In Hannah Payne’s world, a dystopian United States set in the future, criminals are punished by having their skin turned various colours, length and colour determined by the severity of the crime. Chromes, as they’re called, are society’s outcasts, shunned and often killed for their crimes. When we join her story, she’s been turned red, indicating that she is guilty of murder. She is guilty of aborting her child – the product of her adultery with one of the foremost religious figures of her day, whom she absolutely refuses to turn in, even though it would make her sentence more bearable. This cross between The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid’s Tale has a considerable amount of power as we follow Hannah into defying her upbringing in a world that has startling parallels to our own.
When She Woke is a book that gained a lot of praise when it first came out, and I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale - as much as you can love a book in that vein – and I’m alternatively fascinated and horrified by these indications of where society might go. In light of the recent controversy in the United States over birth control, this book seemed like an incredibly timely read, and the implications not entirely far-fetched, either, certainly not when a debate I thought (hoped) was in the past has turned out to remain relevant. The book certainly has a pro-abortion slant, and would likely go against the beliefs of many conservatives.
While I don’t think it’s quite as powerful as the two books I mentioned in the description, particularly not The Handmaid’s Tale, it is a worthy addition to that crowd. I found the scenes after Hannah is released from her initial imprisonment to be the most powerful – her father finds her a safe house, which turns out to be a place where women are brainwashed into feeling incredibly guilty and traumatised over their sins, to the degree of creating dolls to represent their aborted children and telling the story of their abortions over and over again.
I did have some trouble with Hannah’s choices – at one point, she risks her life and those of many others simply to see the man she loves again – especially at the end of the book. After all that had happened to her, I simply don’t think I would have done that, even though it’s clear she loves him beyond all degree of sanity. But overall, I really was swept away by the story and found myself absorbed and disturbed by the book as I read. This is an emotional read and I did really feel for Hannah throughout the very large majority of the book, alongside her fellow suffering women.
When She Woke is indeed a fantastic read, and Hillary Jordan remains an author I’ll be watching.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review.