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’.

My Dadajee's Super Sweet 70th Birthday!

If you were to choose one inspirational person from your life, who would it be? Your mum? Your dad? Your teacher? Greta Thunberg? The world has so many motivational people out there, but it takes someone special to stand out to you personally. For me, that is my Dadajee!

I have always looked up to everyone in my family. My parents, for not only being present in my childhood, but for being involved; my aunt @drauntie.uk, for being an amazing role model; and of course, my Mamajee @adamdidam, for being the bright spark in my life.

But Dadajee is something else altogether. He is all of these things – and more! There are over a million words in the English language, but not a single one can fully describe just how PAWSOME my Dadajee is!

Dadajee has always been the one everyone in our family looks to for advice. They say that with age comes wisdom, but as far as I can tell, wisdom came to him before age did! After all, he was the one that taught Mrs Mom, Dr Auntie, Mamajee, and everyone else the valuable qualities they have today – take, for example, speaking confidently, a skill which Dadajee taught so well it has even been passed on to Fatimah!

So earlier on, I said that there are no words to describe my Dadajee, but if there’s anything that comes close, it would be ‘jack of all trades’! That’s right, Dadajee is multi-talented, and even after knowing him for 13 years, he still never fails to surprise me with his skills. His many talents account for his ever-interesting personality – not a dull moment goes by when you’re with my Dadajee!

But most importantly, my Dadajee is LOVING, KIND, FUNNY and HUMBLE! If there is anyone I would follow in the footsteps of, it is my Dadajee. And what with the loss of our beloved Mamajee, when we were all struggling, Dadajee proved just how CARING he was by holding us all together when the glue that bound us weakened with the loss. Truly, I aspire to be just like my Dadajee when I grow up!

Dadajee’s 70th birthday is certainly a day we all look upon as a day to celebrate not Dadajee’s age, but himself, as a person with a brilliant character! After all, it is not age that defines a person, but their values and characteristics. Dadajee deserves to be celebrated, and we are all very lucky to have him!

Happy 70th Birthday Dadajee! May Allah make this a day full of joy and cheer. May He grant you many more happy, healthy years of life and may He reserve you the highest place in Jannah. Last but not least, I just want to say that I love you with all my heart, just as you are, and that I never want you to change, because you are already PAWSOME!

Love,

Omar Mukhtar – Dadajee’s 1st Grandson

p/s: Please come back to visit soon! All of your family here in the U.K. miss you very much…❤️

Goodbye 2019…Hello 2020!

It’s officially 2020! Wow! One year has already gone? Time flies by so fast. The new year is all about new beginnings, but I can’t seem to let go of 2019. So much has happened during last year, such big events have taken place!

Yes, 2019 was truly unforgettable. It has witnessed one of my greatest triumphs, and one of our family’s greatest losses. This was the year that I had managed to fulfil one of my lifelong dreams…I finally published my very first book, ‘My New Pair Of Eyes’! But with what I gained came loss. Yes, only a few weeks after I published my book, not only did I lose my beloved Mamajee @adamdidam, but we all lost a part of ourselves. It was a year that witnessed our darkest hour, and we were all tested to our limits.

We were all affected deeply. But as difficult a time as it has been, 2019 not only tested us, but shaped us. We went in holding on to the strength we had, but we came out stronger. I believe that 2019 has prepared us for a fresh start in 2020. We’re on our way to personal success – we’ve wiped our slate clean, and we’ll be drawing a road that goes only up.

As for me, as I travel up that road, there is some emotional baggage that I’ve accumulated over the year that I want to be letting go of. There are memories that I want to keep safe but smile instead of cry when I think of them. 2020 is an opportunity that I want to take to achieve greater things, try new things, take risks – and try my best not to start so many things and not finish them!

I have a feeling that 2020 will be a year of surprises, opportunities, and new beginnings not only for me, but for my whole family. I was lost in 2019, but as I step into the new year, I pray that I will find myself, that I will find my strength, and that we all will rise up again.

Happy 2020,

Omar Mukhtar

Happy Birthday To My Second Mother!

