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September 23, 2014

When She Woke


When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Fiction
2011 HighBridge Company
Reader: Heather Corrigan
Finished on July 2, 2014
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good, but not great)




Publisher’s Blurb:

Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable. — Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day and Property

I am a 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 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; her crime is 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.

Rating a book is such an imprecise act. Typically, my ratings for any given book have stood the test of time, but there have been some books for which I’ve been tempted to change the score (usually lowering rather than raising). I read Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound and gave it a perfect 5/5 stars. As I think back and re-read my review, I know that at the time I felt it was a great reading experience and that I was thoroughly impressed. Four and a half years later, I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t feel that it’s remained in the same category as The Help or The Book Thief, and yet at the time, it knocked my socks off. Hence, the perfect rating.

As I listened to Jordan’s second novel, When She Woke, I was impressed with her imaginative plotting and dialogue, stopping co-workers to tell them how great this book was. However, now that a few months have passed, I know that it was a good read, but not one that I would consider great. I haven’t read a lot of dystopic tales and while I’ve read a few of Margaret Atwood’s novels, I’m not a big fan. But as I read When She Woke, I continued to think about The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlett Letter. If I were still in book group, I would suggest reading all three books for one discussion, as they each address similar topics (not to mention all the obvious nods to The Scarlet Letter).

Final Thoughts: 

When She Woke is an entertaining book in spite of a weak second half. If you’re looking for a meaty novel to spark debate within your book group, this thought-provoking tale is certainly worth your consideration.

12 comments:

  1. I recall reading about this one, but I generally have trouble with Dystopian novels.

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    1. Then I'd say skip it. Too many other books out there that you'd probably enjoy a lot better.

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  2. I was excited about this book when it first came out and never got to it before my enthusiasm waned. It sounds like it's still worth picking up.

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    1. It was worth reading. Just not one that will wind up on a Best Of list.

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  3. Mudbound was a perfect 5/5 for me, too, and I immediately added this one to my wish list... just haven't managed to get around to it yet. The plot description doesn't really grab me. I'm not a big fan of The Scarlet Letter either, but definitely want to reread The Handmaid's Tale (it's been 20+years). I'll take your advice and read them together.

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    1. Hmmm, maybe listen to it on audio then. I'm not sure if I would have stuck with it if I'd read the print version.

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  4. definitely not quite the follow-up to Mudbound that I had hoped but I enjoyed this one, too. We read it for bookclub and had a good discussion about the material. I agreed that the second half wasn't quite as strong.

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    1. Oh, I'll bet it was a great discussion. Makes me wish I still belonged to a book club...

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  5. It's tough to follow-up after Mudbound! I think it would be the same for Stockett--how do you follow up The Help?! I enjoyed this one and it provided some food for thought--we read it for book club and had a good discussion. But it didn't hit me quite like Mudbound did.

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    1. Did you see that Stockett is writing another book?! I just saw something on Facebook this week. No title or release date. She was asking for some help with some stats about housing in Mississippi (I think!).

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  6. I loved Mudbound, too! I will listen to this one, but already know that it won't be a hit for me. I still want to give it a go though.

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    1. It was worthwhile, Joy, but not nearly as good as Mudbound.

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