Sunday, July 8, 2012

When She Woke

How many of you read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne in high school? Remember, the story about Hester Pryne? She was the woman who had a child out of wedlock and was forced to sew a red 'A' onto her clothing so the community would know she was an adulteress. She never revealed her child's father, Rev. Arther Dimmesdale, as he was viewed as a saint in the community. 

When She Woke by Hilary Jordan is a futuristic version of The Scarlet Letter. The story is based sometime in distant future, although the book never reveals the actual year. The United States, now run primarily by fundamentalist Christians, has gone through a terrible outbreak of STDs called the "scourge" in which men are carriers and women are left sterile. As a result, birthrates went way down and the world's population was in jeopardy. Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortions were seen as murder.

When Hannah Payne (re: Hester Pryne) finds her self pregnant with Rev. Aiden Dale's (re: Arther Dimmesdale) child and she believes that she must get an abortion. Aiden is a married man who is seen as the definition of Christianity throughout Texas and across the county. She knows that it would ruin him if she has his baby out of wedlock. Hannah has an abortion, is caught, and is put on trial for murder. Hannah is found guilty by the state of Texas and is sentenced to 16 years as a red.  Hannah is injected with a virus which makes her sterile and also dyes her skin a deep scarlet color. Reds are murderers, blues are child molesters, yellows have various misdemeanors, and greens and purples have committed other crimes. Hannah, who has lived a very sheltered life living with her parents in a very Christian household, must now life her life as a criminal.

Throughout the book I found myself wishing that the author had gone into more detail about how the county's government had made such a profound change from present day. I felt as if I was left to make assumptions based on vague bits of information. The story was enthralling and a definite page turner, but I craved more background information. Who is the president? How did he/she get elected? What happened to cause Roe v. Wade to be overturned? Is there a large majority of the population that thinks it is cruel and unusual to inject criminals with a virus to color their skin? I felt as if the novel was only a snipit of a what could have been more in depth book. 

This book is a perfect book club book as it raises many questions, could lead to serious debates, and leaves the reader wanting more.

My fellow book club member, Erin, also read the book. Below is her review. I love reading her reviews because we often see the same book in two different lights.

This novel tells the futuristic story of Hanna’s journey after her skin is turned read to label her as having had an abortion, which is considered second degree murder in the (all-too-near) future.  (Think: 21st century Scarlet Letter.) It interested me that throughout the book, the author refers to technological devices by abbreviation and acronym, never defining them, but eerily not needing to. It was obvious what a vid, a nav or a port was, which proved a point that maybe we aren’t as far away from this future as one would hope. With the separation of church and state at the forefront of society right now, this novel was relevant and thought provoking. It had me reading every chance I could for 3 days until I finished.... however, I was left with mixed feelings about the story.
While I found myself enthralled in Hannah’s journey, it became too much just that: a physical journey. I understand that this was a metaphor for her spiritual journey, but I was left wanting more about her life as a Red in society. I wanted to see more of her family relations and how her new self might change their ideals through the love they have for her as a daughter and sister. Also, I never fully understood her devotion to Aidan, the baby’s father, someone with whom she was never able to have a real relationship- before or after the “procedure”. He seemed shallow and beneath Hannah. 
Another point of contention that I had with the story was the experiment into lesbianism that Hannah had. I can grasp that it helped serve as a little bit of a bathos for Hannah’s personal story, but it was a too unconnected to the story line for me to appreciate. 
Finally, despite the mature subject matter, I couldn’t shake the feeling of reading a young-adult novel. Maybe it was the many similarities to the also dystopian Hunger Games Trilogy, but from the first page, I felt I was reading a narrative written to the younger reader (again, subject matter aside). I immediately wished that story had been written in first person to get away from this young-adult feeling as well as to better connect with Hannah’s plight.

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