💌 Dear Dr Auntie,

Remember all those times when you said that no matter what happened, you’d always love me? From the day I was born, you’ve always been my second mother. Your warmth has always graced me, your kindness has always been present, and your love is like no other’s! There’s something about you that’s just naturally comforting. Whenever I feel down, just being next to you is enough to make me feel so much better! How do you do it? Perhaps it’s your motherly love. Your instantly engaging personality. Your witty sense of humour. Your abundant love. Maybe that’s your natural gift. You are a second mother, not just to me, but to Fatimah and Ali too. We are truly blessed to have not just one mother, but two! And you’re so much more than that! You’re a love-giver. A care-sharer. An adviser. A consoler. A best friend. You’re not just an auntie! You’re right there by our side through thick and thin. Wherever you may be, you’re just a phone call away, I know I can rely on you to be someone to confide with, anytime, anywhere – even now, when you’re halfway across the world! Still, that isn’t enough to keep me from missing you; please come back soon! Your love has never faltered for your parents, your siblings or your nephews and nieces. You are a joy to be with,  and you’re such an amazing person that even everything I’ve said here couldn’t begin to describe how amazing you are! You’ve done so much for us through the years, given us so much, sacrificed so much, and taught us so much. A thousand letters like this wouldn’t be enough to repay you! But from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of all the family, for everything you’ve ever done for us, I want to give you a genuine, heartfelt…THANK YOU! On your special day, may Allah shower you with His countless blessings, today and every day. May He reserve you a big palace with a beautiful garden in Jannatul Firdaus…

Happy Birthday,

Omar Mukhtar

p/s: And I promise that I will take care of you forever…and ever…and ever…and ever!

Sunday Without Adam…

💌 #DearMamajee @adamdidam,

You would have been 29 today…I wonder if it’s fate or a coincidence how the first birthday without you is on a Sunday? That must be more than a coincidence. Sunday has always been your special day, after all! You chose Sunday to start your journey in cookery, people waited for your new recipes every Sunday, you became a rising star because of Sunday…and then you left us on Sunday. People might think that now that your passing was so far away, we’d be on our way to getting over our grief. But in fact, the pain of the loss is greater than ever! It’s hard to think that your smiles and laughs will forever be out of reach, especially on your birthday! But though the pain of loss may feel strong, your presence is even stronger! Your smiles may be out of reach, but we can feel the warmth of your smile among us. That’s all it takes for us to smile, and I have a feeling that’s just how you want us to be…

Happy Birthday To My Beloved Mamajee,

Omar Mukhtar

#SundayWithAdam 💛

Flying To Neverland…

Hi guys! Sorry I haven’t been updating for a while. I’ve been flying off to the wonderful world of Neverland…

…or so I wish! In actual fact, I’ve been unbelievably busy since school started – I’ve had a lot on my schedule in such a short amount of time! But finally, I’ve found one of those rare moments of quiet that school life gives me, and so I think it’s time I told you guys a bit about what’s been going on now that I’m back in the busy flow of school life…

The biggest thing that’s happened this year so far would probably be getting a place in this year’s JUNIOR PRODUCTION! As I’ve said in my previous vlog, I auditioned for a role in the production, and for at least a week, I was waiting nervously. Then finally, the cast list was released, and I must have spent at least 5 minutes carefully reading each row – frankly, I was a little bit scared about the result! Then my eyes fell upon my name, and I was over the moon!

So now I’m involved in more than weekly rehearsals at lunch and after-school too, which is one of the main reasons why I haven’t been able to post anything for so long, alongside my many homeworks. I’m not sure if you guys remember, but I was also in last year’s production of ‘Around The World In 80 Days’. I played the Indian merchant and the dancing octopus – both roles I am very proud of!

This year’s production is called ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’, and it’s quite different than last year. It’s kind of a cross between Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, and it explains the origins of the world-famous children’s tale. It seems like a very good watch! This year, I’ll be playing the role of one of the grumpy Park Keepers that turn in to PIRATES when the park is transformed into Neverland through magical stories (see? I wasn’t completely lying about flying off to Neverland)! We’re basically the comedy of the show! So far, it’s been a really interesting acting experience – I can’t wait for what else this year’s Junior Production has in store for me!

But the Junior Production is only the icing on the cake…I’ve yet to get to the cherry on top! Less than a week ago, our English teacher set us a homework task of writing a revenge story. At first, I was struggling a lot to think of something to write about, but then a light bulb went off in my head, and after writing it, I handed it in more confidently than I had started off writing it! And guess what? I ended up getting my first GOLDEN BOOK of the year for it! Alhamdulillah, it’s truly a blessing from Allah, but also a sign that I should take this as motivation to carry on working hard!

So all in all, this first half-term has proved to be a very enriching and fruitful one…I can only think of what lies in wait for the rest of the school year!

Blessed,

Omar Mukhtar

Gone…but not forgotten!

💌 #DearMamajee,

They say you’ll get used to that empty feeling inside, but now I know that’s not really true. There’s no denying that I miss you, and though I may not show it on the outside, inside, I feel empty. But even though you’re not here, and it feels like I’m missing a piece of myself, when I look back at our old photos and videos, I see the joy in our faces. It’s a constant reminder that you’ve always kept us close, and you’ll always be looking down on us, no matter how far apart we are from each other…our love made us inseparable, and I get the feeling it will always stay strong! For now, I pray that Allah reunites us in Jannah.

