Though it was published 30 years ago, Margaret Atwood's classic The Handmaid's Tale is more relevant now than ever. Spurred by the new Hulu series, many Americans are reading and re-reading this pivotal text to make sense of the political climate. Set in a dystopian world where women's rights have been completely abolished, The Handmaid's Tale follows one woman, Offred, whose role as a Handmaid means that her sole duty in life is reproduction. This is a quintessential novel that provides a terrifying vision of how today's political decisions could play out to devastating extremes.
But once you've read the book and gobbled up every episode of the television series, what's next? Well, Atwood fans are in luck, because there are many smart dystopian novels that will get the wheels in your head turning.
Dystopian novels are a great way to explore the world we live in, the decisions that we're making, and the power that the present has over the future. Some of the books I've recommended below are straight-up dystopias, while others are post-apocalyptic fiction. Each of these great reads employs imagination to ask vital questions about the world that we live in today and the consequences it could have.
1'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel
This beautifully written post-apocalyptic novel asks so many important questions about the role of art and fame in our lives. Switching between different perspectives, before and after a devastating pandemic, the book follows a cast of characters that includes an A-list actor, a paramedic, and a post-apocalyptic traveling symphony whose motto is "Because survival is insufficient."
2'Oryx and Crake' by Margaret Atwood
Obviously you want to read more Margaret Atwood, and this is a good novel to read after Handmaid's. The first book in Atwood's famous Madaddam trilogy, Oryx and Crake follows a man named Snowman, the only surviving human in a world overcome by genetic engineering.
3'Who Fears Death' by Nnedi Okorafor
In this book, womanhood has a tangible power. Set in far future, post-nuclear-holocaust North Africa, the book follows Onyesonwu, a young woman who discovers she has great powers, and attempts to use them to end the genocide of her people.
4'Blindness' by José Saramago
What if blindness were contagious? When an unnamed country is struck by a plague of "white blindness," its people are forced to confront the dark forces that were always prevalent in their society.
5'Parable of the Sower' by Octavia E. Butler
In this classic, incredibly prescient read, the year is 2026 and American society is breaking down. Global warming, economic stagnation, and wealth disparity have reached a terrifying peak, and many people are slipping into de facto slavery. The new president even uses an all-too-familiar slogan: "Make America Great Again" FYI, this book was written in 1993. Disturbing.
6'Uglies' by Scott Westerfeld
In this dystopian YA series, sixteen-year-olds undergo an operation that transforms them from Ugly into Pretty. When Tally's best friend Shay runs away day before her operation, Tally discovers the dark truth behind the Pretties.
7'The Giver' by Lois Lowry
This classic is a must-read. Set in a colorless society built on conformity, the book follows a boy named Jonas as he is given the duty of Receiver of Memory, and begins to discover the dark secrets of the community around him.
8'Unwind' by Neal Shusterman
In order to end the second civil war, opposing factions of the abortion debate have struck a deal: abortion is illegal, but when a child is thirteen, their guardians have the option to "unwind" them, a process in which every body part (even the skin) is transplanted to another person.
9'The Power' by Naomi Alderman
Set in a recognizable version of London, this book asks what would happen if gendered power dynamics were suddenly turned upside down. When suddenly teenage girls develop the power to produce electricity inside them, men begin to fear for their physical safety. (Margaret Atwood herself blurbed this remarkable read.)
10'When She Woke' by Hillary Jordan
This striking reimagining of The Scarlet Letter is set in America in the not-too-distant future. A woman is convicted of the murder of her unborn child, and the State of Texas genetically alters her skin to be red in order to mark her for her crime.