Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 341
Rating: 5 out of 5

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift for Christmas and will donate it to my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 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 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.

Review: The last time I read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter I was in high school and that was a really long time ago. However, the story came back to me vividly as I read this wonderful retelling. This version is set in the near future when conservative extremists have passed laws that overturned Roe v. Wade. While the novel is set in the future, we only know that because the characters have "ports" and "vid chats." Unlike other science-fiction stories, the future just is, it isn't ever-present (if that makes any sense).

Hannah Payne has grown up in a conservative Christian family and before the story begins has welcomed a new and exciting leader to their church, Aidan Dale, with whom Hannah has an affair. She becomes pregnant and has an illegal abortion to save Aidan from horrible backlash. In this near-future USA, the government implants something into criminals that turns their skin a certain color (yellow for lesser transgressions, red for the worst, and blue for child molesters). After a month or so in prison, criminals are then released, but remain colored (they are called Chromes) until their sentence is finished. Life as a chrome is far from easy since everyone knows your crime.

After about the first third of this book I forgot that I was reading a retelling of The Scarlett Letter and was completely absorbed in Hannah's story once she is released from prison. Hillary Jordan does a wonderful job of showing both sides of the issue of abortion as well as fundamentalist Christianity as Hannah struggles with the choices she has made in her life, how it affected her and her family, and the physical, mental and spiritual consequences of her actions.

While this book is vastly different from Jordan's previous novel, Mudbound, I loved it just as much.

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