Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stranger Reads

So here's what happened: Derek and Darla, bitten by the Stranger Things bug, have been merrily preparing this list for several days for the nerdy, bookish enjoyment of it. We were going to post it tomorrow. Then this morning the biggest news ever drops: Stranger Things is coming back for season two NEXT YEAR!!! AHH!!! We lost our darned minds. We put this post into overdrive to get it to you sooner. Because this is exciting, people!! And you need some creepy pop-culture goodness to carry you through to the as yet unannounced air date of season two.

To set the mood, get this going in the background:

There we go, that's perfect. And now for your obligatory

Proceed at your own risk, o ye viewers who are only two or three episodes in! 

Young Adult

One of the best things about Stranger Things is that no one group is most powerful. While Eleven does indeed have amazing powers and the younger kids benefit from that, both the adults and teenagers in the show have a big part of the evil-fighting plot as well. As if battling raging hormones and high school social pressures isn't hard enough, add disappearing little brothers and best friends to the list (sorry Barb!). This list is for our YA readers and is dedicated to Nancy and Jonathan. 

Let's start with the 2016 Michael L. Printz award winning Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. This title lives solidly in magical realism. It shares many of the elements of Stranger Things: a small town, other dimensions, and disappearing friends. Add some whispering corn and you are all set. Considered to be highly literary, Bone Gap borrows elements from several different mythologies and is one creepy and world-defying tale. Mind the gaps in this town where people vanish.
Next, let's visit the first in a series, I am Number Four. Here we meet Four, the fourth in line out of nine interstellar teenage warriors who were sent to Earth from the planet Lorien to hide from their enemies. The Mogadores have come to our planet to hunt down and kill the final members of the Loric race. The catch is, the members of the group have to be killed in the order that they are numbered. The book starts off with number three being tracked down and ultimately murdered... enter the one and only number four, aka John Smith, who is next on the list. The story goes from there. There is an amazing fight scene at the end of the book that takes place at the school - cut to Stranger Things, where there is a showdown at the school against some bad men, and of course the one and only Demogorgon. Not to mention the amazing Six, who has insane powers and kicks butt like the one and only Eleven.

Do you want more kids with more powers? You got it! Up next is the successful Marvel series The Runaways. In this graphic novel we meet a group of kids who are incredibly different and are forced to hang out when there parents have secret meetings in the basement of each other's homes. At one of these forced get-togethers, the teens decide to eavesdrop on their parents - only to find out that the adults are part of an evil organization. The kids band together with their own super powers to fight against their parentals! Part of the charm of the series is how different all of the characters are. Race, body type, sex, it really represents everything. Those that are fans of Barb will definitely feel akin to Gert. Gert is the sort-of Barb of the series, but with purple hair, a tad more cynicism, and a dinosaur companion.

Let's continue with teens in our regular world meeting odd monsters! It cannot be helped but to say that the younger cast of Stranger Things is incredibly charming. Those goofy kids are so lovable, even when they are breaking the law or just breaking into the school cafeteria fridge for some chocolate pudding. If you want another charming cast of characters, look no further than Lumberjanes. This graphic novel series follows a group of five campers who seem to keep stumbling upon weirder and weirder creatures as time goes on. The characters have both humor and heart, much like our Stranger Things character list.
Now what about all of the Nancys and the Jonathans out there? Just two normal teenagers who live in a world where insane things seem to happen. They have no special powers, but have to find a way to survive and deal with everything going on in their town. If you feel this way about our crazy world or just enjoyed those characters in Stranger Things, you have to read The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness! Mikey is just a regular teenager in a world where things blow up and deer come back to life with glowing eyes. There are those teenagers who are chosen, who have powers, who must save the world from destruction - and then there is Mikey, who is trying to deal with having a crush and his ever complicated friendship with his best friend. Not to mention a mother who is running for office and a father who locks himself away in his home office. While the town is literally exploding around him, Mikey just lives there. This book is funny, touching, and has a bit of mystery too.

