Some books, by the very nature of their plot, demand review and discussion. Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke is certainly one of them.
This story is set in a future America, one in which the separation between church and state has been completely demolished, and there are even political positions among the government such as “secretary of faith.” Only New York and California remain as states in which women can legally opt for an abortion, the remaining 48 criminalize abortion as murder, without even exceptions for rape or incest. Interested yet? It gets even juicer.
In this future America, the government has implemented a new way to cut down on the cost of crowded prisons. Only the most violent of criminals are locked up, the remaining are marked by having their skin color changed to indicate their crime. Minor infractions become yellow, pedophiles become blue. If the crime is murder, their skin becomes red. See the above paragraph to guess what the crime of Hannah, the main character, is. Yep, you got it.
The best thing about this book is the overall premise and underlying themes. Plenty of stimulating discussion could be emulated from both. Also, I was glad to see that Hannah never completely lost her faith regardless of her circumstances, and there were religious characters that were displayed positively as a balance. Obviously, not all of them were though. There are some particularly gut-wrenching scenes at the straight-path center, where Hannah is sent to stay after her color conversion. The ministers there relish on the guilt felt by their inhibitors and some of their methods of “finding God” are particularly disturbing.
My only complaint is that this novel, with it’s intense premise and remarkable potential, often slipped into juvenile romance mode. Hannah is supposed to be 26, not 16, and she often came off as immature in her nature. I realize that she was raised in a sheltered lifestyle, but it sometimes made it hard to identify with her. There was also one point near the end of the book (I’ll try not to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it yet) where Hannah makes a very stupid decision and puts a lot of people in danger for it. The lack of any repercussions from her decision left me feeling oddly disappointed.
Still, This book gets my nod. If not for any other reason, as a starting point for some great ideological discussions over tea and crumpets.