At some point, every writer gets stuck. For some authors, that’s staring down a blank page for hours, or struggling to write a difficult scene, or you realize you have a potential plot hole to handle. It’s a good idea to get up and move around, do something different. That’s how I found myself binge-watching Netflix’s supernatural / science fiction series Stranger Things.
Stranger Things is like a vintage Stephen King novel come to life; a group of nerdy outsider kids take it upon themselves to solve a mysterious disappearance and other weird events in their 1980s Indiana suburb. Though it’s billed as a science fiction / horror show, Stranger Things is more campy than creepy, and viewers fell in love with the quirky show, a mix of the podcast Welcome to Nightvale, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and Stephen Spielberg’s E.T.
If you’re a Stranger Things fan, there are so many excellent science fiction and supernatural readalikes for YA fans. Check out these books for young adult fiction fans who want more of the Stranger Things vibe:
From Brian K. Vaughan, creator of the popular Saga comics, comes Paper Girls, a comic series about a scrappy group of four teen girls who join forces after an invasion seeps their sleepy suburban town the night after Halloween 1998. Some residents disappear while a time jump seems to happen where people are wearing Halloween costumes from an earlier time. Other bizarre things keep happening. Rather than succumbing to the terror, these young women join forces to solve the mystery and save their town. The bright colors and stark drawing of the characters shows the grit and courage of the “paper girls,” named after the paper route they followed delivering newspapers each morning. This science fiction series currently has four collections out for YA fans to devour in search of a Stranger Things fix.
Though not technically labeled as young adult fiction, Neil Gaiman’s dreamlike fantasy novel is definitely concerned with the mysteries of youth. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a man returns to his childhood home in the Sussex, England, countryside for a funeral. Once he’s back, memories that he’s tried to keep bottled up come streaming to the forefront, forcing him to revisit a series of supernatural occurrences when he was growing up that centered around his neighbors, the mysterious and enchanting Hempstock women who made him believe in magic—for a time. Coming home, he has to decide whether the bizarre and beguiling experiences of his youth were just fantasies, or actually a reality. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a great read for Stranger Things fans who love how it makes them feel nostalgic for their childhood and adolescence when anything—even magic—seemed possible.
Ray Bradbury’s atmospheric fiction perfectly captures an immortal small-town America that is both timeless and mythical. Something Wicked This Way Comes is the epitome of Bradbury’s spellbinding story skills, centering on a sinister evil that accompanies a traveling carnival that arrives in Green Town, Illinois a week before Halloween. Two boys get swept up in the temptations of the mysterious carnival. The novel follows the best friends’ efforts to protect their town. Bradbury expertly infuses his story with that last taste of childhood innocence before you grow up, a feeling that Stranger Things fans know well.
Sometimes the supernatural isn’t, well, ghosts and goblins and all that. Sometimes the supernatural is a palpable but almost indefinable quality of magic, good or bad, slipping into our everyday life. Another way to think about that is “magical realism,” when magical things happen alongside normal life, existing together as if there’s nothing unusual going on. Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap is a quirky and breathtaking novel unlike anything you’ve ever read. The story focuses on the residents of a small American town called Bone Gap, where anything can—and does—happen in the magical “gaps” throughout the town. When teenaged Roza goes missing, everyone assumes she’s entered one of the gaps and will return again someday. Finn, though, knows that’s not true since he saw a man take Roza away in the middle of a cornfield. As Finn tries to find Roza, he clashes with the town’s casual lack of worry about Roza and taking everything out of the ordinary for granted. If the friends in Stranger Things are alarmed about the supernaturally suspicious disappearance of a friend, Bone Gap explores life in a town where magic was a given and real danger ignored.