the boles of trees. Start with The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.
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.
My own short novella The Summer of Blind Joe Death is a weird tale set in ’20s Appalachia, where two young boys face the greatest evil there is.
And if you want to read a Megan Abbott novel about a missing child that will haunt you, it’s The End of Everything you want. One of my favorites.
Have you watched the series? What did you think? And what books or series would you recommend, to those who loved it?