The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Illustrated by Renee Nault Nan A. Talese/Doubleday / Penguin Random House Publication Date: March 26, 2019 ISBN: 978-0385539241
In a dystopian near-future, fertile women are enslaved for their reproductive abilities by wealthy families in the newly formed Republic of Gilead. One such woman, named June but now called Offred, clings to her memories of her previous life in rebellion and finds ways to keep her own identity alive within the oppressive structure of her new life.
I read my first Jane Austen novel after watching the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. From there I read the other books – and watched various movie adaptations of each. Movie adaptations are often used in schools a culminating activity, with some sort of compare contrast note-taking work. The thing is, a good adaptation can help readers before they tackle the original, giving them the sense of the plot and characters, as well as the big ideas the work addresses.
Some recent graphic novels can serve the same purpose – giving readers access to a work of literature before they tackle the original – whether for school or for pleasure.
Given the popularity of comics, it isn’t surprising that many works originally created and released as books and films have been adapted into comics and graphic novels. Not only does this bring these stories to a new audience, but in the process of adapting and illustrating these stories, the creators of the comics are able to add their own take on the original version. In the past, I’ve written about Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and Leigh Dragoon’s adaptation of Legend by Marie Lu in my post on science fiction comics, but this list offers even more options for thought provoking adaptations of some popular works.
Every dystopian tale shares a few traits: the perfect-yet-horribly-imperfect society, the futuristic setting, and a rebellion against it all. Dystopian fiction written for teens and dystopian fiction written for adults both have those key elements, but otherwise, their differing audiences make sure that most other important aspects are not alike.
Presentation and backstory
Most noticeably, adult and young adult dystopias differ in their presentation. Adult dystopias are often more subtle with their set-up of the dystopias themselves. For instance, in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the main character weaves current happenings in the story with memories of the time before the dystopia, though her memories are revealed out of order chronologically. This allows the reader to understand what happened to create her fundamentalist, patriarchal Christian society, but not all at once. The makeup of the society itself becomes totally clear only towards the end, a puzzle forming an image piece by piece. Adult dystopias assume a more mature reader, and often take this approach because an adult should be able to understand it.
Young adult dystopias are much more straightforward.
The Amelia Bloomer Project, part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association, creates an annual booklist, including a Top Ten, of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18. Named for a “pioneering 19th century newspaper editor, feminist thinker, public speaker, and suffragist,” the list highlights both fiction and nonfiction books about girls and women “that spur the imagination while confronting traditional female stereotypes.”
Books on the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project list tell the stories — in both fiction and nonfiction — of Olympic athletes, inventors, performers, laborers, pilots, chefs, scientists, firefighters, civil rights organizers, and the founder of the Girls Scouts, all of them female. Girls and women serve their countries, rocket into space, protect their families, fight for their rights, explore, rule, and study, all against the backdrop of achievements, struggles, setbacks, and progress that marks the current state of women worldwide and throughout history.