Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When She Woke by Hilary Jordan

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

Hannah Payne's life has been devoted to church and family. But after she's convicted of murder, she awakens in a new body to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself 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 sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of 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.
A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the 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 journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love.

My thoughts:
I didn't know a lot about this book before I started it.  I borrowed the Kindle edition from the library so I didn't have a back cover to read a synopsis.  The first thing it reminded me of was The Scarlet Letter.  Except this time, instead of having the child out of wedlock, Hannah has chosen to have an illegal abortion and been caught.  She refuses to reveal the name of the father of her child and suffers the consequences of her actions alone.  She becomes a Chrome, someones whose skin has been altered, the color of which is dictated by the crime the person has been convicted of.  Only the most violent criminals are put into prisons, the rest are Chromed, held for a month in a room with a camera on them to be viewed by the public, and then released with a small amount of money.  They are on their own when they leave, if they  have family or friends willing to help them they may be okay, on their own they are subject to the whims of society which treats them very poorly.  A Chrome alone, especially one of certain colors such as the one for being a convicted pedophile, often meet their death very shortly after their release.  There is a group that reminds me of the KKK who goes around targeting Chromes and there are many who wish to exploit the Chromes. 

Within this whole framework Hannah is also finding out more about who she is on the inside, underneath the genetically altered skin color.  She always thought she would live within her church, marry and have children, and go on with her seamstress job.  She fell in love with a married man and committed to a physical relationship with him.  She never even told him she was pregnant, but made the plans on her own.  As she grows and changes over the course of the book she finds her true self underneath all the layers and mantles society has put upon her and discovers who she is destined to be.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616201937
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368

Meet the Author

Hillary Jordan
Hillary Jordan’s first novel, Mudbound, was the winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for fiction and an Alex Award from the American Library Association. It was named the NAIBA Fiction Book of the Year and one of the Top Ten Debut Novels of the Decade by Paste magazine. Jordan grew up in Dallas, Texas, and Muskogee, Oklahoma. She lives in New York City. Find her online at

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