Transfixed by the hulu series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale? Of course you’ll want to read the original book, but why not also try some of these books that hit some of the same notes as the series and the book? Dark yet compelling, these novels are frightening plausible dystopias and/or are literary speculative fiction with philosophical themes. Give one a try and tell us what you think!

Handmaids Reads

Dystopias and Post-Apocalypse Stories:

Atwood created another grim tale of the future with Oryx and Crake, a title that with dark humor explores a world devastated by bioengineering and ecological disasters. It is the first in a trilogy, alongside The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Another dystopic tale that slowly reveals its disturbing truths, Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro is a haunting novel about coming to terms with one’s pre-ordained role in society.

In Children of Men, P.D. James imagines the societal upheavals brought on by the human race’s unexpected sterility. It is 2021, no babies have been born since 1995, and an Oxford historian is drawn into a revolutionary movement.  Or, for a more straightforward end-of-the-world title, try Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. While not really tackling heavy issues like The Handmaid’s Tale, it is one of more lyrical and memorable entries in the growing field of dystopian and post-apocalyptic tales.

Feminism in Speculative Fiction:

If it’s the feminist edge in The Handmaid’s Tale that intrigues you, try When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan. A speculative riff on The Scarlet Letter, this novel follows Hannah Payne, a woman whose skin is dyed red for the crime of having an abortion. Or, for a thought-provoking exploration of gender wrapped into a science fiction story, look no further than Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, in which a human ambassador is sent to a world where the inhabitants can change their gender whenever they choose.

Octavia Butler’s science fiction often tackle issues of race, class, and gender. For readers who don’t really want the world-building and futuristic settings of the previous titles, you might like Butler’s time-traveling story Kindred. It tells the story of Dana, a black woman, who is repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she must protect her white ancestor.

Described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls, Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill, is a Young Adult title set in a future world where girls are created and raised solely to please men.  With few good options, young women find themselves competing against one another for prized positions.

Class Oppression & Rebellion:

More action-packed and less literary than Atwood’s books, Pierce Brown’s trilogy may appeal to those who want a tale set in a bleak future society torn by class divisions, but also want to see the oppressed rise up in revolt. The first title in the series is Red Rising.

For a somewhat out there suggestion, try The Bees, by Laline Paull. Yes, this book is literally about bees.  But it’s also about a strictly hierarchical society where Flora 717, a sanitation worker and a member of the lowest caste in her hive, gets woke to her status and the inequities inherent in her society.

You can find the titles discussed in this post in the library’s catalog by searching for “handmaid’s reads”.

Have a title you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments.

Also of interest: Check out the book covers for Handmaid’s Tale from various editions around the world.