Summary and book reviews of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke

A Novel

by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke
  • Critics' Opinion:

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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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About this Book

Book Summary

When She Woke is a fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, who embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

Bellwether Prize Winner Hillary Jordan's provocative new novel is the fiercely imagined story of a woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed - their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crime - and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.

One
The Scaffold

When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign.

She saw her hands first. She held them in front of her eyes, squinting up at them. For a few seconds, shadowed by her eyelashes and backlit by the hard white light emanating from the ceiling, they appeared black. Then her eyes adjusted, and the illusion faded. She examined the backs, the palms. They floated above her, as starkly alien as starfish. She'd known what to expect - she'd seen Reds many times before, of course, on the street and on the vid - but still, she wasn't prepared for the sight of her own changed flesh. For the twenty-six years she'd been alive, her hands had been a honey-toned pink, deepening to golden brown in the summertime. Now, they were the color of newly shed blood.

She felt panic rising, felt her throat constrict and her limbs begin to quiver. She shut her eyes and forced herself to lie still, slowing her breathing and focusing ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

An Interview with Hillary Jordan about When She Woke and Questions for Discussion


When She Woke is, to say the least, a very different book from your debut novel, Mudbound. What inspired you to go in such a radically different direction?

I actually wrote the first pages of When She Woke in the spring of 2000, in the same workshop where I started Mudbound. And I didn't know what to do with When She Woke, so I wrote Mudbound instead. I didn't return to it until the summer of 2007, after I'd finished Mudbound. By then, we'd seen profound and disturbing changes in America: a rise in religious fundamentalism, the muddying of the line between church and state, infringements on civil rights in the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about When She Woke. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Are there similarities between the way Chromes are treated to the way some in our own society have been treated, both historically and in the present day?
I think that the focus might have been on "color" since that is the obvious sign of difference between Hannah and the others who have been chromed. I remember once what my former father-in- law said who was an amputee as a result of being injured ... - jknapp

Could you feel sympathy for Aiden? Were any of the characters completely unsympathetic?
I didn't like Aiden and never felt sorry for him. He should have left Hannah alone in the first place. He finally owned up to what he did wrong, but I still didn't like him. I thought he was slimy, the kind of person who makes your skin crawl. - mariannes

Did you feel the author was advocating a particular point of view?
Yes, I felt the author was clearly pro-choice and clearly saw problems with extreme religions. I think she disliked extreme religion, not religion itself, as she showed Hannah developing some spiritual life apart from her extremist upbringing. - mariannes

Do you think there should be a sequel, or perhaps a prequel?
A sequel would be interesting, but only if the author really felt like she had something to say and wasn't writing just to make money. I realize authors need to make money, but I'd rather see her write something else if she doesn't feel strongly ... - mariannes

Do you think women pay a higher price than men for breaking society's rules?
I think women have more societal rules to follow than men, although I really see a lot of changes since I was young. However, women are still expected to be less assertive than men. Since men still fill the majority of positions in law enforcement ... - mariannes

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In short, When She Woke is a fast and engaging read, and ideally suited for someone looking for an entertaining book requiring little thought. It's popcorn, not steak: enjoyable and addictive, but in the long run not very filling.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (508 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review

In the chillingly credible tomorrowland of Jordan's second novel, Roe v. Wade has been overturned, abortion has been criminalized in 42 states and a vigilante group known as the Fist of Christ brutalizes violators ... Jordan's feverishly conceived dystopia holds its own alongside the dark inventions of Margaret Atwood and Ray Bradbury.

The Book Case

It reads like a thriller, and one that makes you think hard, to boot. I've already placed this one on my favorite-books-for-book-clubs list.

Kirkus Reviews

Jordan manages to open up powerful feminist and political themes without becoming overly preachy - and the parallels with Hawthorne are fun to trace.

Library Journal

Jordan offers no middle ground: she insists that readers question their own assumptions regarding freedom, religion, and risk. Christian fundamentalists may shun this novel, but book clubs will devour it, and savvy educators will pair it with Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Essential.

Booklist

Starred Review. Jordan blends hot-button issues such as separation of Church and State, abortion, and criminal justice with an utterly engrossing story... Absolutely a must-read.

Family Circle

[A] provocative, politically charged novel... [Hannah's] journey to reclaim herself is equally chilling and riveting.

Author Blurb Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day
Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable.

Reader Reviews

Esther Bradley-DeTally

A Must Read
I read this book when it first came out; my memory is hazy, but my feelings still sit up and shout, "read this book." The book was published at the same time of author and I think overlooked. When She Woke is excellent, a gripper, and I ...   Read More

Kathleen

Changed my mind on Dystopian novel's
I usually see dystopian in a book description and immediately count the book out. This one mentioned THE SCARLET LETTER, so I was hooked. The price on Kindle didn't hurt either. I loved this book, it has so much to discuss: politics, religion, women...   Read More

bob sauerbrey

From shame to what?
This excellent variation of the themes of self-righteous power, the disempowerment of the vulnerable, and the steps toward freedom & courage is difficult to put down, even when it is most disturbing. The story is a nod to the prurient morality ...   Read More

mainlinebooker

fascinating
A wonderful Margaret Atwood type of dystopian tale but, I tend to disagree with the reviewers. I was looking for something more. In fact, what I loved about it was how this mild dystopian nature could be related directly to today's events. I thought ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Roe vs. Wade

The United States started adopting laws restricting abortion in the early 1800s, ultimately outlawing it in most states by the turn of the century. Interestingly, at the time, abortion wasn't proscribed as a moral issue the same way it is today; it was criminalized primarily because it was a dangerous practice with very high mortality rates, before the advent of antiseptics and antibiotics. These laws didn't necessarily stop the abortions from being performed, however. According to an article in The Atlantic, "The American Medical Association's crusade against abortion was partly a professional move, to establish the supremacy of 'regular' physicians over midwives and homeopaths... Nonetheless, having achieved their legal goal, many ...

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