Have you binge watched Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic Handmaid’s Tale yet? This startling TV miniseries, starring Elisabeth Moss as the heroine Offred, is a deeply unsettling look at life in a religious extremist patriarchal society that only values women for childbearing. Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most famous and earliest dystopian novels with staying power, and once you’ve read it, you can’t get enough of that intricate world and Offred’s struggle. For fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, this list of young adult novel recommendations explores Atwood’s concepts even further and will keep you reading past your bedtime!
Suzanne Young’s The Program plays on that state of paranoia that settles into your mind when you know you’re being watched all the time, which Offred certainly felt. If you’ve ever experienced depression or have had to be out in public somewhere and put on a happy face, you have an inkling of how Suzanne Young’s heroine, Sloane, lives every moment of her day. In Sloane’s dystopian world, teenagers are committing suicide at an epidemic rate. This means that an entire generation could be wiped out, and with it, the future of mankind. To combat the threat of extinction, the government requires every young person to go through “The Program.” But while the Program deletes the depression, it also wipes everyone clear of all feeling whatsoever. They exist just to procreate. In this brutal environment, the only person Sloane feels like she can be honest with about her private fears and doubts is James. When they are slated to undergo the Program, Sloane and James fight to erase their feelings for each other before the treatment erases their soul. Their decision to rebel sends this melancholy dystopian novel into the thriller category, and it also contains a thoughtful commentary on depression and the side of ourselves we show to the world, and what we keep hidden.
One of the most disturbing parts of The Handmaid’s Tale is the idea that women could be forced to bear children. Surrogacy certainly isn’t a new topic, but Atwood’s world makes women like Offred little more than a womb to the patriarchal government. Amy Ewing’s The Lone City series starts with The Jewel. Our heroine, Violet Lasting, is prized for her ability to bear children, a genetic hiccup that only occurs in the lower classes. Meanwhile, the wealthy elite can no longer bear children on their own. If they succeed, they are welcomed into the Jewel, the glittering royal courts. When Violet is sold off to the Duchess of the Lake at a surrogacy auction, she is ushered into the decadent and dangerous world of the elite, and into a star-crossed romance with a forbidden lover…
Thanks to high school English classes everywhere, who hasn’t read Nathanial Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter? The book is a little (okay, a lot) dry, but the story remains compelling. Hillary Jordan’s adaptation translates Hawthorne’s story about a young woman pushed to the fringe of society in a man’s world. Hannah Payne becomes ostracized and accused of murder after she has an abortion, which is illegal in the dystopian State of Texas where she lives. Women who have abortions have their skin dyed red, so everyone will recognize them as a murderer, according to the religious fundamentalist rule of law. Even though it will mean leaving behind her passionate romance with a man in the pubic eye, Hannah tries to flee Texas and make it to Canada, learning of a resistance that plans to push back against the government and trying to change her fate.
This contemporary YA novel is not dystopian, but it is an empowering look at one young woman’s takedown of the patriarchy. Frankie Landau-Banks lives in the ultra-rich world of her wealthy family. Her father ships her off to the boarding school where he and a bunch of his bro friends enjoyed the old-boys club sexism that is in full swing when Frankie arrives on campus. Instead of submitting to the patriarchy, Frankie begins a mastermind plot to beat the guys at their own game and especially to disrupt the secret society of the Bassets. Through clever maneuvering and genius pranks, Frankie teaches the boys a lesson and emerges the victor. Lockhart’s sophisticated, cool prose makes this novel a wicked and entertaining read that will inspire the feminist inside.
For more recommendations, check out my post 5 YA Dystopian Series To Binge on.