It’s not often that I review a book that I read for school. Seriously, as a senior in high school, “required reading” usually consists of books that are boring, way too critical, and too symbolic that often times, it’s annoying. I’ve read books for school that aren’t necessarily a snore and are actually pretty interesting, but no school book has ever peaked my interest as much as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has. Published in 1985, this has to be among one of the first dystopians out there along with George Orwell’s 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. In fact, many Young Adult novels out there today mimic the storyline for The Handmaid’s Tale, such as Wither by Lauren DeStefano, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, and many more.
In class, we looked at the narration and the social commentary that Atwood is trying to make with the novel, but I want to look at it through a book reviewer/blogger point of view. As someone who has had their fair share of YA Dystopians, I wasn’t necessarily surprised but more like astonished to see that this one was so much more intriguing than other dystopians. Atwood develops the world of The Republic of Gilead set at Harvard University, where male Commanders have Handmaids to help produce babies. The handmaids are oppressed and limited in knowledge about the world of Gilead. Readers follow the story of Offred (Of Fred, a name that signifies a patriarchal society), a handmaid and how she struggles through this society as someone who does not have the freedom of love and friendship.
The thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is that Atwood’s world-building is so different from usual YA’s world-building. It’s always refreshing to see an author NOT info-dump, and here, Atwood so smoothly leads the reader into Gilead; she name drops some new terms, and quickly and simply explains it, but then shows it to really develop the world further instead of just INFO DUMP. THIS is how world-building should be done. Additionally, Gilead’s world is so similar to ours that it made it really easy to understand–no intensely new technological changes at all. In fact, this dystopian world was more like a flashback to Victorian era.
Obviously, this is not YA and it focuses on the politics of sex in a corrupt society, so it gets pretty sensual and controversial at times. It brings about so many social commentaries though that I found was, again, refreshing to see in a dystopian society. There actually is that similarity to a typical YA female heroine who finds a boy that helps her escape, but Atwood creates a much stronger narrative and inner conflict that makes it more emotional.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love YA Dystopian and I am in no way bashing on it. However, reading an adult classic dystopian was an altogether different and fantastic experience. Although not action-packed, it’s the subtle things that occur in this society that make it so exhilarating to read. Pick up The Handmaid’s Tale, if you dare…