Thursday, January 5, 2012

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (REVIEW)

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hillary Jordan
Published October 4th, 2011 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
341 Pages // Hardcover
Borrowed from Library
Purchase from Amazon

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 had heard about WHEN SHE WOKE for months before it came out. Even my mother had heard about the book through her book clubs and sources for information. And then what did I do? Well, I might have put off reading it… And put it off… And checked it out from the library… And put it off. Then I picked it up as my due date grew closer and closer. Once I started reading it, there was no stopping. By the end, this book flew onto my favorites shelf and I was desperate to tell the world about the amazingness I had just read.

WHEN SHE WOKE chronicles the story of a young woman in a dystopian near future that seems all too plausible – the rise of an extreme religious state that, instead of jailing offenders as we know it, colors their skin in a process called Melachroming. Our protagonist Hannah is a Red, convicted of the murder of the child she aborted after having an affair with a very powerful preacher. WHEN SHE WOKE is a powerful story about self exploration, emotional pain, physical suffering, and the pursuit of justice and understanding.

The story is powerful, with evocative prose and a gripping narrative that wraps you around its finger and refuses to let you go. As we move from Hannah’s time as a public attraction in a cell for 30 days after her chroming to the halfway house run by sadistic evangelicals and beyond, there is not a dull moment. Hannah is a strong woman who has to come to grips with her faith and her reality. She is very na├»ve, raised to be an obedient wife, not a woman who thinks for herself and acts.

In addition to the emotional trials Hannah suffers, we are taken on a trip through this dystopian world that is chilling. From the political environment created by Jordan to the new reality of America’s almost-police state built around fundamentalist Protestantism, it feels all too possible. I think this is one of the strongest parts of the book – Hillary Jordan constructed a world that, while being a dystopic future, feels like it is real and possible. It’s a world like ours, except the flaw is that religion consumed everything. There is even a Secretary of Faith in the government and the Trinity Party.

To sum up WHEN SHE WOKE on one word, I would pick heartbreaking. This book will break you into a thousand little pieces and then slowly knit you back – but not completely. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know, and definitely to you. Even if you just read YA, this book is worth a read. It’s emotional, it’s realistic, and it’s powerful. Trust me. This book is amazing.

VERDICT: With a powerful premise that feels all too real and a narrator who forces you to feel pain, WHEN SHE WOKE is a book not to miss.


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