Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds sheds light on Eleven’s mother, the Upside Down and more


Stranger Things’ first official novel details the journey of Terry Ives, Eleven’s mother, as she tries to take down the devious Dr. Martin Brenner.

As Stranger Things fans impatiently await summer and the premiere of the successful Netflix series’ third season, an illuminating novel is here to preoccupy inquiring minds. Or should we say, suspicious?

Gwenda Bond’s Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds is the first official novel for the sci-fi show. As an avid Stranger Things fan myself, I eagerly picked this novel up. There are so many questions I and fellow fans have about Eleven’s origin story and how she came to be. Ahead of this novel, season 2 of the Netflix series revealed Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, and partially explained how she became linked to Dr. Martin Brenner and disturbing experiments he oversaw at Hawkins National Laboratory.

Bond’s storytelling sheds more light on that story, gifting us with new information about Eleven’s mother Terry as well as her father, Andrew, and what exactly happened during Project MKULTRA.

The story

Beginning in the summer of 1969, we’re introduced to Terry Ives, a college student in Indiana who in high school was dubbed “The Girl Most Likely to Change the World.” From the outside, one would think her life is satisfyingly normal. Her boyfriend, Andrew, is the love of her life; her sister Becky keeps a watchful eye, seeing as they only have each other after their parents died years ago; her college friends and her studies preoccupy most of her time.

Far away from the heartland of Indiana are protests in D.C. and even further, a war in Vietnam. A curious music festival called Woodstock is about to happen up north, and we just put a man on the moon. Terry knows the world is changing and somehow, someway, she wants to be a part of that. She gets that opportunity when she learns of a mysterious government experiment taking place at Hawkins Lab, and signs on to be a test subject.

Terry’s quickly thrown into a world far more chaotic and strange than she could have imagined. What initially seems like fascinating research reveals itself to be a conspiracy that threatens those she cares about — both in the present and the future.

To stop Dr. Brenner and the evils contained within Hawkins National Laboratory, Terry bands together with her fellow test subjects — an eclectic group who soon become her closest friends. She finds that among Brenner’s secrets and experiments, the smallest could be the most explosive — a young girl named Kali, who within the lab is simply called Eight.

The characters

Similar to the show, Suspicious Minds introduces us to a ragtag group of friends who are desperately trying to solve a mystery before the bad guy finds out and wins.

Terry and her fellow test subjects — Ken, Alice, and Gloria — call themselves “The Fellowship” and work together to discover what Brenner is really up to at the Hawkins Lab. Bond’s style doesn’t overly embellish to gift us fleshed out characters. Instead, she lets us directly into their thoughts so we can understand their happiness as well as their fears and suspicions.

It was exceptionally interesting to get more insight into Dr. Brenner and his cold, calculative behavior. Reading as Kali calls him “Papa” gave me chills, but what may be even more terrifying is seeing that his dark behavior only escalates from the timeline of this novel to the events in the show.

Revelations and show connections

Despite knowing how Terry Ives’ story ends, this novel offers a wealth of new information and several surprises about her and her family and friends.

Getting to learn more about Eleven’s father, Andrew, may have been one of the most bittersweet aspects of the novel. I won’t get into specifics, but I’ll just share that his love and support of Terry on her journey to reveal what’s happening in Hawkins is deeply moving.

Fans of the show remember a punk, teen version of Kali from season 2. In Suspicious Minds, she’s the five-year-old prized test subject of Dr. Brenner. From bloody noses to fantastic powers of the mind, there are several similarities between her and Eleven’s experiences at Hawkins Lab.

As for notable connections between the novel and the show, the Upside Down and the Demogorgon are referenced. One of the test subjects, Alice, is able to visit the Upside Down (she calls it the Beneath). The Demogorgon is a vision for now, unable to cause harm yet. Alice’s visions also give us a glimpse of a young girl with short hair who goes by the name Eleven.

I’ll end this review with perhaps one of the most light-hearted revelations from Suspicious Minds. In the show, we learned Terry had a non-numerical name for her child, Jane. The inspiration for that name is revealed in Bond’s novel. When Terry was pregnant, she came across a photo of Jane Goodall on the cover of a National Geographic magazine. Her psychic friend Ken predicts she’ll have a baby girl. Terry decides to name her baby after a woman who also conducted scientific experiments, but treated her subjects with care and love.

Overall, Suspicious Minds is a must-read for fans as it offers all the pop culture and strange sci-fi elements that have made the show a success, while also offering an intriguing new story to dive into. For newcomers to the Stranger Things world, this novel doesn’t require background knowledge and can be an exciting way to begin a very strange journey.

This reader surely hopes Netflix will take a chance on a Stranger Things prequel. Terry Ives and her Fellowship would absolutely be worth watching on screen.

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Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds is available now. Netflix’s Stranger Things returns to Netflix for its third season on July 4.