A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Handmaid's Tale is a powerful, potentially disturbing dystopian satire set in a future America where women have been stripped of all their civil rights. It features strong language, emotional and physical violence, and a couple of graphic sex scenes. The corpses of dissidents are hung in public as grim reminders of the cost of rebellion. There is mention of handmaids who have committed suicide by hanging. The most violent scene in the novel involves a public ceremony where women are whipped into a frenzy and then allowed to beat an accused person to death. The novel was adapted for the award-wining television series of the same name that premiered in 2017.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
The narrator of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, known only as "Offred," tells of her life in the monotheocracy of Gilead, in what used to be the United States, sometime in the near future. She is a handmaid, kept to breed with "the Commander" and provide an heir at a time when the human birthrate is dangerously low. As she remembers the years before her captivity and begins to dream of an end to her captivity, Offred develops new relationships with the Commander, his Wife and their driver. But can she trust any of them?
Is it any good?
Details matter to Margaret Atwood, and Offred's tale is related with precision and deep compassion. The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most acclaimed dystopian novels of the 20th century. An uncompromising portrait of a totalitarianism and institutional misogyny, it critiques fundamentalism in all its forms.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why dystopian novels -- like The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and The Hunger Games (2008) -- continue to be such a popular genre.
Why do you think author Margaret Atwood appends "Historical Notes" to the main narrative of the novel?
Do you think women's rights are in jeopardy today? Where and how?
In what ways can religion can shape government -- and vice versa?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love science fiction and dystopian novels
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.