Parents' Guide to

The Handmaid's Tale

By Michael Berry, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Gripping dystopian novel of religious state against women.

The Handmaid's Tale Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 16+

Based on 8 parent reviews

age 16+

Blessed Be!

As an English teacher who has taught this book for somewhere around 14 years, I can tell you that this book has a profound impact on students and succeeds in teaching students many literary skills and helps them to connect literary fiction with relevant, real-world current and historical events. It's a wonderful example of first-person point of view and can help to initiate a discussion about unreliable narrators. The prose is poetic yet matter-of-fact, and it demonstrates that people are complicated and capable of both good and evil acts depending on the particular situation. For those reviews that have mentioned being unsatisfied with the ending, I think they're missing the point. It is left purposely ambiguous because Offred herself doesn't know how it will end when she steps into the van. She doesn't really know whom she can trust, and since we are seeing everything through her eyes, the readers also don't know; however, if you read the Historical Notes at the end (and yes, these are part of the novel), what becomes evident is that Offred did, indeed, get away at some point as the academics in the far future refer to her audio tapes and the ultimate defeat of Gilead. The end of 1984 is similar in that we don't know what happens to Winston, but on closer inspection, we see that the Newspeak dictionary is written in past tense, indicating that the totalitarian regime eventually ended. Atwood was inspired to write the book partly based on her experience reading dystopian works like 1984 and Brave New World, novels which hardly feature women, and when they do, they are treated like "sexual automatons." She wanted to investigate the question of "What if." In this case, she wonders what if a dystopia were centered around women? What would that look like? She makes up nothing that hasn't happened before at one point in history. Handmaid is speculative fiction that teaches readers to think, to wonder, and definitely to ask what if.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
2 people found this helpful.
age 13+


I am 21 years old. I read this book when I was 13. I found it eye opening and it changed my perspective of current society. As a literary enthusiast, I strongly recommend that everyone over the age of 13 should read this book. Whist enthralling and gripping, it is also informative and a work of wonder. It depicts the life of Offred, a handmaid in a dystopian civilisation. Whilst it does discuss themes of sex and violence, these are important life messages for adolescents, and as having read many other book with these themes at that age, I was not surprised to encounter them. This book has fabulous feminist implications, and teaches the importance of consent, and the horrors of prostitution. There is minimal foul language, apart from the occasional use of f**k. There is some smoking, however, Offred is overall a great role model, and who doesn’t have a sneaky cigarette sometimes? As a student of high merit I enjoyed this book immensely and would advise anyone over 13 to read it.
1 person found this helpful.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (8 ):
Kids say (17 ):

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.

Book Details

  • Author: Margaret Atwood
  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Anchor Books
  • Publication date: September 13, 1985
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 16 - 17
  • Number of pages: 311
  • Last updated: February 4, 2020

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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.

See how we rate