When it was announced that Maragaret Atwood was going to be writing a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I flipped out. I was in the midst of binge-watching the entire TV show for the fourth time when I heard the news and I’m pretty sure I cried out of excitement — or maybe it was just sleep deprivation.
I didn’t know what to expect when I received my pre-ordered copy of “The Testaments” in the mail Sept. 10, the day the book was released. Part of me was excited to return to the world of Gilead, but another part of me was worried it would ruin an otherwise perfectly good story. I hope we can agree that most sequels — books and movies alike — just can’t top the original.
Luckily, this book was freaking awesome. There’s action, secrets, deceptive lies and a huge plot twist. I actually can’t stop thinking about it.
The books are set in the infamous regime of Gilead — a brutal theocracy that has taken over the United States. Here they have banished women back to the home, given men unnecessary amounts of power and have set strict laws about pretty much everything. You’d probably get jailed for breathing the wrong way.
The most terrifying part of this regime is its use of Handmaids — women who are “not pure” to Gilead’s standards, but are able to conceive children. They are given to wealthy families and are forced to get pregnant and give the child away.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” followed one Handmaid during her time in Gilead, but “The Testaments” barely touches on Handmaids at all. Instead, “The Testaments” is about giving readers the inside scoop to the innermost workings of Gilead, like who runs things behind curtains and how such an awful place has remained powerful for so long.
Set 15 years after the events of the “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the book is from the perspective of two women’s testimonies about their experiences in this country and how they eventually conspire to end the regime of Gilead together.
Agnes is a girl raised in one of the richest families in Gilead and a firm believer of the extreme christian faith. Only after she’s raped and forced to marry an old man at 14 years old does she realize that Gilead is a cruel place, so she embarks on a journey that leads her to watch its downfall.
Then there’s Daisy, the daughter of two resistance fighters in Canada who are trying to take down the regime. Daisy grows up hating Gilead, but after her parents die tragically, she realizes she has a special connection to the country that makes her a political target.
There is also one other main character in this novel — Aunt Lydia — who writes a forbidden manuscript we get to read. A founding “Aunt” of Gilead, she’s one of the only woman to hold power in this regime. Those who have read the first book would know that Aunt Lydia is a complete psychopath. She has mangled and killed Handmaids, deceived the government and has still remained one the holiest figures in this country.
Some things may have changed. I may have a newfound respect for her — it’s super juicy.
If any of these names sound familiar to you, it’s because they are. Atwood pulled inspiration for this book from the Hulu TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale” — an adaptation of the 1985 novel. I’m not going to spoil how the TV show and book are related though, that’s up to you to find out.
Compared to its predecessor, “The Testaments” is very character-oriented. Through Daisy and Agnes the reader gets to understand the personal lives of girls who lived during this time of turmoil. Agnes’ reccount is especially compelling because it shows that even girls of high stature aren’t immune to the harsh realities of Gilead.
On top of that, we see Daisy and Agnes grow up and become two intensely strong women. I’m a huge fan of proper character development and boy, did Atwood do a good job.
As for Aunt Lydia, her character embodies the “you gotta do what you gotta do,” mentality and in a world like Gilead, that is nothing but the truth. This character has definitely made the lives of women, especially Handmaid’s — pretty brutal, but in this novel we get to understand why — and it just might surprise you.
Atwood released “The Handmaid’s Tale” during a time when the world needed a wake-up call. “The Testaments” is just as much a commentary on society as its predecessor. What makes this book so frightening — and so amazing — is the fact it’s believable. Women continue to struggle for power, we have a crazy President and the environment has pretty much tapped out and we all get to watch it happen.
The difference between the two books is “The Testaments” actually has hope. It ends on a note that makes you feel uplifted and like you can change the world, even when it’s on its last leg.
Thank you, Margaret Atwood, we needed that.