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Publisher's Summary

Hannah Payne awakens to a nightmare. She is lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home. She is now a convicted criminal, and her skin color has been genetically altered. Her crime, according to the State of Texas: the murder of her unborn child, whose father she refuses to name. Her color: red. The color of newly shed blood.

In Hannah's America, sometime in the future, faith, love, and sexuality have fallen prey to politics. Convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but "chromed", forced to appear in a new and sinister form of reality TV, and released back into the population. Stigmatized in a hostile world, they must survive the best they can.

Until her arrest, Hannah had devoted her life to church and family. In seeking a path to safety, she is forced to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes the personal.

©2011 Original material ©2011 Hillary Jordan. Recorded by arrangement with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Excerpt from Sharon Morris's "Not Just an Image" from False Spring, © 2007 Sharon Morris, Enitharmon Press, London, UK. Excerpted by permission of the author. (P)2011 (p) 2011 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

"Jordan blends hot-button issues such as the separation of church and state, abortion, and criminal justice with an utterly engrossing story, driven by a heroine as layered and magnetic as Hester Prynne herself." ( Booklist [HC starred review])

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A Thoughtful Dystopia

I saw it promoted as a "reimagining" of The Scarlet Letter - which, let's face it, is quite a tall order - but it seems to me as if Hillary Jordan used The Scarlet Letter only as a fruitful springboard and inspiration. She isn't slavishly devoted to the text, although she certainly paid tribute to some of the Hawthorne's key insights into the human condition. This is all to the good.

Although the novel wasn't marketed as a "young adult dystopia," it easily fits into that category, as twenty-something Hannah Payne experiences a true coming of age as she grows into and accepts herself.

Set in a not-too-distant future United States that suffers from excessive surveillance, moral superiority, and inhumane "justice" (creating the dyed "Chromes" whose bodies telegraph their crimes), the novel manages to achieve a number of impressive objectives. Hannah is a deeply sympathetic character who gradually becomes aware of how small her world has been, and how many "boxes" she's willingly confined herself in (mentally, spiritually, and physically) over her young life. We experience the unfairness and brutality of her sentencing and ostracism, and yet the horror of what she chose to do -- abort the baby of a famous married minister -- is never underplayed. Despite the fact Hannah rejects the unquestioning fundamentalism of her upbringing, she fully embraces the central importance of religious faith in her life.

Every time I expected Jordan to descend into stereotypes -- about Southerners, Christians, straight or gay people, men or women, those who are made victims or those who refuse to become so -- she instead offered layered and complex characterizations and thought-provoking twists. The father who is loyal to his traditional church and nuclear family is painted with sensitivity, as is the lesbian revolutionary and her dedication to the underground movement that opposes the status quo. Even the weak-willed minister, the father to Hannah's unborn baby, is poignant in his shame, self-loathing, and lack of moral courage.

There are some true villains, but all of them are opportunists who exploit the system(s) for their own perverse and personal enjoyment of control over those who have no recourse or self-defense. In the end, this dystopia challenges us to examine our assumptions and to accept responsibility for our lives, souls, and decisions. I appreciate Jordan's ability to critique the deeply flawed institutions humans have created without casually dismissing the reasons they came to exist in the first place.

This novel is challenging in the questions it raises and unflinching in its warnings, as any quality dystopia should be. I'm very glad that I listened to it.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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We Watched the Tragedy Unfold, We did as We Were Told, We Bought and Sold!

I really liked this author and she captivated me with this awful world she created in the near future. However the middle turned into a young adult romance adventure complete with obligatory lesbian sex, which was nice, however the end was way too saccharine sweet for this old sailor. I prefer my dystopia to either be the truth which is WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE or at least more realistic where the Christians all die and the lesbians take over and bring peace and harmony to our poisoned prison planet.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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What A Ride

An unbelievable roller coaster of emotions. Being transported into a completely different world through beautifully described passages. Even the the people who are a tiny blip in the grand scheme of the story have deep character. At times a challenge to get through due to subject matter, it was a challenge I enjoyed. It took me out of my comfort zone, made me think, and put me right there by Hannah's side. This book will have a permeate spot on my iPod.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Great beginning, preachy psycho-babble ending

Where does When She Woke rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

low

Would you recommend When She Woke to your friends? Why or why not?

No. The initial idea is great and the first half of the book opens up a lot of possible story lines. Most aren't pursued, unfortunately.

In the second half of the book the author switches to lots of interior monologues full of psycho-babble revelations that are trite. It was a big come-down from the first half of the book where readers were allowed to make their own conclusions about characters based on their words and actions. In the second half of the book I felt as if the author lost faith that the reader was smart enough to think for herself.

I finished this book disappointed that so many interesting story lines stopped midway and angry that I had wasted my time on this book. This book can't hold a candle to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Alan
  • Gaston, OR, United States
  • 05-30-12

I found it lacking

Any additional comments?

This story had the setup to address any number of serious political and religious issues: women's rights, crime & punishment, religion and persecution. Instead, it ducked the issues, and became a teen coming of age romance. All it needed was a vampire to complete the picture. I was disappointed.

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Spooky

This was a riveting disturbing book I couldn't turn it off! I will recommend it to friends. I will listen to it again sometime.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Really Enjoyed

This book was really different than most but it was really enjoyable. It was fiction, but not so far fetched that you couldn't imagine that it could happen. When I first heard the narrator I thought she would not be enjoyable, but since it turned out the main character was a young women, the voice fit.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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WOW! I wish there was a Second book to this!

