"Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds" by Gwenda Bond
Updated: Jul 15, 2019
"It's the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn't be farther from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington. But the world is changing, and Terry isn't content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, code-named MKULTRA. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tight-lipped researchers. . .and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover. But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory- - -and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner- - - lurks a conspiracy greater than Terry could have ever imagined. To face it, she'll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn't know she exists- - -a young girl with unexplainable superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008. Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war- - -one where the human mind is the battlefield."
The first novel adapted from the Netflix series hit 'Stranger Things' is an astonishing work of art. Viewers of the show may be familiar with Eleven's mother, Terry Ives, which this book surrounds. Along for the ride are a few important characters that weren't mentioned in the series: Alice, Gloria and Ken - a self proclaimed psychic - all of which meet because they signed up for a human experiment at Hawkins National Laboratory, where each are given doses of LSD every week. This quickly tells readers that the book is not recommended for anyone under the age of 14.
Although the series has more than one book, and no end in sight, Bond was only chosen to do this novel. 'Suspicious Minds' is categorized under Young Adult books, but with the heavy Vietnam content, it's not considered that many young adults today can actually relate with this story or even understand the devastating effects of a looming draft hanging over the heads of young men throughout America in the 1960's. But Bond does a wonderful job in relating the emotional state of this era through our main character, Terry. Another subject that Bond does a fantastic job of explaining in 'Suspicious Minds' is the taboo of being a pregnant, unwed mother in this era, something that seems to be making headlines again in the States nearly 60 years later.
Bond shows us a young Dr. Martin Brenner, with neatly styled brown hair and an almost unlined face, as well as a more lively Terry Ives (which only season 2 has shown a very short flashback sequence of Terry being mobile before her dreaded consequence from being associated with the human experiments). We find out that the reason Terry volunteered for the experiment is due to her father's service in WWII, and wanting to make the world a better place. Bond brings in the other important characters, who also volunteered for the experiments, quickly bonding the four as friends for life.
As far as characters go, these four are written very well. Although Terry is the main character of 'Suspicious Minds,' we get to see from the viewpoints of all people, including Brenner. Bond gives the reader a short background on what LSD is and where it came from when the time comes for the experiments to begin. Brenner doesn't really explain why he gives LSD to the volunteers, but only that it is part of a secret experiment. Even when Terry is placed in a sensory deprivation tank, he doesn't reveal anything to her, and Bond does a great job of keeping the characters enough in the grey area of knowing that it's believable. Even at one point, when Terry begins to suspect something strange from the experiments, she keeps the belief that whatever is going on at Hawkins Laboratory must be important: " 'But you can't see it's important?' Terry leaned in close, and they kept their voices down as other students walked past. 'They just called up the school and told them to give me Thursdays off and I'm getting credit for it? They're tying our grades to doing this. And no one asked any questions. They just agreed. I have to keep going.' " Bond eloquently keeps the mystery going.
This mystery is even interesting to those who know what happens in the end. In 'Stranger Things,' Terry is introduced as a comatose woman in a rocking chair- who happens to be Eleven's mother. We have never met Gloria, Alice or Ken. The three become very close to Terry, and they all somehow escape from Brenner's grasp, but they also end up joining in Terry's pursuit of getting Eleven/Jane back to her mother. Fans of the show might be left asking what happened to these three enjoyable characters? I haven't seen any plans for a part two of this story, so we may be left not knowing what happened or if the three are even still alive today (in the Stranger Things' era). Even more enjoyable is the random use of J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings,' where in one scene, Alice and Terry decide to name their small group 'The Fellowship of the Lab.' Any veteran reader will be happy to see a classic brought up in a newer book of today.
And also of interest, fans will recognize a little girl who is frequent throughout the story: Eight a.k.a. Kali. We never get to see through Kali's perspective, but the reader does get to see the multitude of her abilities. For instance, Kali is able to scare personnel in the lab by causing the hallucination of tidal waves inside the building, only to stop when Brenner (or Papa to her) gives her her favorite sweet: Hostess cakes. Other than that, Kali is like any child; she throws tantrums and rebels from her Papa, sometimes to the laughter of the reader.
One point, Terry even meets with Kali in her LSD induced state: " Terry shook her head. 'There can be. He's just a man. He can't know everything.' She paused. 'Does he hurt you? Papa?' Kali frowned, but she didn't answer. 'If he does... I can help you.' Terry had to make her understand. The little girl shook her head. 'I don't think so. I might be able to help you, though.' A field of yellow sunflowers grew up around them. A rainbow arcing over the golden tops." Terry, understandably, begins to scheme about how they can help Kali to escape the lab.
Bond does a great job of transitioning between Terry's point of view to the other characters' viewpoints. We get a young woman named Gloria, who has a secret obsession with comic books (especially X-Men). A hippie-looking man named Ken, who claims he is psychic, but just happens to have a lot of hunches that come true. And last, but not least, another young woman named Alice, who shows up in grease covered overalls and curly black hair, explaining that she works for her uncle's garage and that she loves machines. These three are delightful to read about, and the story would be boring without them.
This book was the perfect novel to answer questions fans may have had about Eleven's mother. Bond writes smoothly and easily enough that you may find yourself wanting to read just one more page before setting the book down for the evening. She drags you into the world of the 1960's and helps young readers to feel the emotional time that it was for women like Terry. But with only a few inconsistencies here and there, 'Suspicious Minds' leaves us wanting more. If you are a fan of 'Stranger Things,' I say that this is a must-read! Highly recommend!