Missing you,

Omar Mukhtar

#SundayWithAdam 💛

Back To School!

The Summer Holidays are finally over and it’s time to go back to school! So, I’ll be sharing with you guys all the latest updates about school in my new school vlog series. This is my first vlog, and I’ll be telling you all about the new school year and what changes there have been at school. Head over to our YouTube channel: The Family UK (link below) to watch the full vlog and hear all about my new curriculum, teachers and big events that I’m looking forward to. And of course, find out what the ICING ON THE CAKE at the end of the week was for me!

Happy new school year,

Omar Mukhtar

p/s: Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe! 😉

I’m Officially 13!

“Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, a blessing was sent from God to a couple, and they were warm and unbelievably kind to him. Despite the many challenges they faced, they did more than just take care of him; they cherished him and nurtured his talents! 

In fact, many of this boy’s achievements were only achieved because of the hours his parents spent with him to aid him. They were with him every step of the way – they enjoyed the ups and climbed out of the downs, and every single second, they enjoyed each others’ company.

Thirteen years – and a little brother and sister – later, the trio had become a, umm…five-o? 😅 And it was only with the UNBELIEVABLE  amount of help from his parents that he was admitted into his dream school and published his very first book!”


Does that story sound familiar? Yep, that little fairy tale is about me, and each little bit is 100% true! It may sound clichéd, but my parents are probably the most loving, caring and supportive parents in the WORLD, and trust me, there’s no way you could prove that statement wrong!

Dear Mrs Mom and Mr Dad,

It may be my 13th birthday, but it’s YOU both that deserve to be celebrated! Your love is beyond words, and you are always supportive of whatever I do. I mean, how else do I explain the time when I wanted to be a fisherman…and you both were all for it?! 😂

And that’s not all: when I wanted to write my first book, you made me believe that I could achieve anything! Mr Dad, you read (and reread!) my book COUNTLESS times and gave me feedback and ideas about what to include and tweak. Mrs Mom, you sat beside me from the start to finish and helped enormously, even though you were ill!

There’s physical proof of just how much you loved me – you’ve kept every little detail from each milestone in my life: things from as early as the pregnancy test to my first haircut!

Thank you both for always supporting me and believing in me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you! You’ve always been there for me, and I know you always will be. For my 13th birthday, I pray to God that He rewards you generously for how loving you have been towards me and reserves you the highest place in heaven! (And I don’t need any presents this year, coz they definitely won’t beat you!)

Your ever-grateful son,

Omar Mukhtar

A Letter To My Beloved Malaysia…

To my beloved Malaysia,

My name is Omar Mukhtar, #The12YearOldAuthor, and I’m a British-born Malaysian…

Even though I was born and bred in the UK, I am still proud of my parents’ birth country – MALAYSIA! I’ve always felt a strong connection to my roots, and from the very first time I set foot on its soil, I’ve experienced things I never would have experienced anywhere else!

When I was little, I used to think that there was no place better than England, and the mere thought of travelling abroad made me shiver! But my trip to Malaysia proved me wrong, and I’ve never been more proud of my Malaysian background! My first book, ‘My New Pair of Eyes’, documents all of Malaysia’s glory.

‘My New Pair of Eyes’ is not just a book…I wrote #MNPOE as a gift to Malaysia, and to show my appreciation for my roots. Through my humble writing, I wish to convey how proud I am of my heritage! My journey was truly unforgettable, and I just had to share how brilliant the culture, years-old traditions and kind, welcoming people were!

#MNPOE is not just a recount of my time in Malaysia; it’s the story of my unforgettable journey around a beautiful country with the power to change the way a little boy who didn’t even want to go to heaven looked at the world forever! It’s my homage to the amazing culture of the country and the people in it!

I don’t like to think of Malaysia as just one big chunk of land…I think of it more like a combination of different ‘kingdoms’, each one beautifully diverse and unique, with its own ethnicities, dialect, culture, historical background and cuisine! I’ve only explored a tiny part of Malaysia, but I’ll definitely be back for more!

In honour of 62 years of MERDEKA, I pray not only for the prosperity of Malaysia and Malaysians, but for the preservation – and CELEBRATION – of its heritage, because to me, that’s something that all Malaysians should definitely be proud of, and something we should all hold on to before it is lost forever!

Salaam Merdeka,
Omar Mukhtar

#The12YearOldAuthor

#BritishBornMalaysian