Goodreads summary of The Meadows By Stephanie Oakes (Review Below): A queer, YA Handmaid’s Tale meets Never Let Me Go about a dystopian society bent on relentless conformity and the struggle of one girl to save herself and those she loves from a life of lies
Everyone hopes for a letter—to attend the Estuary, the Glades, the Meadows. These are the special places where only the best and brightest go to burn even brighter.
When Eleanor is accepted at the Meadows, it means escape from her hardscrabble life by the sea in a country ravaged by climate disaster. But despite its luminous facilities, endless fields, and pretty things, the Meadows keeps dark secrets: its purpose is to reform students, to condition them against their attractions, to show them that one way of life is the only way to survive. And maybe Eleanor would believe them, except then she meets Rose.
Four years later, Eleanor and her friends seem free of the Meadows, changed but not as they’d hoped. Eleanor is an adjudicator; her job is to ensure her former classmates don’t stray from the lives they’ve been trained to live. But Eleanor can’t escape her past . . . or thoughts of the girl she once loved. As secrets unfurl, Eleanor must wage a dangerous battle for her own identity and the truth of what happened to the girl she lost, knowing if she’s not careful, Rose’s fate could be her own.
A raw and timely masterwork of speculative fiction, The Meadows will sink its roots into you. This is a novel for our times and for always—not to be missed.
Reason #1- Let’s Talk About A Diverse Handmaid’s Tale
Is it reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale? Sure. But is it exactly like it? Absolutely not. It starts off with some strong nods to The Handmaid’s Tale, but then it softens as it gets deeper into the story. The Meadows then grows into its own, becoming a well-fleshed-out and unique story. From the characters to the multiple settings and timelines, Stephanie Oakes tips the hat to The Handmaid’s Tale without making a carbon copy. Part of this is achieved through a dystopian world devastated by climate change rather than rapidly reducing birth rates.
I don’t want to go too much into sexual representation in The Meadows. It isn’t my lane to speak. So, all I will say is that it is done thoroughly, and looking through my lens, it was done with sensitivity and poignancy while including hard truths. The fact that conversion places are illegal in most states but still exist within many religious institutions is completely horrifying. While I knew of their purpose and some tactics used, Stephanie Oakes opened my eyes to the emotional/soul, physical, and mental torture they impose.
Reason #2- Character Complexity
Starting with the matrons, the matrons, and supporting characters are dynamic and developed. How they run The Meadows with a ‘kind’ hand that is supportive and loving. Oh, what a piece of crap. It is the best gas-light writing I’ve read in a long time. The Matrons are there for one reason. To convert these girls into what conforms to society, killing pieces of them off like an axe to a tree. Then there is The Meadows itself. Stephanie Oakes creates an entire character out of the setting of The Meadows.
It all starts with the lie of what The Meadows actually is and its purpose. While there, the girls run into a multitude of questions about the environment of the Oakes and how none of it makes sense. This all creates a dystopian, almost sci-fi feel to it. This allows The Meadows, as a character, to wrap itself around the girls that attend it and makes a claustrophobic atmosphere.
Last but certainly not least, the main characters each have their own voice that resonates throughout the story. All of the joy and hope they get from each other to all the hurt, anger, and suffering caused by their circumstances ring loud and clear.
Reason #3- Dual Timelines
I will say that it takes some adjusting when listening to the audiobook. I’m not sure what the format of the hardcover is. However, there isn’t any differentiation between the current and past timelines, so it can be jarring.
Having said that, it doesn’t get in the way of impacting the story. On one hand, you have these girls struggling at The Meadows, where you know (this isn’t a spoiler) that something horrible has happened to Rose. And then, in the current timeline, you see the different paths girls have taken since leaving the Meadows. The trauma of being told how wrong they are, and having to suck up a lie to live in society, is handled differently by each girl.
Meanwhile, Eleanor has become an adjudicator who checks in on “reformed” girls and makes sure they are on the straight and narrow (so to speak). This creates a complex conflict within Eleanor throughout the book. The conflicts aren’t limited to her own work but expand to her feelings and how she handles the cases assigned to her. This especially hits home when the girls are from her cohort at The Meadows.
Thank you to Dial Books and Penguin Randomhouse Audio for an advanced audio copy of The Meadows by Stephanie Oakes, which releases on September 12.
Reason #4- Knowing More Than The Characters
One of the ways Stephanie Oakes creates tension throughout The Meadows is by letting readers in on things before the characters. For instance, you will know pretty quickly that The Meadows isn’t all it is cracked up to be. However, the girls take some time to get there. In fact, one is so thrilled to be there that she can’t figure out why she was chosen. However, readers will have long figured it out.
Additionally, because you see the characters as their present and past selves, you often want to cry for them and shake them (both in the current and past) due to the choices they make, things they didn’t understand, and the way they are letting it destroy them as adults.
Reason #5- Let’s Hope This Isn’t Prophetic
This is going to be short, but it is essential to note. When Donald Trump was elected, many people who hadn’t previously watched The Handmaid’s Tale went running to watch it. And whether you had already watched it or were watching it for the first time? The first couple of episodes didn’t seem like a far leap from where we seemed to be heading to what happened on the show. While reading The Meadows, it was easy (too, too easy because the world is getting harsher and scarier by the moment) to connect the dots from today’s climate crisis, book bans, and attacks on the Queer community to what is happening in The Meadows.
We can each take local, grassroots actions. Moreover, we can push legislators to ensure we never end up in The Meadows.