“Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds,” published by Del Rey on February 5, 2019, became the first official novel connected to the Netflix series. Written by bestselling author Gwenda Bond, the novel is a prequel to what has been shown to viewers, so far, during the first two seasons of the series. The third season of “Stranger Things,” is set to premiere on July 4, 2019.
The story begins in 1969. From the outset, it imparts to the reader, the back story of what took place during the initial stages of a secret government project known as MKUltra. The experiments that take place as part of MKUltra, are conducted by the enigmatic Dr. Martin Brenner, at the Hawkins National Laboratory, in Indiana. Brenner, who features prominently in the novel, is played in the series by Golden Globe winner Matthew Modine (Short Cuts).
At the start of the story, Brenner arrives for the first time at the laboratory, but he is not alone. Accompanying him, is Eight; her real name, as fans of the series well know, is Kali, an older version of whom, was played by Linnea Berthelsen during three episodes of season two of the series. Kali, is one of Brenner’s first test subjects, a child who shows exceptional potential in unlocking parts of the human brain that remain dormant in most people. Throughout the book, fans of the series will immediately recognize familiar forms of experimentation used by Brenner to achieve his goals. For example, the use of the sensory deprivation tank.
In the novel, sharing equal importance with Brenner, is Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, who appeared in six episodes during the first and second seasons of “Stranger Things,” and was portrayed by Aimee Mullins (Devs). Terry is a student, attending classes at Bloomington College. The reader soon learns, that Terry’s parents died in an accident, leaving her and her sister, Becky, to rely upon one another. In addition to Becky’s caring and support, and the friendship of her roommate Stacey, Terry takes the most comfort in Andrew, her boyfriend, whom she very much loves. Stacey, however, in essence, turns out to be the catalyst, which puts Terry on a path, that will alter the rest of her life.
As it turns out, Terry, might have been able to avoid the situation that befell her later in life, known to fans of the series. She was not initially part of Brenner’s experiments. She opted to take Stacey’s place, after Stacey, having undergone LSD testing, as a form of mind expansion, at the laboratory, refused to participate any further.
Bond’s novel focuses in on Terry’s participation in the experiments, but, she is not alone; joining her, are two other students who attend Bloomington. They are: Gloria a highly intelligent student, majoring in biology, who loves comic books, especially the X-Men; and Ken, who has psychic abilities, but is more often than not, hesitant to use them. Furthermore, there is Alice, a girl who doesn’t attend Bloomington with the other three. Instead, she works at her uncle’s auto garage, and is very talented when it comes to building, and, or, in some cases, taking apart machines.
Terry will soon come to regret her decision to become a test subject for Brenner’s experiments, but rather than refuse to cooperate any further, she decides to fight him from within. The novel describes, how she and her group of friends, attempt to sabotage Brenner’s work, and rescue Kali from his grasp. But Dr Brenner is also determined to get his way, and will stop at nothing, to thwart the plans of those who are trying to ruin the work being done at the lab. Brenner’s motivations, however, are not for the reasons a reader might initially think.
Fans familiar with the show will learn about the first foray into The Upside Down, as well as the initial appearance of the Demogorgon. Time travel, something not yet shown during the series, also has its place in the novel. The war in Vietnam, the protests against the war, the Woodstock music festival, and the moon landing, are all part of the backdrop of the overall story taking place.
I thought perhaps the novel would be a bit of a letdown, because like millions of others who watch “Stranger Things,” I knew before reading it, what had become of Terry, in the future, but it wasn’t a letdown. There were enough twists, as well as the imparting of new information, which helped to bolster what I already knew from watching the series. For example, learning more about Eleven’s father, was something, that has, as of the first two seasons, not been discussed on the show. While it is not necessary to be a fan of “Stranger Things” to read Bond’s novel, I think, because of familiar characters and certain information that is revealed, that it will be enjoyed more by those who are fans of the series.