Book Review: When She Woke – Hillary Jordan

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
ISBN: 9781565126299
Pages: 352
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Dystopian
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Hannah Payne has always been devoted to her strict Christian faith, but when she chooses to have an abortion (illegal under Texas law) and refuses to name the father of her baby, she is sentenced to serve time as a chrome. Instead of keeping prisoners locked up, the government now releases them back into the public after a very brief incarceration, chroming them based on the severity of their rime. Hannah’s skin is changed to a deep shade of red, branding her for everyone around her to see. Once Hannah is released, she begins to question the faith she blindly followed and tries to find an new path for herself.

Review:

When She Woke is set in a not-too-distant future in which abortion has been outlawed and religious fervor has become intertwined with the government. It’s a scary place that Hannah lives, and astonishing how strict her religion is. The most frightening aspect of the novel, though, is how recognizable this world is. It’s not too far distant from where we live now, and Jordan makes sure the reader is very aware of that over the course of the book.

In the simplest terms, When She Woke is a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, but instead of being required to wear a letter for her crime, Hannah’s skin color is changed completely. However, this novel is so complex that it does it a disservice to call it a mere “retelling”. It’s easy to see how some of Jordan’s basic ideas came from that classic novel, but Jordan deals with so many modern issues that it makes this novel unique. In fact, this book would work incredibly well for book clubs; it has many discussion points, and isn’t too heavy or difficult of a read.

Hannah is really an amazingly drawn character. At the beginning of the book, she is paralyzed by shame and guilt. While she knows she made the right decision for herself, she has difficulty with the life she is going to face. But as she considers her situation and reaches out to other chromes, Hannah really grows up. She begins to question her beliefs, everything she has been taught, and realizes that there is so much more to life than what she once thought. I loved witnessing this amazing growth, the opening of her mind as she made herself aware of what she had been missing.

While I enjoyed When She Woke, I wouldn’t recommend it to all readers. Those with firm conservative (and especially fundamentalist) Christian beliefs will likely be offended by this book, as it definitely has a liberal slant. Hannah must grow out of that fundamentalist Christian shell. That’s not to say this book is anti-Christian, though; I believe its message is that inquisitiveness, curiosity, that desire to learn, are so important to who we are. When our freedom to question, to doubt, is taken from us, we become lesser beings. I appreciated that message and enjoyed this novel very much.

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Comments

  1. I know we were supposed to read this for our Skype book club, and I think it may have been dropped, but I still intend to read it. I may wait a little while though because there has been so much hype (like The Night Circus) but I’ll get there. I’m always behind the curve!

  2. I know we were supposed to read this for our Skype book club, and I think it may have been dropped, but I still intend to read it. I may wait a little while though because there has been so much hype (like The Night Circus) but I’ll get there. I’m always behind the curve!

  3. The cover is so eye-grabbing and keeps popping up on my favorite blogs, so I think I’ll have to take a look at this one! Dystopian novels that feel like they could really come to pass freak me out, but many are excellent and thought-provoking.

  4. The cover is so eye-grabbing and keeps popping up on my favorite blogs, so I think I’ll have to take a look at this one! Dystopian novels that feel like they could really come to pass freak me out, but many are excellent and thought-provoking.

  5. I keep seeing this title pop up everywhere but yours is the first review I’ve actually read. I’m very intrigued now that I know the premise.

  6. I keep seeing this title pop up everywhere but yours is the first review I’ve actually read. I’m very intrigued now that I know the premise.

  7. I’m looking forward to reading this, really a good review, Thanks!

  8. I’m looking forward to reading this, really a good review, Thanks!

  9. I haven’t read too much about this one, but I think I would really like one. I will be adding this one to my wish list. Great review!

  10. I haven’t read too much about this one, but I think I would really like one. I will be adding this one to my wish list. Great review!

  11. I have been considering reading The Scarlet Letter and then this one back to back. That way I can see where the books intersect and are divergent. It sounds like this is a really powerful read that makes you think, which is exciting to me. Though I am a Christian, I don’t think the ideas in this book would bother me at all, because I am sort of liberal in my beliefs. Great review on this one today. I can tell that you really liked it.

  12. I have been considering reading The Scarlet Letter and then this one back to back. That way I can see where the books intersect and are divergent. It sounds like this is a really powerful read that makes you think, which is exciting to me. Though I am a Christian, I don’t think the ideas in this book would bother me at all, because I am sort of liberal in my beliefs. Great review on this one today. I can tell that you really liked it.

  13. I’ll admit to being shallow and say I want to read this one just because it has a fabulous cover.

  14. I’ll admit to being shallow and say I want to read this one just because it has a fabulous cover.

  15. This one looks really interesting. I like seeing how “classics” are rewritten for a modern age and this one sounds like that and more

  16. This one looks really interesting. I like seeing how “classics” are rewritten for a modern age and this one sounds like that and more

  17. I really enjoyed this book, but I didn’t wind up loving it either. There were just a few things that didn’t work for me and a couple of them I couldn’t put my finger on…

  18. I really enjoyed this book, but I didn’t wind up loving it either. There were just a few things that didn’t work for me and a couple of them I couldn’t put my finger on…

  19. I’ve been on the fence about this one. Just can’t decide. I’m sure it isn’t one of those books that you fall in love with though.

  20. I’ve been on the fence about this one. Just can’t decide. I’m sure it isn’t one of those books that you fall in love with though.

  21. I definitely need to get my hands on this one. I can’t wait to read it!

  22. I definitely need to get my hands on this one. I can’t wait to read it!

  23. I read this book, but I found it to be quite heavy handed. In my opinion, the writing was excellent but the content was dull and lacked subtlety.

  24. I read this book, but I found it to be quite heavy handed. In my opinion, the writing was excellent but the content was dull and lacked subtlety.

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