Saturday, January 31, 2015

When She Woke

Book: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan

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.-Goodreads

Review: A futurist re-telling of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke also reminded me of The Handmaiden's Tale. Jordan does a fantastic job world building (the religious right have taken over, abortion is illegal and criminals are mono-chromed (skin dyed a specific color for a specific time) to indicate their crime. Hannah is dyed red because she is a murderer. Her crime? Abortion. 

The first part of this book was fantastic. I could actually see how the society in this book could come to fruition and it's frightening. I really enjoyed seeing how Hannah grew up, the pressures her family, faith and church put on her as well as falling in love and having an affair with a high profile married man. Hannah's jail sentence (prisoners are recorded 24/7 like a reality tv show for the public to see) as well as her time in a halfway house (all kinds of crazy things going on) were both chilling and creepy. I loved the first half of this book. 

After Hannah leaves the half-way house, the book went downhill for me. The pacing was all over the place-there were a lot of 'almost' moments, like 'almost killed!', 'almost raped!'. Jordan is definitely a skilled writer but the action sequences didn't work. Another thing that didn't work-Hannah initiating a lesbian affair. This is a girl that was raised in a very conservative, religious family who never harbored secret fantasies about women and was repulsed by gay people. I understand she was finding herself and this was an awakening moment, but a kiss would have been more realistic than what occurred. Another odd thing about the second half of this book-I couldn't shake the feeling I was reading some required CCD book enforcing the idea that 'life is meaningless without God.' I'm not sure if that's what Jordan's purpose was but I felt like God was being rammed down my throat. 

Overall-loved, loved, loved the idea of this book and the first half of this book. Fantastic concept and flawless execution. Although I didn't enjoy the second half, I've recommended this to a few people and I will definitely read more of Jordan's work. 

Grade: 3/5

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