Author Hillary Jordan
Publisher Algonquin Books
Publication Date October 4, 2011
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 originally gained interest for When She Woke because I loved Hillary Jordan’s first novel Mudbound. I felt the premise sounded very thought-provoking and being pro-choice myself grew an even keener interest. Then I saw it had been compared to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. I. Must. Read.
After Hannah is released from her thirty days in captivity, she goes into the equivalent of a halfway house, which could only be described as a combination of Nurse Ratched and one of Michelle Bachmann’s group homes. What could be perceived as brainwashing made for a riveting read and dramatically held my attention. Although the real beef of the story does not begin until she is reinstated back into the real world which has turned on her, she realizes she must escape to Canada and their universal health care system.
The rest of the novel was of her escape from the United States and her journey through an underground railroad of helping hands and the constant fear of being discovered or whether said helping hand could even be trusted. I was held by the edge of my seat. I could not turn my eyes away until I had learned what fate awaited Hannah, only then could I sleep.
When She Woke had me at page one. I was Gobstopped by its rawness and daring to address taboo topics, including a brief interlude of domestic violence. It was impossible not to like Hannah, she was intelligent, always had her friend’s back and was totally street-smart, always supporting common sense. In short she was a bad-ass heroine.
When She Woke literally woke me up. With Hillary Jordan’s incomparable writing style and unique storytelling it was hard not to. I cannot say enough fabulous things about it and would recommend for anyone who loves a dystopian or controversial novel, but do not be alarmed if your pulse escalates upon reading.