Pick Your Favorite Stranger Things Theme for a Good Book!
Stranger Things returned with season four in May, and I powered through those episodes like the Demogorgon was chasing me. Though if the Demogorgon was actually chasing me, I’m sure I wouldn’t make it far. This show and its endearing characters have taken root in my heart, and I love returning to Hawkins with them each season. After finishing season four, I began reflecting on what draws me in so strongly to the Stranger Things fandom. What makes this show so special? This train of thought led me to pinpoint the exact themes in Stranger Things that I love so much. These themes include teen found family, ’80’s nostalgia, small town mysteries, comic relief, alternate universes, and supernatural horror. Taken separately, each theme has its own appeal. Melded together though, these themes make something altogether original and remarkable. They’re what make the Stranger Things magic happen.
I love the show for all of its magnetic themes, so I’ve gathered together a list of books like Stranger Things that share each of those themes below. For those who haven’t watched the new season yet, proceed with caution as I have some light spoilers below. The characters and adventures in these books are sure to turn your world Upside Down. Which Stranger Things theme is your favorite?
Books Like Stranger Things Based On Your Favorite Themes
Stranger Things Theme #1: Teen Found Family
I’m kicking off my list with my favorite Strangers Things theme: teen found family. Like the classic Goonies squad, the Stranger Things crew stick together through every trial, no matter how terrifying. And in season four, things get pretty terrifying. These friends have your back, even if it means following you into the Upside Down. Honestly, I think there’s no better test of friendship and love then going after the squad member that got dragged by a monster into the Upside Down. Below, I’ve chosen a couple of books that promise the heartfelt teen found family feel of Stranger Things.
Himawari House Written and Illustrated by Harmony Becker
I can’t say enough how much I loved this coming-of-age and slice-of-life graphic novel by Harmony Becker, illustrator of George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy. This is one of my favorite teen found family stories, and I think it captures the comfort of finding your home with a group of friends who truly support you. Having just graduated high school, Japanese American Nao decides to take a gap year to travel back to Japan and reconnect with her heritage. While there, she lives in a Himawari sharehouse with four other young adults and makes connections that will have a profound and lasting impact.
This Was Our Pact Written and Illustrated by Ryan Andrews
Nothing gives off a Stranger Things teen found family vibe better than a crew taking off on their bikes for some otherworldly adventures. This graphic novel by Ryan Andrews is set during an Autumn Equinox Festival when everyone in town gathers to send paper lanterns down the river. According to legend, the lanterns will drift along the water until they eventually find their way to the Milky Way and turn into stars. This year, Ben, Nathaniel, and their classmates decide to follow the lanterns and see if the legend really does come true.
I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi
There’s a different quality to found family and friendships formed in the face of the end of the world, and that’s something this poignant sci-fi story by Farah Naz Rishi shares with Stranger Things. When Earth gets contacted by the alien planet Alma, rumors spread that the people of Earth have only seven days left before Alma destroys them. Pakistani American teen Adeem tries to process his feelings after his sister runs away with her girlfriend. Cate attempts to find the father she never knew, and queer teen Jesse begins broadcasting a message to spark hope for the world. As the apocalypse approaches, the friendships these teens form will mean everything.
Stranger Things Theme #2: ’80s Nostalgia
I love immersing into the ’80s nostalgia of Stranger Things. Not only does it give the show an ’80s teen movie feel, but it also helps soften the scary parts. It’s hard to be worried for our Stranger Things crew trapped in the Upside Down when they’re communicating through the multiverse with a Lite-Brite. Let’s be honest, I was absolutely scared the whole time, but the Lite-Brite helped. The fashion, pop culture, and technology of the ’80s adds a special layer to the show, and these next books are a tribute to that bygone era.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If you’re here for the rad ’80s music of Stranger Things, this book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the best-selling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night, will not disappoint. Plus, look at that title font! It’s screaming Stranger Things. Set in 1988 Mexico City, we meet awkward teen Meche and her buddies Sebastian and Daniela. When Meche discovers she can use music to cast spells, she and her friends try to fix their broken family situations. Flash forward to 2009, and we find Meche returning to the city for her father’s funeral and navigating complicated feelings and buried memories about her family, friends, love, and magic.
Paper Girls Volume 1 Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Illustrated by Cliff Chiang, Lettering by Matt Wilsonis, Coloring by Matt Wilson
In exciting news, the screen adaptation of this comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang is in production with Amazon Studios right now, and it will air in July. In 1988 Cleveland, Ohio, a group of four paper route girls discover some strange happenings in town in the early hours of the morning after Halloween. TW: Homophobia.
Stranger Things Theme #3: Small Town Mystery
A majority of the strange happenings in Stranger Things occur in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Compared to previous seasons, season four especially gave me more of a Scooby Doo vibe as the teens start investigating a series of eerie murders in Hawkins. There’s something about the mysteries of a quiet, sleepy town that lures me in, and these next books promise a similar theme.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
This book by Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is one of my favorite small town mysteries. Like Stranger Things, it promises an endearing teen sleuth lead, retro nostalgia (think early 2000s!), and romance subplot, along with hints of the supernatural. Set in Salt Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sugar Island, we meet 18-year-old biracial and unenrolled tribal member Daunis Fontaine, who loves science, natural medicine, running, playing hockey, and spending time with her family and Ojibwe tribal elders. Daunis is still grieving the loss of her uncle after his mysterious death when another tragedy hits her close to home. Desperate for justice, Daunis teams up with a new friend to get to the bottom of meth activity and murders plaguing her community.
