Book’em Nerdo – Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds
I’m going to try and not go on too much of a rant against this book. I’ll just start by saying, that this is not a good book. I was not expecting this to be a good book. This is not an entertaining book. I was expecting it to at least be entertaining. I think the best way to look at this book is through the lens of the Netflix series that this is based in the same universe and talk about the differences between what works well in the series and what doesn’t work well here.
In this book, a bit of a spoiler coming up here, we get the story of Brenner and his experiments in 1969 to 1970. What we know about those from the show is that Eleven’s mother was part of those experiments back in the day. So we kind of guess that we are going to get that story and find out about the horrors of Brenner’s experiment, at least that is what the tagline tells us for the book. The tagline, if you are wonder, is “Before the demogorgon… before the mind player… terror wore a human face.”
The kids are the biggest draw to Stranger Things, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Eleven, and Will are all fun and flawed characters. They bicker, they fight, and then they make up because in the end, they are all friends. In Stranger Things: Suspicious Mind, we have four people, cool, same number as the main group, who meet at the experiment, okay, so not good friends, who them become friends, that sounds good, and never fight or disagree, wait, that’s not realistic, and are all some level of a Mary-Sue or Marty-Stu. By that, I mean these characters don’t make mistakes. They only make mistakes when it comes in how the show has actually dictated things will have to go. The heart of the characters has been ripped out in this book. There are two interesting characters who actually seem to have some development, and even with those characters, they are at times treated in ways that removes the character work that has been done to them.
We also lose the adventure feel that we get from Stranger Things, the show. Instead of getting characters trying to solve a mystery, we have our main Mary-Sue immediately be suspicious, I guess that makes sense given the title. They immediately figure out what they need, their plans keep on being thwarted, kind of, and I feel like that’s only because the Netflix series dictates that they are. If we go back to the tagline and the last part, “Terror has a human face”, this book doesn’t have suspense, let alone terror. This is a YA book, kind of, in that it really doesn’t know how to treat itself, so maybe it’s set-up as a book where it’s supposed to be suspenseful or have terror for a younger reader, but if they have seen Stranger Things, which I don’t know why they would be reading this book otherwise, this will seem like nothing. There is not a sense of satisfaction, like you get in the show, when the boys, or the teens, or the adults, eventually unravel something. Here, it just progresses as you’d expect.
Finally, the writer seems to think the most important thing in this book to make it feel like Stranger Things is Hawkins, Indiana. Or at least that is how it feels to me. That’s where the lab is, that is where Brenner is, that is where they go for the experiments. But we only really see the lab, and it could have been suspenseful if they had only been there and crazy things were happening to them, but instead, we get them going back and forth. The location is one of the least important things for making it feel Stranger Things like. The mystery, the adventure, and the friendships are what make Stranger Things, and this has the location and the bad guy and we’re expected to accept it as an entertaining book, like the show is entertaining.
One rant from me, I know I promised not to rant too much, but this one gets me. Stranger Things, the show, does a good job of sampling from a whole lot of 80’s movies, books, and TV series. You get the John Carpenter film feel, you get the Stephen King film and book nods, and so much more. But in the end, Stranger Things is it’s own show that does some of it’s own things and respectfully handles it’s nods to the materials it samples from. Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds feels like a straight up ripoff of Firestarter by Stephen King. This, of course is minus any of the suspense that King puts in, a good bad guy, like King has, and flawed characters, which King writes so well. If Stephen King wanted, I’m pretty sure that he could sue them for plagiarism with how closely this parallels what he’s written. Okay, it might not be that bad, but this feels like a sanitized version of Stephen King. If someone were to have gone through and picked out every part that could be slightly troubling or stressful in Firestarter, you’d probably still have a better book than Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds, but they would be close. And just with how it’s written, I’m not 100% sure the author knew they were ripping off Stephen King as much as they were. If they had known, it feels like they would have given a nod to it, instead of just writing something so straight forward. It feels like they knew what the show had wanted to create as a backstory for Eleven, and just went with it, not realizing that it referenced Firestarter.
Anyways, enough ranting. It’s fairly therapeutic to get that out, but I don’t want to be a website that rips on things all that often. However, I do want to give a fair view of when something is bad, that it is in fact bad so you know to avoid it. I don’t know who to blame for this book, because I really want to give the author the benefit of the doubt and put it on whatever publishing company got the license for Stranger Things novels. But, in all fairness I think there is plenty of blame to go around, and even I can probably be held to fault for thinking this might actually be an entertaining book. Books about shows tend to be pretty bad, and I should have known this. This book for me, and my recommendation for you, is a hard pass. It isn’t worth a buy, even cheap as an ebook, and it isn’t even worth checking out from a library. If you want something with the same feel, go with Firestarter, a book that I find entertaining, but isn’t even one of Stephen King’s best books.
Let me know what your thoughts are on the book if you’ve read it. Did you like it better than I did, did you know that it was ripping of Stephen King?
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