When She Woke (Hillary Jordan)

When She WokeWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads: "Faith, love and sexuality have fallen prey to politics in this stunning creation of America in the near future, from the author whose international bestseller, Mudbound, so hauntingly recreated America’s past. Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family, but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she lies on a table in a mirrored room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new “chromes”—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime— is a new and sinister form of reality TV. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love. Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a dark fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate a dystopian, theocratic America of the not-too-distant future, where convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but “chromed” and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the moral authority of a country that politicizes the personal."

I thought the premise was brilliant. There are so many places you can go! The whole "chrome" idea has so much potential, especially regarding the back and forth between privacy and safety. Same goes for the integration of the reality television bit, even though that only appears for a short bit in the beginning. And let's not forget the tracking devices. SO MUCH going on here with government overstepping its bounds and human interaction and where to draw the line. Abortion! Hate crimes! Religion and state! So much to salivate over! So much to chew on!

Unfortunately, I wasn't as keen on where Hillary Jordan chose to take her story. The set up was wonderful, and raised really big questions, but I was disappointed to find that the story itself, as it developed, remained so close to Hannah and her personal journey, which mirrors that of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Obviously that's a big inspiration here, but in the end I felt that Jordan had created this wonderfully terrifying world only to follow Hannah through a story the well read reader will already knows, sticking closely with Hannah's limitations and points of view. Almost like creating a masterpiece only to cut out a 3 by 3 inch piece and present that to the viewer -- I thought there was potential for a much larger, more thought-provoking work than the one we see.

I wish that Jordan had let go of the need to stick to the storyline of The Scarlet Letter. It serves as a great starting point, but she came up with a world much bigger than the original story line. When She Woke should have expanded to consider more of the questions the premise raises. Instead, it stayed small.

Final thoughts: The premise is brilliant; the execution doesn't match it. Still a good read, though.

Source: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

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