I am not into religion books and I would not say this is a "religious" book. There is a lot about religion but it is more about finding the right path for yourself. This has a great plot and story. I could not "put it down"! I have recommended it to my brother and nephew. I would say that you might find it offensive if you are a very religious person. For example, I would not suggest this to my mom as she would probably not like it. But if you like a good story, good characters and a good book, then READ THIS!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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good except...

The only thing I didn't like about this book was it left me wishing there was more of a finalization to it. I left listening thinking... WHY??? What happened next? so MY only issue is it didn't feel finished.

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Racially insensitive, white-only-feminist trash

Okay y'all, this was some HOT GARBAGE. Sit back and I'll tell you why.

"When She Woke" is a dystopic re-imagining of "The Scarlet Letter." Hannah Paine has an affair with famous preacher Reverend Dale in a near-future U.S. that's run by a hyper-conservative theocratic regime (basically a neopuritanism, which is not what it's called and I think that's a missed opportunity), gets pregnant, and aborts the baby. Hannah is charged with murder and, instead of sending her to prison, law enforcement dyes her skin red to make her a pariah. Sounds familiar, right? It's a tidy concept at the start, I'll give Jordan that. But shit goes downhill: slowly, and then all at once. Starting with a forced feminist-adjacent anger that begins fostering in Hannah.

There's an expression floating around that dystopian media is essentially asking, "What if oppression happened to white people?" I don't much care for that expression, mostly because it's exactly right but I happen to like a lot of dystopian things in spite of that. But "When She Woke" is the quintessential "oppressed white people" book. I couldn't even tell you a runner-up, but only because my mind is overwhelmed by hatred for this one right here. Though Hannah's skin has been dyed red "like a stop sign," she often reminds us that, underneath, her skin is "normal," "white." There are other people (called "chromes") who have been dyed a rainbow of colors, all criminals of various types. And these colored people, they're just people, you know? Why did non-chromes think it was alright to beat, murder, and rape these colored people, "without impunity"? Isn't that insane, how upright citizens could feel okay doing that, just because these criminals had dark-- I mean red, green, blue, etc. skin? When underneath the dye, they were regular people?

Yeah, Hillary. That shit's been happening for hundreds of years and it's still going on, it's a big fucking issue. And you're not revealing the issue's complexities with this contrived system, you're trivializing it by making it about fucking fictional white people. The framing of her point strikes the same tone as a man who can't care about rape or assault unless he frames it as happening to his daughter/sister/mother etc. It actually does get worse though, if you can believe it.

Jordan presents two impressions of Hannah superimposed on one another: the naive, sheltered, repressed Evangelical girl, and the woman who willingly had an affair with a married preacher. I'm not saying the two are mutually exclusive. But Hannah is so damn repressed it's like she's never been outside: she's alarmed by her own appearance in jeans because they're so REVEALING, but she also had a two-year secret, illicit affair with the aforementioned married man. It was hard to believe any of her prudish hangups with that knowledge hanging over the story, and it also reinforced the stereotype that all Christian girls are repressed, bursting at the seams with a hidden sexuality. Are there people like that? Sure. But in media, it's a stereotype and a bad one. Like a hot Catholic schoolgirl who blushes in shame (and arousal) when someone catcalls her. And the sudden, immediate, angry feminist awakening she has over the course of the book is only making things more complicated.

Okay, here's an example. There are a significant number of feminist lesbians in this book. In fact, of the four women explicitly identified as feminists, three are lesbians. Which already speaks to the bullshit stereotype that all feminists are lesbian man-haters, but let's not even open that can of worms up. Of these four women, the one with the meatiest role is Simone. Hannah is grossed out by Simone's sexual preference. Everything in her Christian brain screams NO NO NO when Simone gets too close, she thinks Simone is going to try to take advantage of her, other miscellaneous homophobia ensues. One such event occurs, then a few hours pass (a few sentences in the narration), and all the sudden Hannah is pushing Simone down on the bed while Simone says "no," kissing and touching her until Simone gives in and they have sex. Thus, again, cementing in that all women who care about their freedoms must be gay. Even (and especially) if they're repressed "good Christian" girls.

I want to be absolutely clear about this, I'm not upset that one woman satisfied her attraction to another woman. I'm mad because the character shift was rote, like Jordan had decided that Hannah couldn't become a full-fledged feminist without having sex with a woman, thus playing into damaging stereotypes about both feminists and gay women. There are all kinds of both, and I would've liked for Hannah's moment with Simone to have felt genuine, or not happened at all.

That said, Jordan has tried to establish Hannah as a "new" kind of feminist -- you know, a Christian kind. That's really the moral of this book: that you can question God, believe in Him, and still think women are fully people. Which is true. I'm not religious, but that's a valid opinion to have. Like I said, there are all kinds of feminists. But when you try to create a new feminist icon and have her completely ignore a woman's right to consent? When she has the (usually) male attitude of "If I keep pushing, she'll give it up"? That's not feminist, it's fucking disgusting.

I'd say I have no words for how upset this book made me, but obviously I do. A lot of them. But even after all that I still feel like I haven't expressed how disgusted I am by this. It was insensitive to racial issues, to women, to LGBTQ+ people, and to the entire idea of feminism. Feminism (in one small part) means being the kind of woman you want to be, to finding your own sense of fulfillment, and empowering all other women to do the same, regardless of what their version of self and fulfillment is. This book spat in the face of that idea by limiting the kind of woman that feminism can or should apply to, and by appropriating the suffering that white people have been largely immune to in this country to do so. I can only recommend that you read it in order to commiserate with me, but please don't buy it. Don't give Hillary Jordan money for her trash.