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Thursday, January 26, 2017

#Book #Review: 4 out of 5 stars for When She Woke by Hillary Jordan @Hillary_Jordan @AlgonquinBooks

TITLE: When She Woke
AUTHOR: Hillary Jordan 
PUBLISHER: Algonquin Books
PUBLICATION DATE: October 4, 2011
FORMAT: Hardcover
LENGTH: 344 pages
GENRE: Science Fiction/Dystopia
ISBN: 9781565126299
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 really enjoyed this dystopian retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

In this dystopian world, people are melachromed for their crimes. This means that their genetic makeup is altered so that their skin is dyed which marks them in public. Crimes are differentiated by the colour of chroming used. Red is for the most dangerous offenders, with murder convictions. The “blues” are child molesters, and “greens” cover various offences including arson, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. “Yellows” represent the majority of offenders, who are guilty of misdemeanors. After the melachroming procedure, the guilty are released back into society which alleviates the financial burden on the government since they no longer have to house inmates. They need to return for top-up injections every four months, and there is no fear that they will not return as the result of not having the regular injections starts a process of fragmentation which will drive someone to harm or kill themselves. At the end of their sentence (assuming that they haven’t been killed by vigilantes), they return for the melachroming to be reversed.

A sexually transmitted disease called The Great Scourge wiped out much of the human race over a three-year period, and it left many women infertile. To ensure the survival of the human race, abortion was outlawed.

Hannah Payne is a 26-year-old woman, who had a religious upbringing. An attraction develops between her and the married pastor of her church. Their affair results in a pregnancy. If she has the baby, she must name the father as this is a government requirement to ensure that the child is supported. As she knows that there is no way that she can reveal her beloved’s identity, she chooses to have an abortion without his knowledge. Her crime comes to light, and she is charged with the murder of her unborn child. Because she refuses to identify the child’s father and the abortionist, a six-year penalty is added to her ten-year sentence. After a 30-day period of incarceration in the Chrome Ward of Crawford State Prison in Texas after the melachroming procedure (which is broadcast on television to the public, like a 24/7 reality tv show), she is released and arrangements are made for her to be taken into a program at The Straight Path facility. She rebels against their religious and disturbing teachings which amount to brainwashing, and she leaves voluntarily. The outside world is a dangerous place for Chromes, because they are typically ostracized and cannot get jobs to support themselves. A secret society of pro-choice feminists finds Hannah and offers her a risky option to reverse the procedure, which means fleeing the United States and to never have contact with anyone from her past. Can she turn her back on her loved ones forever?

I loved Hannah’s transformation from an obedient and submissive young lady to a confident woman who took charge of her decisions. I am surprised with some of her decisions towards the end of the book, but it was fitting with her transition and self-discovery.

Hillary Jordan is a new-to-me author, and I really enjoyed her sophomore book. Now I want to read her debut, Mudbound!


4 stars!! It was really good, and you should put it on your TBR if you enjoy dystopia!

This book qualifies as:
Task #3 for my Goodreads Winter Seasonal Scavenger Challenge - Skiing


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