Review

When She Woke

by Hillary Jordan

In the futuristic America of Hannah Elizabeth Payne, the United States Sanctity of Life Laws have replaced Roe vs. Wade. In Hannah’s world, abortion has been deemed a crime of murder, punishable by being shunned and publicly shamed through “chroming.” During this process, a woman’s skin is temporarily colored red to mark her as a murderer.

"WHEN SHE WOKE undoubtedly will generate much discussion, not only for Jordan’s passionate and vivid writing, but even more so for her unflinching imagining of a bleak future."

A formerly devout and dedicated Christian and dutiful daughter, Hannah has been found guilty of adultery and murder in the second degree. Her pregnancy occurred as a result of an adulterous affair with someone who holds an influential government position. For her crime, she has been sentenced to undergo melachroming by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, spend 30 days in the Chrome ward of the Texas prison, and remain a Red for 16 years. During her incarceration, she won’t identify the doctor who performed her abortion. She also steadfastly refuses to name her lover and the father of her unborn child.

Upon her release, she enters a world where she is shunned and shamed. Unable to return home, she is sent to the Straight Path Center. She is supposed to become enlightened, but the center is even worse than jail. One ray of hope is the friendship she develops with Kayla, another Red. Their journey after leaving the center is a perilous one. They are betrayed, isolated and shunned, then befriended and given second chances to dare hope for freedom. Hannah’s quest for survival leads her on a path of self-discovery where she is transformed from a fervent believer with strong convictions to the woman she was meant to be. 

The similarities between WHEN SHE WOKE and THE SCARLET LETTER are unmistakable. Hannah Payne's adulterous affair mirrors that of Hester Prynne. Hester’s daughter was Pearl, which is the same name Hannah chooses for her unborn child. The beginning of the novel also includes a quote from Hawthorne’s classic.

Readers of Hillary Jordan’s debut novel, MUDBOUND, will recognize her graceful, evocative writing and memorable characters. These same qualities can be found in her latest book, yet the story at times takes a back seat to the strident pro-choice message. WHEN SHE WOKE undoubtedly will generate much discussion, not only for Jordan’s passionate and vivid writing, but even more so for her unflinching imagining of a bleak future. This is a thought-provoking novel of self-discovery in a terrifying world of extremes.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on October 6, 2011

When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan

  • Publication Date: October 4, 2011
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1565126297
  • ISBN-13: 9781565126299