Sunday, January 15, 2012

When She Woke - Hillary Jordan

Summary: 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.
Summary and cover photo from

My Review: The idea of this novel is not so unique as it plays upon The Scarlet Letter. Yet it is creative in the way the author addresses the issues that arose within that novel. In this futuristic society criminals are easily identified by their skin color, as all criminals are chromed with a skin color to match the crime they are convicted of. Caught stealing? You may awake with bright yellow skin. The heroine of this tale, Hannah Payne, awakes red after being convicted for murder because of an abortion. The story follows her as she attempts to overcome the society's prejudice, meanwhile uncovering her own beliefs.

The novel starts out gripping. Hannah Payne is a likable character despite her crime. Her fierceness to protect the father of her unborn child is endearing. Her willpower is amazing. As the reader follows her journey out of prison into society one cannot help but root for her triumph.

Yet about half way through the novel loses it’s steam. The author did a wonderful job developing this character yet seems to just drop many of the attributes she created in her. For example, Hannah is given this amazing ability to create and sew, yet after utilizing this talent briefly it is never mentioned again. Also the author created some very powerful female characters that were never developed to their full potential. It seems that at this point the author relied on shock value to add to the story and failed. There is a detailed sex scene that adds no value to the story whatsoever.

The setting of the story presents another problem. The author begins by setting up a very conservative, old-fashioned society; a culture where people sew their own clothing and live off the land. Yet later in the book we experience the main character patronizing a popular discount store. It felt like the author was undecided on which path to take the story.

Overall I would have to say this was a thought-provoking novel. Its subject matter and dystopian aura makes it appealing. Yet it is not fully ripened. It feels like alternative motives took precedence about half way through and the story was lost. The ending also leaves much to be desired. This is most unfortunate as the novel had so much potential.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sensitive Readers - This is not a book for the conservative reader. It deals with the issues of abortion and sexuality. It also has a strong feminist message and language many would find offensive.

To sum it up: Another tale with amazing potential yet poor follow-through.


MindySue said...

Excellent review, Heather!

Brittany said...

Agreed, excellent review. Something about it (maybe the throwback to an a more conservative reincarnation of society and the woman in 'red') also reminds me of aspects of 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood.


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