In the near future, the United States Government is overthrown by a conservative religious organization called Sons of Jacob and they establish the Republic of Gilead. The theocratic society views women as “undesirables” and an element that must be controlled. Women’s financial assets are frozen, they are removed from their jobs and ultimately taken from their homes and families. Our main character even loses her name and becomes Offred, literally Of-Fred, the man she is assigned to be a Handmaid for. Handmaids are only used for one thing, breeding children with the ruling classes. Offred is essentially assigned to be a concubine for the Commander (named Fred). Her life depends on it. If she isn’t able to conceive a child, she’ll be discarded from society to die.
The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and immediately hit a nerve. It deals with a lot of hot button issues: sex, religion, reproductive rights, feminism, fundamentalism. The book offers sharp social criticism that is just as painfully relevant today as it when when it was published. It has been censored from schools and libraries all over the country for being “anti-Christian” and “sexually lurid” and has appeared on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the last 20 years. I found it terrifying, deeply disturbing, challenging, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.