1.08.2012

When She Woke, Hillary Jordan

When She Woke
When She Woke
I hate to say it, but Hillary Jordan's When She Woke does not live up to its premise. There's a blurb on the back that describes it as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter by way of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It's pretty accurate in terms of the plot, but the writing style is not up to par to pull it off.

Let's get the plot out of the way. Hannah Payne (e.g. Hester Prynne) is punished for having an abortion by having her skin turned red by a virus. As Hannah reflects on her punishment, we get more details about her world. It's America in the future, after a disease destroyed women's fertility. Evangelists and religious fundamentalists are in charge. Hannah grew up in a very religious home somewhere in Texas. Until she found herself having an affair with a married man and getting pregnant, she never questioned the rules or her beliefs. To protect her lover, she has an abortion and is almost immediately caught. When she refuses to name her lover or her doctor, she is sentences to 30 days in jail at 16 years of being red.

I have to admit it's a pretty effective punishment. Different kinds of criminals are given different colors, so you can see what someone did on their face. Instead of locking them away, "Chromes" live in ghettos and try to get along as best they can. Once Hannah is released, her father tries to help her by getting her into a halfway house for female Reds. Hannah is almost immediately cast out when she objects to the psychological torture the nutty religious owners inflict on their charges. After that, Hannah falls into a network that can help her get to Canada and get her punishment reversed.

This could have been a very interesting book, even it if does rip off The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid's Tale. But there is no subtext to this book. Characters' emotions and motives are explicitly explained, repeatedly. There's very little left for the reader to puzzle about or ponder on. Secondly, the backstory is told in such a way that it comes off as a rant more often than not. If this book is meant as satire or allegory, it feels more like a smack upside the head about how religion is evil. Consequently, the people this book should reach will just get pissed off and not read it.

On the plus side, I didn't take me long to read.

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