Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
Number of Pages: 311
The Handmaid’s Tale is widely considered classic dystopian fiction right alongside George Orwell’s 1984. Set in the near-future, the novel depicts the story of Offred, a handmaid in the newly-formed Republic of Gilead. In a reality where she has been stripped of everything from her liberty, to her child, to her own name, Offred struggles to walk the line between maintaining her sense of self and staying alive.
Fun Fact: Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1984.
Bonus Scavenger Hunt: If you watch the new mini-series from Hulu based on the book, you will notice that Offred’s original name is used even though it never appears in the book. If you read closely, however, you’ll find it was there all along. In the first chapter, five names are whispered across “what once was the gymnasium” —all but one of those names appears elsewhere in the book. The one that is never mentioned again is Offred’s real name.
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: YA Fiction
Original Publisher: Razorbill
Published: October 2007
Number of Pages: 288
Clay Jensen’s secret crush, a girl named Hannah Baker, recently committed suicide, though she did not leave a note. Not long after the funeral, Clay learns that Hannah had found a different way to explain her decision and uses this to retrace the events leading to the end of her life.
Author: Celia Rees
Genre: YA Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Thorndike Press
Number of Pages: 303
When Mary Newbury’s grandmother is hanged as a witch in 17th century England, she finds herself spirited away to the New World among a party of Puritan settlers. Though this is the perfect cover, because no one would expect such a child to hide among religious zealots, Mary must work hard to fit in or risk being accused of witchcraft herself.
Note: I’m half convinced that Mary’s Grandmother is a darker version of Babbity Rabitty.
The Ties That Bind
All of these stories center around a female character who feels the need to share her own life experiences, but due to one reason or another, cannot tell her story outright.
I don’t want to give away too much of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I will say that there is an epilogue of sorts at the end of the novel. During this afterword, it is explained that, within the context of the world Atwood constructed, the story you have just read is considered to be a real-life testimonial which had been recorded on a series of outdated cassette tapes. These tapes had been recorded in secret so that Offred might share her story using her own voice. In this media, she is free to anonymously express her ideas and experiences in a way that is no longer allowed publicly.
13 Reasons Why is likewise told through cassette tapes, though Asher is much more upfront about this fact than Atwood. He uses Clay as a sounding board and moral compass for the episodes Hannah Baker recounts from her short life. Clay also functions as someone who can corroborate enough events himself to make the story as a whole plausible to readers. Hannah, who feels silenced by those around her and the events she has witnessed, uses her unusual suicide note to voice what she thinks is wrong with the world and why exactly she saw no other way out.
Seeing as how Witch Child takes place in colonial America, the main character obviously doesn’t record her story on a cassette tape. However, much like Atwood, Rees presents the narrative as a real-life found testimonial (again, within the context of the overall novel). This time, the tale comes to us as a series of journal entries sewed into the lining of a family quilt. In the repressive religious community Mary finds herself in, her journal entries are the only method with which she feels she can truly express herself. Indeed, she refuses to destroy them or stop writing them despite the repeated pleas of her foster mother.
Throughout all these stories is a through-line of silenced women taking back their voices in a subversive fashion. Although they are not free to express their thoughts or ideas to their peers, each finds a way to leave a legacy to others after she is gone.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr