Excerpt from When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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When She Woke

A Novel

by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


Hannah hadn't quite finished rinsing herself when the water brake activated. The dryjets came on, and warm air whooshed over her. When they cut off, she stepped out of the shower, feeling a little better for being clean.

The tone sounded three times and the food panel opened. Hannah ignored it. But it seemed she wouldn't be allowed to skip another meal, because after a short delay a different tone sounded, this one a needle-sharp, intolerable shriek. She walked quickly to the opening in the wall and removed the tray. The sound stopped.

There were two nutribars, one a speckled brown, the other bright green, as well as a cup of water and a large beige pill. It looked like a vitamin, but she couldn't be sure. She ate the bars, leaving the pill, and returned the tray to the opening. But as she turned away, the shrieking started again. She picked up the pill and swallowed it. The sound stopped and the panel slid shut.

Now what? Hannah thought. She looked despairingly around the featureless cell, wishing for something, anything to distract her from the sight of herself. In the infirmary, just before they'd injected her with the virus, the warden had offered her a Bible, but his pompous, self-righteous manner and disdainful tone had kept her from taking it. That, and her own pride, which had prompted her to say, "I don't want anything from you."

He smirked. "You won't be so high and mighty after a week or two alone in that cell. You'll change your mind, just like they all do."

"You're wrong," she said, thinking, I'm not like the others.

"When you do," the warden went on, as if Hannah hadn't spoken, "just ask, and I'll see to it you get one."

"I told you, I won't be asking."

He eyed her speculatively. "I give you six days. Seven, tops. Don't forget to say please."

Now, Hannah kicked herself for not having accepted that Bible. Not because she would find any comfort in its pages - God had clearly abandoned her, and she couldn't blame Him - but because it would have given her something to contemplate besides the red ruin she'd made of her life. She leaned back against the wall and slid down it until her buttocks touched the floor. She hugged her knees and rested her head on top of them, but then saw the pitiful, little-match-girl picture she made in the mirror and straightened up, crossing her legs and folding her hands in her lap. There was no way to tell when she was on. Although the feed from each cell was continuous and the broadcasts were live, they didn't show every inmate all the time, but rather, shuffled among them at the discretion of the editors and producers. Hannah knew she was just one of thousands they had to choose from in the central time zone alone, but from the few times she'd watched the show she also knew that women, especially the attractive ones, tended to get more airtime than men, and Reds and other felons more than Yellows. And if you were one of the really entertaining ones - if you spoke in tongues or had conversations with imaginary people, if you screamed for mercy or had fits or scraped your skin raw trying to get the color off (which was allowed only to a point, and then the punishment tone would sound) - you could be bumped up to the national show. She vowed to present as calm and uninteresting a picture as possible, if only for her family's sake. They could be watching her at this moment. He could be watching.

He hadn't come to the trial, but he'd appeared via vidlink at her sentencing hearing. A holo of his famous face had floated in front of her, larger than life, urging her to cooperate with the prosecutors. "Hannah, as your former pastor, I implore you to comply with the law and speak the name of the man who performed the abortion and any others who played a part."

Hannah couldn't bring herself to look at him. Instead, she watched the attorneys and court officials, spectators and jurors as they listened to him, leaning forward in their seats to catch his every word. She watched her father, who sat hunched in his Sunday suit and hadn't met her eyes since the bailiff had led her into the courtroom. Of course, her mother and sister weren't with him.

Excerpted from When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. Copyright © 2011 by Hillary Jordan. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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