Book: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Book Info: Published by Algonquin Books Of Chapel Hill; 344 pages; hardcover; borrowed from the library
Goodreads.com Summary: I am red now. It was her first thought of the day, every day, surfacing after a few seconds of fogged, blessed ignorance and sweeping through her like a wave, breaking in her breast with a soundless roar. Hard on its heels came the second wave, crashing into the wreckage left by the first: he is gone.
Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of murder. The victim, says the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love.
A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated, and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned but chromed and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love.
I loved When She Woke. I immediately thought of The Scarlett Letter, which I need to read, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (which I tried reading but gave up on).
I thought the idea of Chroming people according to their crime was really interesting, as was the idea of a secretary of faith. The book does make you think about things like freedom, separation of church and state, abortion and religion and faith. It’s definitely a future that I can see happening, which made the book slightly scary.
As for what I didn’t like: I thought it wrapped up a little too nicely. I don’t have a problem with the slightly ambiguous ending, but the ending felt a little forced. What I found to be really irritating was the fact that Hannah’s transformation from beginning to end was pretty dramatic, given that it takes place over a few weeks.
We also don’t a lot of information about the society- we get bits and pieces, but there were things that didn’t make sense. How is it that Hannah is 25 and not married? It seems like her world is one where people get married very young, and yet she is not. Or how her parents are super-strict and ultra-conservative, but she can get “forbidden” books at the library. Something just seemed off about the way the society was set up, which may (or may not) be related to the lack of information we get about them.
Overall, though, it gets a 5 out of 5. I loved it, and it’s not something I’m going to forget anytime soon. Despite losing it’s way towards the end, and some of the issues I had with the book, it was still a great read.