Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens in a new body 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 and rehabilitated 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 anxiously purchased When She Woke by Hillary Jordan after reading about it on line. The reviews described the book as a mixture of The Scarlett Letter and the Handmaid’s Tale which intrigued me. These two books frame the idea behind When She Woke but the story stands alone with it’s interesting concept. The book takes place in a futuristic United States after a health crises has caused it’s citizens to take religion to the extreme affecting every area of a persons life.
I am so happy that I read this book because it gave me so much to think about and ponder. We watch Hannah grow from the young girl who tries so hard to please her parents and her church to the strong woman that understands who she is and will not compromise her freedom. The book opens with Hannah waking up red and in a cell broadcast on national television because she has been convicted of murder for having an abortion. The concept is quite interesting and different because criminals are turned different colors based on their crime. From there the book follows her as she tries to begin a new life in a society that shuns her and she must learn to rely on herself because not even her own mother will help her.
The concepts are intriguing to ponder in When She Woke as Jordan brings us face to face with what life would be like in a society solely run by religion, one where you aren’t even supposed to think for yourself. The life of those who are different colors is extremely hard and lonely because society treats them so badly. She provides food for thought regarding what is just and what is compassionate and it is interesting to watch Hannah learn to cope in her harsh new world and frightening to ponder that a world like this really could exist in the United States one day and perhaps we are only one crises away from a similar fate. You will find yourself pondering very deep religious, political and societal aspects as you read Hannah’s story.
As in The Scarlett Letter the man who has gotten her pregnant is a highly respected individual who hides as she bares the responsibility for their moments of passion alone. This book differs because we know quite early on who the father was and Hannah often thinks of how much she loves him. I can’t quite decide why she loves him so much since I felt if he was an honorable man he would not have allowed her to face this fate alone but we are not always rational when we think we are in love.
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely but you must read it with the knowledge that it is going to delve into some deep aspects and if you are not open to pondering religious and political truths the book is not for you. As I look back on this book when she woke speaks volumes of what the characters are trying to tell us. The book begins with the sentence when she woke, she was red but ends she woke, and she was herself. The last sentence of the book sums up the entire story for me. When She Woke is a story of how Hannah finds herself in a society based on conforming and the message resonated with me, I hope it resonates with you as well. We all need to hold on to our own identities and strive for a world where everyone can be themselves.