While I certainly won’t judge you if you’ve only watched The Handmaid’s Tale and have never read the book, I highly recommend you drop what you’re doing right now and go grab yourself a copy. I read Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed dystopian tale back in AP English in high school (which considering the subject matter is slightly alarming but I digress), and while I’m a fan of the TV show, the book per usual is the far superior option. Luckily for fans like me, Margaret Atwood just realized her long-overdue sequel The Testaments, which I immediately purchased and read in less than two days – it was THAT good.
The sequel takes place 16 years after the current events of the show, but I’ll stay spoiler free in case it’s on your reading list (which it should be). However, as can be expected with an Atwood novel, the story is eerily similar to the world we’re living in today. Does an extremist right-wing religious group gaining power and stripping women of their rights seem THAT out of the possibility of reality considering the hellish political environment we’re currently living in? It’s a scary thought, and one that makes Atwood’s story all the more important to tell.
If you’ve already started and finished The Testaments like me and are still hungry for more dystopian books, here’s 5 ones to check out to satisfy you’re the-world-is-ending-as-we-know-it craving. If 5 recommendations aren’t enough, check out the full list at Buzzfeed.
The Power, Naomi Alderman
What would happen if women were more powerful than men? This is essentially the premise of Alderman’s bestselling 2016 novel in which women discover they have an unexplainable superpower, a form of electricity they can wield over men. It’s a power that develops during puberty, and at first women are sequestered from society, but soon they take advantage of their new gift, exacting revenge and proving themselves to be just as capable of abuse as men are. Atwood was apparently Alderman’s mentor on this novel and praise be, Amazon snatched up the rights and it will soon be a TV series as well.
Severance, Ling Ma
The Shen Fever, a fungal virus, turns people into zombies in Ma’s debut novel — technically they’re alive, but they are trapped in a loop, washing the dishes over and over again, or cooking or cleaning. In the aftermath, Candace Chen, a pregnant twentysomething Bible designer, falls in with a group of folks who raid houses for food on their journey to the Facility, where they are supposed to find safety. Shifting perspectives between her life in New York before the virus and afterward, Severance is a haunting reflection on memory, late capitalism, and the desperation that happens when it appears that the world might actually end.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (blogger’s note: this book is depressing AF. Read at your own risk)
Whom a body actually belongs to is a central question in both The Handmaid’s Tale and this 2005 classic Ishiguro novel. Thirty-one-year-old Kathy H. looks back at her early years attending Hailsham, an English boarding school where she became close friends with tempestuous Ruth and the overly emotional Tommy. Over the years, the nature of their relationships change as they find out the sobering reason they have been sequestered from the rest of society and the true nature of their existence. A beautiful, elegiac tale that looks at the ethics of certain medical procedures.
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
One of the perverse pleasures in reading about Atwood’s Gilead is seeing how the founders of this fictional theocracy dole out societal roles for men and women. In Gilead, women cannot read, only men or Aunts can. Women must cover their hair, but are not allowed to shave it (it is their crowning glory); men cannot enter the kitchen without a woman’s permission because it is the woman’s domain. And of course, any extramarital sex is forbidden. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s iconic 1974 novel, traditional roles are upended on the planet Anarres, where men and women are equal partners; sex, or copulation, as Le Guin phrases it, between men and women or same-sex partners is both allowed and abundant. Le Guin paints a compelling portrait of what a society not predicated on capitalism or heteropatriarchy can look like, even if it’s not as perfect as it seems.
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
One of the haunting elements of The Handmaid’s Tale is seeing how a confluence of factors — ecological disaster, economic precariousness, and the like — create an environment ripe for a totalitarian takeover. In Butler’s classic 1993 novel, she mines similar themes through Lauren Oya Olamina, a young black girl living with her father and stepmother in a gated community in Los Angeles. But when her community is attacked, she’s forced to join other survivors in a brutally indifferent, racist world. Fortunately, Lauren has a heightened gift for empathy that she wishes to impart upon the masses.