Closing out our YA list is the Twin Peaks-like Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar.  Aspen Quick’s family has an unusual talent and burden. They can reach into other people and take things. Maybe it’s something small like a mole or a worry; maybe it’s something big like the enjoyment of boating or love for someone. They can do this whenever they want, but it’s for a purpose: his family has been tasked with the mission of keeping a cliff from collapsing upon the town of Three Peaks. They use the things they “take” to patch up faultlines in the cliff. Of course, not all is as it seems, and not everyone is playing by the rules. Aspen fights the power structures (both supernatural and otherwise) propping up his life as well as his own inner demons, just like Jonathan and Nancy. They’d probably make a great team of three!


What's this? Grown-up nonsense?!?!

We know, we know. This blog is about YA and kidlit. But sometimes you want to read a book for grown ups, darnit! We chose some books that we think capture the overall uncanny ambiance and generally weird nature of the show, whether it's right side-up or Upside-Down.

For a reading experience that delivers an uncanny punch to the temple, it's hard to beat David Mitchell. Several of his books could find a strong footing here, but The Bone Clocks might be the best fit, not least because it spends a solid chunk of the early book in the 80's with some runaway teens. This book lives in the same universe as Mitchell's previous and subsequent books, but like all of them, stands alone just fine. Bone Clocks can be loosely described as a series of sequential novellas following transcendental beings living their lives as humans, starting in the recent past and ending in a dystopian future. WEIRD. But good! 

So you know how we LITERALLY JUST SAID it's hard to beat David Mitchell for uncaniness? Of course we're going to top it immediately after! House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is one spooky trip of a book, a story in a story (in a story?) about people exploring a house where the inside is bigger than the outside. This book has all you need to follow up Stranger Things, particularly:
a maze-like deep basement horror zone with an unseen monster stalking the people trying to explore it. Need we say more?

We do?!

Fine. Sometimes you have to read the book backwards and upside down. OK??

Speaking of the Upside-Down, one of the coolest things about it, for us, was the creepy, overgrown, fetid feeling of it. Did you like that too? Then you'll love Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. After eleven failed and survivor-less expeditions, a fresh team of scientists is being sent to discover the secrets of Area X, an overgrown, verdant, abandoned area where something unnatural is happening - but just what it is no one can tell. The book you're reading is actually the journal of the Biologist, one of the members of this twelfth expedition, and the first-hand account is as creepy and uncanny as you could want. This is the first book in a trilogy, and a movie adaptation is coming soon!

Looking for that underground exploration otherwordly ambiance, but with less horror and more fantasy? By golly is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman the book for you! Neverwhere follows the adventures of everyday guy Richard Mayhew (who makes us think of Arthur Dent), whose life is turned upside down when he breaks his monotonous routine to help a strange girl named Door. Soon he finds himself on adventure through the streets of London Below, a fantastical city that exists entirely under Real London. No Demogorgons here, but plenty of mystery and intrigue abound!

Not only does The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss have a cool underground world (The Underthing, the sub-basement of The University, the magical school in the world of Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles), it also makes the list because Auri reminds us so much of Eleven - not in a directly analogous way, but in that they're totally kindred spirits. Auri is a girl living at the very fringe of society, existing in and around but not with people. Readers meet her through Kvothe in Rothfuss’ two doorstopper fantasy novels, but in Slow Regard we get a story from her perspective and a true understanding of her unique and contemplative worldview. You know that if Eleven ever found her way into the Underthing, she and Auri would basically adopt each other.  Kvothe could bring apples and waffles whenever he visits them. Qualifier: you should probably read The Name of the Wind before you read this book.

Of course we couldn't have a Stranger Things booklist without mentioning the king of adult horror, Stephen King. While mulling over this choice, Carrie seemed like the way to go: teenage girl with telekentic powers, but with regards to prom, pig's blood, and a psycho mother (Joyce Byers is not a psycho!!!) we decided it didn't quite fit the bill. Thinking of other worldly beings that prey on children followed by a group of outcasts that come together to fight said being landed us on the bone chilling, clown creeping IT. If you weren't afraid of clowns already, you will be now. IT follows a group of six kids into their adult lives who are being tormented by a monster who disguises itself as a clown that is eating children in their small Maine town. Once thought defeated when they were kids, It returns. The group comes together as adults to literally fight their childhood demons. Stephen King captures their youth and how it shaped their adult lives perfecting while simultaneously scaring the pants off the reader. The six hour mini-series that was released in the 90's gave one particular blogger nightmares for about five years after. A new movie version is said to be in production now. 


