14 February 2014
When She Woke
Jordan, Hillary. When She Woke. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011.
In this dystopian retelling of The Scarlet Letter, criminals are chromed instead of being imprisoned. The color is based on the type of crime a person has committed. Hannah Payne, convicted of murder for aborting her baby, has been sentenced to spend the next sixteen years of her life as a red. Not only will she face public scorn, but it will be difficult for her to find housing and a job with her obvious conviction. Furthermore, Hannah refuses to name the father, knowing that this man who was once her pastor and is now the Minister of Religion, would not be able to stand up to public scrutiny for having an affair with one of his parishioners.
Wow. I really, really enjoyed this book, and I have said that about maybe five books in my entire life. I loved the parallels between this book and The Scarlet Letter, especially since I used to teach Hawthorne's classic and recognized many of the symbols used, like when Hannah sees the roses after leaving prison and is reminded of her chroming instead of comforted by their beauty. It was frightening to see what could happen if the U.S. became a theocracy instead of a democracy. I sympathized with Hannah growing up in a fundamentalist world, escaping a fundamentalist "halfway house," and trying to make it on her own. I was glad that she did decide at the end to do what was best for her, instead of following the lead of her pastor. This book was engaging, fast-paced, and believable.
Recommended for: fans of dystopian lit, fans of The Scarlet Letter, cult survivors
Red Flags: Hannah and one of her friends are kidnapped and nearly sold as sex slaves, at one point during the kidnapping one of the men squeezes Hannah's nipple; Hannah has sex with a woman who rescues her, but it isn't described in detail
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars