Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family, but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she is 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 new and sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, according to 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’s shared a fierce and forbidden love.
When She Woke is a fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a 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 path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.”
Thoughts: When She Woke is a simultaneously horrifying and inspiring novel about finding inner strength. It serves as a warning to those paying attention to the increasing politicization of faith as well as a reminder that blind faith and self-righteousness can be as dangerous as anything else out there. In a country that has never truly overcome its prejudices to skin color, Hannah’s experiences as a Red are disturbing and yet all too familiar.
The topics are heady – capital punishment, abortion, murder, faith, obedience, and choice – and they all deserve, nay require, open dialogue to allow citizens to take back the reigns from befuddled Washington politicians. Of even more importance, as the lines between church and state become increasingly blurred due to a growing conservative, right-wing government, When She Woke serves as a wake-up call and a reminder of why the two were separated in the first place.
Ms. Jordan deserves a huge round of applause for her ability to tackle such controversial subjects directly. Regardless of one’s opinion of abortion, Ms. Jordan ensures that all readers sympathize with Hannah and the choices she felt she was required to make due to the weak men that surround her, of which there are many. Hannah’s experiences as a Chrome will force the reader to reevaluate his or her stance on capital punishment. As Hannah starts to grow and discover her strengths, she inadvertently shines a spotlight on the hypocrisy that occurs through blind and absolute faith. If ever one wanted confirmation that women do not need men to survive, or even that the world would be a better place if it were run by women, When She Woke is it.
Set aside the politics and When She Woke is still an incredible novel of survival in a world that is unforgiving. Hannah endears herself to the reader through her initial naivety, her struggle to survive in a world for which she is hopelessly unprepared, and her growing self-awareness. It is a story that lingers, as the reader applies the lessons Hannah learns to oneself.
More than anything, When She Woke is truly about female empowerment. Through her punishment for her crime, Hannah develops a capacity to cope and survive that previously had been frowned upon, if not outright forbidden, by everyone in her life – her parents, her church, her lover. Eerily prescient of the most recent elections and the defeated life at conception amendment in Mississippi, Ms. Jordan’s timeliness serves to drive home the cautionary tale behind When She Woke.
Acknowledgements: Mine. All mine.