Devil House by John Darnielle
Like Stranger Things Season Four, this small town murder mystery involves an eerie house as a focal setting point and a cold case investigation dating back to the 1980s. When true crime writer Gage Chandler moves into the “Devil House,” where a notorious pair of murders took place allegedly at the hands of teens in the ’80s, his research leads him into a rabbit hole tracing back to his own past.
Point Roberts by Alexander Rigby
As with Stranger Things, this small town mystery includes an orphan with a mysterious past, new found family, and a string of unsolved murders. On a strange peninsula in Washington State, Point Roberts lives in the shadow of 15 unsolved murders by the Point Roberts Slayer. The murders occurred only in the month of February over the course of three years, so for the past 27 years, the mayor has enforced town-wide lockdowns during February. When 17-year-old Liza arrives in Point Roberts, she discovers a peculiar book referencing the 15 victims. Teaming up with four other town misfits connected to the 15, Liza begins to investigate the cold case.
Stranger Things Theme #4: Comic Relief
When it comes to suspense and horror, I am an absolute chicken. I’m notorious for closing my eyes and covering my ears during scary scenes. One of the many reasons I make an exception to watch Stranger Things is the humor interwoven throughout each episode. The Stranger Things crew have nestled into my heart, and they make me laugh just when I need them to. These next few books share that theme of comic relief and suspense lightened by humor.
Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly
While the mystery is dark in this YA book by Stephanie Tromly, the humor keeps it light and entertaining too. In the vein of Stranger Things, it stars teen detectives trying to solve the case. When Zoe Webster first meets Philip Digby, let’s just say he doesn’t make the best first impression. Despite their rocky start, Zoe gets dragged into Digby’s funny and wild capers as they investigate the mystery of a local kidnapping that might be related to the disappearance of Digby’s sister.
Prepped By Bethany Mangle
Like the Department of Energy lab Eleven breaks out of in Stranger Things, this funny suspense story by Bethany Mangle also involves an isolated community teens are trying to escape from. While the circumstances are grim for the characters, the comic relief is on point. Having grown up in a strict doomsday community, Becca Aldaine plots her escape, and boy-next-door Roy Kang may be just the unexpected ally she needs to get out of there.
Stranger Things Theme #5: Alternate Universes
Considering the idea of the multiverse nearly breaks my brain every time, but I find the theory fascinating. It’s like if I think about black holes too much. It’s simultaneously alarming and intriguing. I like that Stranger Things doesn’t just fall into the suspense and horror genres; it seeps into the science fiction world of alternate and parallel universes.
The Upside Down is a darker alternate reality to the world as we know it, and season four allows us to follow more characters into this sinister realm. These next books brush against the multiverse, and according to the multiverse theory, there must be an infinite number of books that does this, so check out this Rioter’s list for more.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Parallel worlds and murder mysteries collide in this epic multiverse thriller by Micaiah Johnson. In a universe where multiverse travel has become a reality, people can visit parallel worlds as long as their alternate self is not alive in it. With her parallel selves dying left and right, Cara has the unique opportunity to travel to over 372 of these worlds. When one of Cara’s eight remaining doppelgängers dies under strange circumstances though, Cara uncovers a plot that threatens the entire multiverse.
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana
This compelling book by Aditi Khorana digs into the intriguing situation of an alternate Earth called Terra Nova making contact with Earth. Like the Upside Down in Stranger Things, the story explores the differences in these mirrored worlds. After the discovery of Terra Nova, prep school student Tara Krishnan finds her life shifting in fractional ways, until the changes begin to snowball into something all-consuming.
1Q84 Written by Haruki Murakami, Translated Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
This epic translated classic by Haruki Murakami blends the idea of converging alternate worlds with a number of other Stranger Things themes, including mystery, a love subplot, fantasy, dystopia, and a 1980s setting. Following a suggestion from a taxi driver, Aomame finds herself in a strange, alternate version of Tokyo. At the same time, aspiring writer Tengo takes on a ghostwriting project that begins pulling at the threads of his own quiet life.
Stranger Things Theme #6: Supernatural Horror
Alright, despite how much of a chicken I am, I can’t have a list of books like Stranger Things without touching upon the theme of supernatural horror. The happenings in Hawkins are not just mysterious; they’re downright horrifying. To me, season four especially felt like it dabbled in more horror than previous seasons. The Stranger Things crew are older now. The tweens have become teens and young adults, and the situations they’ve found themselves in have grown more grim. Below, I’ve chosen books that include similar themes of supernatural horror.
We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
This horror story by Grady Hendrix is perfect for all the Stranger Things fans out there who, like me, can’t get Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill out of their heads now. While we all contemplate what our own song would be to save us from the Vecna, this book is a great next read that melds horror with retro music. In the ’90s, Dürt Würk was on the brink of stardom when his bandmate, Terry Hunt, ditched the band and became the legendary musical icon known as Koffin. Twenty years later, former guitarist turned hotel night manager Kris Pulaski uncovers a dark secret from her own past related to Terry Hunt’s mysterious rise to fame.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
When it comes to Stranger Things readalikes, the title says it all with this horror meets mystery novel by Edgar Cantero. This one definitely shares the Scooby Doo vibes of Stranger Things season four. Ever since their final case in 1977, the former teen detectives of the Blyton Summer Detective Club have never reunited. In 1990 though, these former club members will find themselves drawn back to the Blyton, their small Oregon hometown, in an attempt to solve their last tragic unsolved case.
“I Am On A Curiosity Voyage, and I Need My Paddles to Travel”: More Books Like Stranger Things
I loved falling back into the world of Stranger Things with this latest new season and I hope you fall in love with these books like Stranger Things by theme! For more fun Stranger Things content, check out these good reads and quizzes below.