TITLE: WHEN SHE WOKE
AUTHOR: HILLARY JORDAN
Details: Received from Harper Collins
“When she woke she was red.”
Hannah Payne has grown up in a future America where extreme right-wing and very religious beliefs determine the way people live their lives. Unlike her younger sister, Hannah has always struggled with the limitations her family and surroundings have imposed on her, but for most of her life she has more or less stuck to the rules. Recently that has changed though. When Hannah found herself pregnant as a result of her loving but illicit affair with a married man she decided to seek a very illegal abortion. When she is caught immediately after the clandestine procedure she is arrested and forced to stand trail. The accusation is murder and the victim her unborn child. The penalty for abortion is severe; refusing to name your abortionist increases the sentence by ten years and the fact that she refuses to name the babies father doesn’t help Hannah’s case either. When Hannah wakes up, shortly after having been sentenced to 16 years she is red. Not the sort of red that is the result of a sunburn but bright red, all over. In this new society most criminals are not incarcerated to serve endless sentences. Instead they get a treatment that radically changes the colour of their skin in accordance with the crime they have committed. And after thirty days in solitary confinement in a state facility, after a month of every minute of her existence being videoed to the population on the outside, Hannah is set free to take her changes in a world where everybody will know her crime with just one glance at her, where fanatical groups hunt Chromes like her and hurt or kill them without anybody really caring and where returning home is not an option.
Spending six months in a religious home for Chrome women appears to give Hannah the opportunity to get used to her situation and a chance for others to organise some sort of future life for her. But after only a few weeks the situation there becomes unbearable and Hannah leaves. With only one friend, another Chrome, to turn to Hannah’s options appear very limited until help arrives from an unexpected corner. It seems that Hannah does have a chance at a future. But the road to freedom is fraught with danger and Hannah has to face both outside threats and her inner doubts and demons before she can have a chance at a new life.
A dystopian thriller is always the scariest when the premise of the story appears only too plausible, which makes this book terrifying. You only need to turn on your television and watch certain American broadcasters to know that the religious beliefs voiced in this book are pretty close to those harboured by real and powerful people in today’s world. Reality may not have reached the extreme proportions as put forward in this story (yet), but you can’t help feeling that, if those right-wing voices get any stronger, it could easily come to pass. And the same is true for the system of punishment. Superficially it would make perfect sense to save money through not locking criminals up. As long as they are instantly recognisable and too busy trying to keep themselves alive they can’t pose much of a threat to society even if they are out and about. It is only once you start thinking about the further implications of such a system that the true horrors spring to mind.
So yes, this is a book that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. But it is much more than that. More than anything this is a very well plotted and fluently told story about one woman’s personal journey towards enlightenment. Although there is more than enough tension and danger in this book to keep the fan of thrillers turning the pages, there is at least as much character development and growth. Hannah’s journey from somebody who was taught all her life not to think for herself and not to question her betters to the young woman who grabs her own life in her hands and shapes it into what she hopes it will be, is fascinating and uplifting.
This is a very well written book and a balanced story. What I admired most is that I never felt as if the author was trying to convince me of her own opinions. She manages to write about the society in which Hannah grows up in such a way that the rules and way of life almost make sense. It is only as Hannah starts to question that which she has held to be true for most of her life that the reader starts to realise how insidious this world actually is. And Hannah’s transformation is gradual – occurs in fits and starts – and therefore all the more realistic.
In short, this is a very well written dystopian thriller; a fast read that will keep you thinking for days afterwards.