Monday, January 14, 2019

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke is not a new novel; it was first published in 2011. But, as I've said before, a book is new to you if you haven't read it yet, no matter when it was published. I've seen this book around for years; knew a general sketchy outline of what it was about, and didn't have any interest in reading it. Anything that involves a futuristic America that has women's rights severely diminished is an immediate "no thanks" for me. There is something in me that reacts in a very visceral way. But, I chose this for a book group, and that forced me to read it. It's taken me a few weeks, when it should have taken me a few days. I had to read it in chunks, and I promised myself I wouldn't read it before I went to bed. I wasn't looking forward to reading it at all. 

That being said, I am glad I read it, but I will confess I now have to read something fun and light, because the subject matter was not easy for me to swallow and left me a bit broody and down. A quick rundown of the plot:

It's a future America where religion and government are no longer separate, and a bizarre plague rendered many women infertile until a cure was found. Unfortunately for a lot of women, it was too late and they didn't regain their fertility. It created a crisis, and abortions were outlawed and considered a felon. Too much money for prisons and criminal care drove the government to the brink of ruin, so instead of locking criminals up, they are now "chromed"--they are literally turned a color according to their crime: red for murder, yellow for misdemeanors, blue for child molesters and rapists. They spend 30 days in a cell, TV cameras live feeding their every move to the world, where people can watch from the comfort of their homes. Once released, they are on their own, to survive until their sentence is up and they are no longer chromed. If they do not visit the authorities to be "rechromed" every so many months, they slowly start to go crazy and usually end up dead. Sounds like fun, right?

Hannah Payne is a red; her crime is murder of her unborn child. She had a secret abortion, because she was having an affair with Aiden Dale, who is the new Secretary of Faith for the U.S. government. A married man, deeply faithful, he falls in love with Hannah and they secretly meet for two years before she discovers her pregnancy. Knowing she can never name the baby's father (which would be demanded of her once her pregnancy became known), she secretly aborts the child and gets caught, tried, and convicted to 15 years as a chromed person. Reds are particularly harshly treated by the public; women are seen as easy prey and are often raped and murdered. 

Hannah at first seems to be someone who can't cope with the loss of her family, her friends, and her life as she knew it. Her love for Aiden is still strong, but she knows he is lost to her. She undergoes some pretty harsh treatment, and instead of breaking her, she begins to find her inner strength and begins to question her whole life before her sentence. Did her parents do the right thing, raising her the way they did? What would she do if she was free, in Canada, where they don't chrome people? Can she leave everything behind in Texas and make it to Canada and freedom?

I've read a lot of reviews about this novel, and many people thought the book sputtered out a bit at the end after a strong beginning. I didn't really feel that way; I was focused on Hannah growing and finding herself and her purpose. It will be interesting to have a discussion with my group about this. The story is told through Hannah's experiences, so you don't exactly know what anyone else is feeling or their motives. It's a definite take on The Scarlett Letter, but enough differences to make it interesting. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about women's choices over their bodies, one women's journey from shame and public humiliation into a fierce strength and the courage to survive on her terms. 

Available in paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. 

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