05 November, 2011

When She Woke

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hilary Jordan
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Library

From Goodreads: When She Woke is, in its simplest terms, a futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter. This sophomore novel from Mudbound author Hillary Jordan takes Hawthorne's classic several steps further, turning it into a pointed, blunt warning about the consequences of an America run by the church, not the state. Hannah Payne is sentenced to sixteen years of melachroming for aborting her child. Instead of bearing a scarlet "A" like Hester, Hannah's pigment is dyed a stop sign red, leading her to endure an ostracizing societal punishment as well. Jordan seamlessly interweaves the back story of Hannah's relationship with her unborn child's father; their relationship is sudden, passionate and the short interspersed flashbacks enhance the story and Hannah's spontaneous personality. While she stumbles through rebuilding her life, her sudden decisions in moments of trouble are made with confidence and determination. Jordan purposefully makes the story about Hannah's journey by keeping her secondary characters exactly that -- secondary. Although they may guide and assist Hannah on her path, the decisions, character-building, and strength all come from within. Hannah is ultimately responsible for her future and she takes full responsibility for her past. While some readers may balk at Jordan's political and religious messages, the story of owning our decisions and actions is the focus of this engaging tale of redemption.

What I thought: What an interesting idea. In a world where the prison population is ever expanding, we take to dying people's skins to let the world know what it is they have done. Add the fact that if the melachroming is not refreshed every four months your mind starts to "defrag" and you have a very effective wall-less prison. Of course, as with most of these things, it's never as easy and clean cut as it sounds. Jordan's book was a great exploration of what could happen if the church enmeshes itself in state affairs. There is good reasons to keep them separate. I did have a few issues with the book though. Hannah's transformation from a true believer in God, trying to live the righteous life to the strong, independent woman was too swift for me. The seeds were always there - it mentions frequently she questioned her religion at a younger age and often struggled to do the "right" thing - but with the turmoil in her life, I wonder at the speed of it. The ending also ties up all lose ends, you are left questioning nothing. It wasn't quite a "and they all lived happily ever after" type ending, but you knew what happened to everyone and that they all survived to fight the good fight. In the end though, I enjoyed the book and would read more of Jordan's work.

Recommended for: those who like dystopian fiction

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