Margaret Atwood’s seminal 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale has never seemed more relevant, as evidenced by the success of Hulu’s recent TV adaptation. Whether the book led you to the show or the show led you to the book, the themes depicted in the story—including the rights of women to control their own bodies—have touched a nerve. Returning next week for a second season, the TV series is about to embark on a path beyond the source material. Between visits to Gilead, check out these pull-no-punches YA books, set in worlds both futuristic and all too recognizable, in which teenage girls fight for their reproductive rights.
A Girl Called Fearless and A Girl Undone, by Catherine Linka
This thrilling, award-winning duology is set in an eerily realistic contemporary Los Angeles in which the Paternalist Movement (how creepy is that name?) ascended to power after a plaguelike food illness killed fifty million American women. The men left in charge of society have determined the best way to “protect” the females who remain is to control their every move. That’s how teenage Avie has been “contracted,” with her dad’s blessing, to a thirty-seven-year-old man, a religious leader with mommy issues. (The other option was a fifty-three-year-old, shudder.) Though she doesn’t view herself as fearless, Avie’s decision to join the underground resistance, pitting her against friends, family, and the U.S. government, is the definition of brave.
Bumped and Thumped, by Megan McCafferty
Another suspenseful duology that depicts teenage girls entering into “contracts” with adults, this futuristic series in which everyone over the age of eighteen is infertile centers on sixteen-year-old twins Melody and Harmony, who were separated at birth but now find their lives suddenly intertwined. Melody has accepted, and possibly embraced, her fate as a surrogate baby incubator for a wealthy couple. After all, baby bumps are super popular. Harmony, on the other hand, wears a veil just like all the other Church Girls raised in the Goodside community. She’s been taught that “pregging for profit” is a sin, and she’s determined to put her sister on the right path for the next life. A satirical, surprising, and engaging read.
Like Sisters on the Homefront, by Rita Williams Garcia
Whip-smart and obstinate, fourteen-year-old Gayle, a city kid, is already raising a baby boy when she becomes pregnant a second time. Gayle’s mom decides a change of scenery is in order and packs Gayle off to Georgia to live with family. Swapping Jamaica, New York, for the Deep South is a tough sell for Gayle, especially considering her uncle, aunt, cousin, and great-grandmother are religious, strict, and, to Gayle’s mind, hopelessly naïve. She resents being uprooted until she slowly comes to realize the point of the move is to discover her roots. It’s easy to see why Garcia has won the Newbery, Coretta Scott King, Scott O’Dell, and PEN/Norma Klein awards—her books sing.
In Trouble, by Ellen Levine
Because it takes place in the real America of 1956, Trouble is in some ways more unnerving than a dystopian or futuristic novel ever could be. High school juniors and BFFs Jamie (whose dad is in prison) and Elaine (whose boyfriend Neil claims sex is the only way to prove they’re in love) struggle to forge their own paths. Elaine’s pregnancy immediately brands her as a loose “bad girl,” deserving whatever befalls her. In an era of limited options for women, the trouble she’s in is not easily solved; each answer only presents more problems, some of them life-threatening, all of them emotionally isolating. For research, Levine interviewed dozens of women who came of age in the 1950s and ’60s, and the richness and authenticity of her book shows it.
Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
Though not strictly YA, Erdrich’s latest is a New York Times Notable Book of 2017 and deserves a widespread audience. In this speculative reality, pregnant women are criminalized, hunted, and oppressed because the babies they’re carrying appear to be victims of reverse evolution. In fact, time itself seems to be running backward, and Cedar Hawk Songmaker, born to an Ojibwe mother and raised by progressive adopted parents in Minneapolis, is caught in the middle of extreme circumstances. Bestseller Erdrich, who is half-Ojibwe, continues her tradition of writing thoughtful portrayals of Native American life.