Top critical review
An Interesting, Yet Somewhat Unnecessary Tale in the Stranger Things Extended Universe
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 16, 2019
The "Stranger Things" Extended Universe continues to grow with the publication of stories that take place outside of the television series. From comic books that tell Will Byer's side of the story from Season 1 to prequel novels that delve deeper into Hopper's past life and the story of Eleven's mother Terry Ives, I've been a giant fan of the book series. I am a "Stranger Things" nut and have loved every major publication that has come out. When I discovered there was a third novel coming out which explored Max Mayfield's past -- after her introduction in the second season -- I was thrilled at the idea considering Max's past and her family's history were only hinted at in Season's 2 and 3.
Unfortunately, while the book is labeled as prequel, it really isn't but rather a half-prequel-half-retelling experience. The book's most interesting and compelling moments are when Yovanoff goes into original territory and tells a story we haven't heard before. The sad part is that a good half of this novel essentially rehashes events we've seen already in Season 2, simply retold in Max's voice, which is a real shame as it adds nothing new to the narrative established in the series. At many points while reading the novel, I kept getting aggravated merely because we were being told information we already knew and describing scenes we already saw in Season 2. It was only when the book veered into original territory, and actually explored Max's past life in California and examine her home life did the book pique my interest and become compelling.
There are some praises to be said. It's very well written, Yovanoff capturing Max's spirit, personality, and voice very effectively. She tells the story well and keeps the reader interested (when she goes into original territory) and she brings an emotional depth to Max's family that was missing from both Season's 2 and 3. She also offers nice explanations for some lingering questions from Season 2 such as the reason for Max and her family moving out to Indiana. It also provided much needed information and character background for Billy Hargrove, Max's older brother, that helped set up for what we eventually saw become of him in Season 3.
All in all, it's a mixed bag entry in the "Stranger Things" novel series. The book really would have benefitted more if half the book wasn't merely a retelling of Season 2. It's a missed opportunity that could have been something really special. This novel, from what I believe, could be the first in a line of Young Adult novels planned for the novel series. I would absolutely love additional novels that explored the characters of Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, and Eleven but would hope that these future installments would focus more on telling us information we don't know and showing us scenes we haven't seen before, rather than merely recapping events but from individual points-of-views.