Book Review: 'Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds' by Gwenda Bond

What does it take for a book to impact you greatly? To latch itself onto you? To mess with your mind? It requires an awful lot: a well-woven plot, a vividly created world, and an author with wit (though the latter might just be a personal opinion). ‘Suspicious Minds’ is a novel with all of these crucial elements. Very narrowly fitting into the YA age rating of 12+, this book by Gwenda Bond (author of the popular ‘Lois Lane’ series) has received a large amount of critical reviews. However, throughout this review, I shall be explaining why I think so differently from the majority.

I have never actually watched the popular TV series ‘Stranger Things’, and though I have been meaning to watch it for some time now, I shall have to wait at least a year before I can experience its widely-known glory. But by chance, I found Bond’s science-fiction novel, ‘Suspicious Minds’, which happens to be the prequel to the TV series, and (after seeing that I was at an age that I could read this – a considerable victory) I knew that this was the next book I was going to find myself lost in. And so that was how I found myself after perusing the first page.

‘Suspicious Minds’ is structured in a rather unorthodox way. Not only is the book divided into chapters, the chapters are divided into different sections, based on each character’s perspective. Though at first, I found this constant switching confusing, as I went through the novel, I learned to appreciate the extra perspectives I was given on each part of the story – in fact, I have even considered working it into my own writing!

Amidst the critical feedback, many reviewers praise Bond for putting women front and centre in her novel. Terry Ives – the female protagonist of ‘Suspicious Minds’ – is a clear fighter from the start, standing her ground when she is oppressed – she is the true epitome of girl power that many feminists were glad to see present in the book.

It is unbelievably hard to create a realistic background and setting for a book – being a writer myself, I know the struggle. So of course, I was very impressed when I was deeply entangled in Bond’s science-fiction tale and I realised that the world she had created was clearly envisioned in my head. 1969, in which ‘Suspicious Minds’ is set in, was a year filled with defining moments for most of the world. Bond cleverly includes the groundbreaking Moon landings, Woodstock, and the then-popular Lord of the Rings (all well-known pop-culture views of the ’60s) in her writing, and expertly interweaves them into the story. One symbolic event that I particularly found interesting was the Vietnam War, which she managed to work in alongside the war of willpower and intellect our protagonist Terry was fighting. Of course, some of these icons might be unrecognisable to younger readers such as me, but it no doubt adds a sense of realism all the same.

Some critics dismiss ‘Suspicious Minds’ as simply a childish sci-fi story, but I believe there is a deeper meaning behind Bond’s ‘ramblings’. “You want to turn me into a machine […]. But I already am one. We all are.” This is said by Alice, one of Terry’s friends. For me, this quote is so profound, as it acknowledges a fact we can no longer deny. We all have surrendered to the autopilot mode of life. We act like robots. We are robots. In fact, we, the human race, can be monsters, as Bond goes on to say metaphorically when the plot escalates (and since I am a person with a heart, I will not give examples, as that would mean disclosing spoilers).

However, it seems as though the complaints about Bond’s novel do have some truth to them. At times, I did feel that most of a few chapters were comprised solely of quickly-written filler, which the novel could have done without. Also, some of the main characters seemed as though they had not been developed fully, or had clichéd personalities.

But despite these negative reviews, ‘Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds’ by Gwenda Bond will forever be on my reread list. Indeed, it is one of those books that will impact you greatly, latch itself onto you, and mess with your mind. I am not ashamed to admit that this book was constantly in my hands for a total of 3 days; it had become my breath, my soul, my extra limb, my very welcome parasite! So if you are a hardcore ‘Stranger Things’ fan, love all things sci-fi, or are just stuck to find your next read, give this a go! Who knows? You might find yourself wrapped up in this novel like Terry Ives finds herself wrapped up in trouble…

Fun Fact: The book’s title is based on Elvis’ popular song, ‘Suspicious Minds’.

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