Thursday, aka The Handmaid’s Tale Hangover Day.
If you’re like me, you’re still recovering from last night’s episode. You wanted to avert your gaze. You couldn’t look away. Your heart leaped and sank. You feel destroyed. You feel enlightened. You are both mesmerized and gutted. It’s the Atwood effect. (Yes, even though I’m referring to the TV show, the credit still goes to Queen Margaret.)
But most of all: you want more. I know I do.
But as fans, we must be patient. We must wait.
Except I’m awful at waiting. Patience is a virtue I do not possess. Especially when it comes to storytelling.
And while I cannot persuade MGM to release the remaining episodes sooner (like, right now), I can lose myself in books like The Handmaid’s Tale while waiting for the next episode. Novels that share something—a theme, a dystopian alternate reality, a protagonist—with our beloved The Handmaid’s Tale. Novels that portray the indomitable and resilient female spirit. Novels that capture the sentiment of nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
With four weeks to go until the July 11th season finale, here are four unputdownable books like The Handmaid’s Tale to read in between episodes.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
This book tells the story of Poornima and Savitha, two girls from Indravalli, a small village in India. As girls—poor girls—their fate does not belong to them. Their lives will be decided by men. Arranged marriages, hard labor, abuse. This, they are told, will be their future. In their friendship, Poornima and Savitha find solace and company, but most of all they find courage. Together, they dare to dream, to aspire to a life beyond the confines of their castes and genders. When a brutal act forces the two girls apart, they do everything they can to find their way back to one another. This book tackles big themes: misogyny, human trafficking, prostitution, racism. It is not a novel for the faint of heart—but then again, I’ve never met a woman who fits this description. And at its center is one incandescent theme: the power of female friendship.
The Atwood Connection: Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Girls Burn Brighter is both brutal and illuminating.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Our world, present day. No one knows how, but women are suddenly able to generate electric shocks from their body. Their skeins (muscles that control their electrostatic powers) can produce anything from a playful sting to a lethal jolt of electricity. An outlandish premise, the stuff of fantasy novels and bizarre dreams. And yet, this book is utterly convincing. Alderman crafts a world that feels not just plausible, but almost probable. It didn’t feel as though I was reading the stories of Roxy, Margot, Allie, and Tunde as they navigated a world disrupted by an upheaval of gender dynamics. It felt like I was living them.
The Atwood Connection: A prediction: you will wish that each and every handmaid living in Gilead would develop this electrifying power.
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Rahima’s life would’ve been different if she had a brother. As it is, she only has sisters—four, to be exact. And with a drug-addicted husband, Rahima’s mother needs the kind of help that only a son—who is allowed the freedom to run errands, attend school, and chaperone her older sisters—can provide. The solution is to adopt the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows Rahima to dress and act like a boy until she is old enough to get married. Years ago, Rahima’s great-great grandmother, Shekiba, scarred and orphaned, adopts the same custom. This book tells the story of both Rahima and Shekiba: separated by a century, but united by blood, tradition, and a hunger for freedom. It is a beautifully written novel: soaring and sobering.
The Atwood Connection: Like June, Rahima knows what it feels like to have her freedom taken from her, to be rendered powerless—and what it takes to fight back.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
Cedar Hawk Songmaker—26-years old, Native, and the adopted child of two Minneapolis liberals—is pregnant at a complicated time. Evolution is reversing: mammals, birds, and insects are slowly regressing to their prehistoric forms. Human birth rates are dwindling, and many of the babies born seem to resemble our primitive ancestors. Fear ensues, and the government intervenes: pregnant women are rounded up and imprisoned in hospitals, their newborn babies taken from them. This, they are told, is for their own safety. The cost of preventing society’s collapse is women’s freedom. All must accept this for now. Except Cedar—terrified, confused, but filled with a fierce resolve—manages to escape.
The Atwood Connection: This novel explores the fragility of female freedom, especially when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.
Looking for more? Check out all of our discussions about The Handmaid’s Tale.