Banned Books Week Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Sep 30, 2010

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So I'm assuming by now pretty much the entire writer blogging world knows that it's Banned Book Week. And I think it's also safe to assume we all think banning books is backwards and horrible. If you don't want to read something (or don't want your children to), fine. Don't read it. But don't prevent me from making the choice for myself!

Tahereh, who's sponsoring a banned book review fest, reviewed The Giver, which was my first choice for a review. Like her, I was shocked to find this book on the banned list. That was the first book that really changed my view on how the world could work. It was my first introduction to dystopian literature, a genre that has captured me completely.

However, I'll be reviewing another dystopia, The Handmaid's Tale by Margret Atwood.

"In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. "

This book is fascinating, horrifying, and eerily realistic. I was drawn into Offred's world, putting the pieces of it together and seeing how it came about. I loved it and hated it, but I could not forget it.

Now, here's the thing. This book is told from the point of view of a woman who's basically kept as a breeder. So, naturally, there is some sexual content. In fact, a woman's sexual role is in fact a large focus of the book, because it's a large focus of the society. If my child were assigned to read this in junior high or high school, I might not want them to read this. It would depend on their age and their maturity, and of course we would talk about it.

But that's the thing with banned books. I have a right to decide with my own child if this book is right for them at their age. That is my prerogative as the parent. It is not my prerogative to make that decision for every other child at a school. Or for everyone in my town who might not be able to find it at the library if it's banned.

Books should not be banned. Period. Make your own reading choices. Let everyone else make theirs. Three cheers for banning banned books!


Colene Murphy said...

Well said. Quick, to the point and oh so very true. I have heard quite a bit about this book too, really interested to read it.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

I agree, well said. I loved (and hated) The Handmaid's Tale also. Amazing book.

David P. King said...

I'm exactly with you on The Giver. I love that book and I keep wondering when Walden Media is going to get around to adapting the thing. I didn't know this was Banned Book Week - such a terrible blogger. I guess The Giver is the only banned book I read and enjoyed (read others, but not a fan). Great post!

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Amen to your perspective on why there should be no such thing as banned books. :) I agree completely.

Wow, The Handmaid's Tale. Really? I read that as a teenager, I think, and I remember sex being a theme, but I don't remember anything gratuitous. Of course, my memory is not very good, but still ... crazy.


ali cross said...

As a Canadian, Margaret Atwood's books were a staple in my education. The Handmaid's Tale made a lasting impression on me; there's still a little haunted piece of it lingering in my psyche. Thanks for reviewing this book Shallee ~ I loved it.

And thanks for finding me! Your blog is awesome and I'm looking forward to getting to know you!

Shallee said...

@Colene-- It's worth a read!
@Jennifer- Yes, it was!
@David-- I'd love to see a movie of it too!
@Amy-- It definitely wasn't gratuitous sex at all. In fact, it was quite tastefully done, and there was only one scene I can think of that could be categorized as an actual "sex scene." There is a large focus on sex as it relates to the culture, and with a very good point behind it. I never felt the book was just sex for the sake of sex. It never came across as vulgar or gratuitous to me, which is definitely to Margret Atwood's credit!

Cinette said...

This book came up at our writer's group workshop. I read The Handmaid's Tale back in high school, and I don't remember the reason being the 'gratitious sex'. In fact, until I read this review, I had forgotten the sex part about it and only remembered the dystopian part of the story.
Banning Margaret Atwood?? Come on, People!

Melissa said...

Well said! This book looks really interesting and... well, I haven't read it but now I definitely want too!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post! I loved and hated The Handmaid's Tale. The language was amazing the writing and story was great. I was horrified by the roles people played in it...I told my 14 year old I didn't think she was ready to read it yet... was written beautifully.

Misha Gerrick said...

Sigh... I just realize how many books I don't get to read every time I read one of these banned books reviews.

This review made me want to read The Handmaid's Tale.

Well written!


Rachel said...

Whenever I read the reason someone cites for banning a book, I end up shaking my head. In the case of Handmaid's Tale, for example, the focus of the book isn't the act of sex. It's about women's freedom, including the ability to make basic decisions about their bodies. As hard as this book is to read, it's beautiful because it helps the reader think about those issues (Unless they're prudes, of course).
I guess I'm showing my bias, though--people who ban books seem intent on forbidding others to think for themselves. How ironic that so many banned books touch on that subject!

M Pax said...

I loved this book as well. I, too, was shocked at what is on the list.

I couldn't agree with you more. I ready many titles on the classics list in school. I'm grateful my teachers wanted to open our minds. I'm grateful my parents didn't keep us from reading anything. Books rule.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Banning books only makes people want to read them more lol.

I have an award for you on my blog

Lisa Gail Green said...

Great post!! It actually sounds like an interesting book. I agree with what you say about letting us make our own choices. My kids aren't allowed to read any of my books. Not for another few years anyhow!

Unknown said...

Looks like I need to start reviewing some banned books! Did you know (well of course you didn't, but I'm about to tell you) I had no idea about banned books (I'm ashamed, yes) and now I'm seeing what made the list and I'm appauled at some of them and their reasonings behind it!

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? was banned because of a NAME! Isn't that nuts?! Just outrageous, especially since that's one of my favorite childrens book!

Anonymous said...

I read The Giver each year with my 8th graders, and it never fails to give us controversial topics for class discussions. Last month, I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time and, as you say, it made an impression. Atwood's ORYX AND CRAKE is also a dystopian masterpiece.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I totally agree with this. It's a personal choice, and parents have the right to oversee what their children read (altho I read whatever I wanted regardless of what my mom said LOL) but don't ban the books!!!

Great post! (I'm visiting from Lynda's blog btw, new follower, enjoy your blog!)


Theresa Milstein said...

You are so right that parents need to make a decision on what's appropriate for their children. But to many people, it's easier to think others are doing that for them.

I participated in Tahereh's review of banned books too:

Len Lambert said...

I've heard of banned books before but I didn't realise how ridiculous it was!

I remember a few years ago, a colleague saw a book on my desk (Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield) then gasped and said to me, 'Len! Why are you reading that book? Do you know that that book is evil?' So I asked her, 'Why do you say that? Have you read it?' She said 'No.' I don't understand why people judge a book by just looking at it or because someone said it should not be read. I guess I'm one of those people who go and get it when I'm told not to.

Thanks for this blogpost,'s a great post! :)

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