For a show that stars a passel of tweens and is PG-13 enough that you know plenty of adventurous kids are watching it, you'll need some recommendations on hand for that most awesome of reference interviews: "Well, I liked Stranger Things..." And let's not forget the adults who like to read kids books. (That's all of us here, right? Thought so.)


If you're looking for a kid's book to fuel your Stranger Things obsession, then your favorite part of the show was probably...the kids! These first three books feature teams of determined youngsters taking the fate of the world on their still-developing shoulders. 

If you think there's nothing so satisfying as a group of underdog nerdy kids taking on The Man and unearthing a conspiracy, you should read What We Found in the Sofa and How it Changed the World by Henry Clark. Unlikely friends River, Freak and Fiona work together to connect the dots between a supernatural couch, a creepy old mansion, strange behavior on the part of the townspeople, and the mysterious chemical plant in the middle of a burning wasteland on the edge of town. Check, check and check.

Maybe you're looking for more action and hijinks? If so, then the delightfully illustrated The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier might be for you! Follow Jack and his team of wiley companions as they attempt survival in the wake of a monster apocalypse, battling (and befriending) the zany monsters as they go. No demogorgons, but much monstery goodness!

While the first two books capture the kooky, fun elements of being a kid in a group on a mission, beloved classic A Wrinkle in Time will put you back in that suspenseful mood where everything that's happening is so sci-fi amazing that you barely know what to expect. Meg Murray’s father has been missing for years, and hope of his return has all but evaporated. Then on one dark and stormy night, after a visit from their unusual neighbor Mrs. Whatsit, a series of events are set in motion that will send Meg, her brother Charles and their friend Calvin on adventure across the universe and through space-time to try and rescue her father. And Charles Wallace definitely reminds us of Eleven, right? Speaking of Eleven…

How about some brave girl stories? No one is braver than Eleven. She smashes our hearts into itty bitty pieces every time we think of her. Just gonna leave these here in case she's hungry.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Cat Valente falls solidly within the fantasy category, but protagonist September puts us in mind of  El with her sheer tenacity on the face of a world she's never experienced. Like Eleven, September is a modern-day Alice set in the past, as her story takes place during World War II. She also explores an alternate universe, called Fairyland, that is decidedly more friendly than the Upside-Down. There she meets many magical beings (best: a Wyverary, the child of a wyvern and a library) and embarks upon a quest to upend the unjust power structure atop which sits the evil Marquess. 

But if that creepy element is really what you need, then it's Coraline by Neil Gaiman you've got to read. Coraline discovers an uncanny alternate universe that looks just like hers but wrong behind a bricked-up wall in her new home. And while she talks and walks and looks like a human, the Other Mother, the version of Coraline’s mother who exists behind the door, is the Demogorgon of this story. We’re not sure which one of them we'd like to meet less, to be honest. Coraline must employ all of her wits to set her world back to rights, and has all of the spunk and tenacity a girl looking for her next fantasy role model could want

Last but not least, you can't have this list exist without Goosebumps by R.L. Stine. Almost any book in this series would be perfect for a kid who wants a creepy story (though Darla would totally pick Beast from the East). All feature intrepid young protagonists battling the supernatural in one form or another, whether it’s ghosts, mad scientists, crazy plant monsters, possessed scarecrows, haunted theme parks, zombies...OK, what kind of monster did Goosebumps *not* feature would be the better question to ask. No Demogorgons, I guess. But close enough! Our years of reading Goosebumps might be why we liked Stranger Things so much, actually... (Derek still has his copies of Goosebumps safely stored in the basement at home... oh and by the way, Don't Go Into the Basement!)

And that's it! We hope you found something on this list that you'll dig in to. Here's to season 2 inspiring a whole new round of good reads! Let's close things out with that trailer:

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