Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review of When She Woke By Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Expected release October 2011

When She Woke

I received this ARC from a Good Reads Giveaway. I was not given nor promised anything other than a copy of the book. A review, while appreciated, was not mandatory.

Good Reads Blurb

Faith, love and sexuality have fallen prey to politics in this stunning creation of America in the near future, from the author whose international bestseller, Mudbound, so hauntingly recreated America’s past. Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family, but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she lies on a table in a mirrored 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 new and sinister form of reality TV. 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. Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a dark fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate a dystopian, theocratic America of the not-too-distant future, where 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 moral authority of a country that politicizes the personal.

My Review

In a future America, Roe v Wade is overturned and all abortions, be they rape, incest, mother’s life in jeopardy or other, are outlawed. Doctor/Patient confidentiality is suspended and doctors are required to report suspected abortions to the police. Hannah has fallen in love with a married man; a prestigious Reverend. When they have an affair and Hannah turns up pregnant things go badly for her. She seeks and has an abortion. She is caught and tried. At her sentencing Reverend Dale, her lover, begs her to name the father. He knows full well she can’t and won’t.

She is sentenced to chroming. For 10 years she will live as a Red for the murder of her unborn child, another 6 years for not naming the “good” Reverend. The book opens while she is in a cell in the Chrome Ward of the Texas Department of criminal Justice. For thirty days every moment of her life as a newly chromed Red will be televised. When she is released her father picks her up but does not take her home. She goes to a halfway house Reverend Dale was kind enough to help her get into.

Yes I am angry with the "good" Reverend.  At times I was angry with Hannah too. How could she stay so loyal to him in the face of so much punishment, despair, pain and loneliness? And then I would think of how many couples stay in dysfunctional relationships and it does not seem so different.  So I acknowledge the reality but I stay angry at him. My anger at her dissipates somewhat through the growth she makes. While I want her to stand up and say who the father is I come to accept her decision as hers to make.

When She Woke is a novel that will keep you in its tight grip until its completion, it will stay with you afterwards. You will, most likely, have mixed emotions while reading it. It deals with controversial subjects: abortion, religion, health privacy records, extra marital relationships and the justice system to name a few. It is a novel that, I think, will be used by many reading groups and will be subject to banning by others. I can hear both the praise and the slams in my head as I write this. I hope you will choose to read it and talk about it. The issues it brings up are important ones that we are dealing with now. Just how far are we willing to go for what we believe to be “right”?

Hillary Jordan has written an amazing unforgettable novel. It is worth more than 5 stars. I suggest you order it now.

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