[Adult Review] When She Woke

Friday, November 16, 2012

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Format: Paperback, 344 pages
Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Published by: HarperCollins Canada


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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.

My Thoughts 
You know how much I love dystopian fiction, and this novel by Hillary Jordan did not disappoint. This story is a modern retelling of the Scarlett Letter with a bit of a twist. Hannahs’s life revolves around faith and family, and all of that is tested when she is convicted of murder. In Hannah’s reality those who are convicted of a crime become Chromes; they have genetically altered skin tones that match the crime they have committed. Hannah is red, a sinister form of entertainment in her eyes. As a Chrome, Hannah has to determine whether her new life is worth living. Having lost everything she ever loved, she has to learn to love herself again and search for a better life.

This book was a kind of surprise from the moment I opened it. Having known it was dystopian fiction did not prepare me for how beautifully this book was written. Hillary Jordan has a way with words and a talent for projecting emotion extremely well. I really enjoyed this book more then I expected to because of the fact that I am not one to gravitate towards literary fiction. Now, having read When She Woke, I am really interested in Hillary’s first novel Mudbound. Thank you Hillary for creating a timely fable about a woman struggling to find out who she is, when everyone around her wants to erase the memory of that person. Breathtaking.

4/5 Stars

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