The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is getting a new TV adaptation this spring, and we can’t wait to watch it. Published in 1985, it’s been 32 years since Atwood’s famous novel first made the rounds, and it continues to be a seminal tale of women’s agency, power, and class. Set in a world ruled by a dictatorship, the book follows Offred, a woman who’s tasked with reproducing in a time of limited births. The book’s ability to stand the test of time means it has remained with many readers throughout their lives, and it’s no surprise it’s already been made into a film, an opera, a radio show, and a play.
In advance of the Hulu premiere on April 26, we’ve gathered books readers of The Handmaid’s Tale should pick up, from classics to young adult dystopian novels dealing with similar themes. Publishers’ descriptions below.
Classic Sci-fi Fantasy Books
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
Lauren Olamina was only eighteen when her family was killed, and anarchy encroached on her Southern California home. She fled the war zone for the hope of quiet and safety in the north. There she founded Acorn, a peaceful community based on a religion of her creation, called Earthseed, whose central tenet is that God is change. Five years later, Lauren has married a doctor and given birth to a daughter. Acorn is beginning to thrive. But outside the tranquil group’s walls, America is changing for the worse.
Presidential candidate Andrew Steele Jarret wins national fame by preaching a return to the values of the American golden age. To his marauding followers, who are identified by their crosses and black robes, this is a call to arms to end religious tolerance and racial equality — a brutal doctrine they enforce by machine gun. And as this band of violent extremists sets its deadly sights on Earthseed, Acorn is plunged into a harrowing fight for its very survival.
Taking its place alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Butler’s eerily prophetic novel offers a terrifying vision of our potential future, but also one of hope.
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Classic fantasy from the amazing Sheri S. Tepper. Women rule in Women’s Country. Women live apart from men, sheltering the remains of civilization. They have cut themselves off with walls and by ordinance from marauding males. Waging war is all men are good for. Men are allowed to fight their barbaric battles amongst themselves, garrison against garrison. For the sake of his pride, each boy child ritualistically rejects his mother when he comes of age to be a warrior. But all the secrets of civilization are strictly the possession of women. Naturally, there are men who want to know what the women know! And when Stavia meets Chernon, the battle of the sexes begins all over again. Foolishly, she provides books for Chernon to read. Before long, Chernon is hatching a plan of revenge against women!
Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Hailed as a classic of speculative fiction, Marge Piercy’s landmark novel is a transformative vision of two futures — and what it takes to will one or the other into reality. Harrowing and prescient, Woman on the Edge of Time speaks to a new generation on whom these choices weigh more heavily than ever before.
Connie Ramos is a Mexican-American woman living on the streets of New York. Once ambitious and proud, she has lost her child, her husband, her dignity — and now they want to take her sanity. After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a time of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and unprecedented self-actualization. But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a society of grotesque exploitation in which the barrier between person and commodity has finally been eroded. One will become our world. And Connie herself may strike the decisive blow.
The Bees by Laline Paull
The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all — daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility — enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society — and lead her to unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Bellwether Prize winner Hillary Jordan’s provocative new novel, When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed — their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes — and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.
In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
In a chilling future, one 16-year-old girl is driven to the ultimate act of heroism. The Testament of Jessie Lamb, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is the breakout novel from award-winning author Jane Rogers. Its cunningly drawn characters and riveting vision of a dystopic future fraught with difficult moral choices will make The Testament of Jessie Lamb an instant favorite for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man.
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.
Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.
Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.
From New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty comes a strikingly original look at friendship, love, and sisterhood — in a future that is eerily believable.
Wither by Lauren DeStefano
What if you knew exactly when you’d die? The first book of The Chemical Garden trilogy.
By age 16, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years — leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.
When Rhine is sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement; her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next; and Rhine has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.
Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her 17th birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?
The Jewel by Amy Ewing
The Selection meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this darkly riveting debut filled with twists and turns, where all that glitters may not be gold.
The Jewel means wealth, the Jewel means beauty — but for Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Born and raised in the Marsh, Violet finds herself living in the Jewel as a servant at the estate of the Duchess of the Lake. Addressed only by her number — #197 — Violet is quickly thrown into the royal way of life. But behind its opulent and glittering facade, the Jewel hides its cruel and brutal truth, filled with violence, manipulation, and death.
Violet must accept the ugly realities of her life… all while trying to stay alive. But before she can accept her fate, Violet meets a handsome boy who is also under the Duchess’s control, and a forbidden love erupts. But their illicit affair has consequences, which will cost them both more than they bargained for. And toeing the line between being calculating and rebellious, Violet must decide what, and who, she is willing to risk for her own freedom.
Stray by Elissa Sussman
Epic, rewarding, and provocative, Elissa Sussman’s original fairy tale tells the story of Aislynn, a princess who misbehaves and must give up her royal trappings and enter a life of service as a fairy godmother. Booklist wrote, “Sussman delightfully mixed dystopian tension with retold fairy tales, and the result is something wholly original.”
A cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Wicked, with a dash of Grimm and Disney thrown in, this original fairy tale is part coming-of-age story, part adventure, part sweet romance. Will Aislynn remain true to her vows and her royal family and turn away from everything she longs for? Or will she stray from The Path and discover her own way?
Which of these have you read? Tell us in the comments!
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