Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

So! It's been a while since I've posted. Sorry about that. I've been too busy reading to write anything. Plus, January was a weird month, reading-wise. Everything seemed to be either super awesome or buh-oring with very little in between. I managed to finish every book I started (with one exception) but a few books took me weeks to finish because I just couldn't concentrate on them.

When She Woke is based on The Scarlet Letter. It's set in a Big Brother-ish* future, one that seems more than possible (way more possible than I am comfortable with), where democracy and theocracy in the US have twined together, setting the tenets of one religion over all others (which religion? You get three guesses and two of them don't count). In this future, abortion is now out-and-out illegal (not just more and more difficult to access) and instead of housing convicts in expensive prisons,  a process called melachroming changes a person's skin color based on their crime and then the person is set free (sort-of, it's more complicated than that, but words, there are too many). The narrator, Hannah Payne, after having been tried and convicted of "fetal murder", is sentenced to 10 years as a Red. The father of her almost-baby is a high muckity-muck in her church and Hannah has refused to name him, a decision that added years to her sentence.

Hannah was raised in an evangelical Christian household and the challenges to her faith comprised a great deal of the story. Her recollections of her life show that things happen to her as opposed to her making her own choices. Even though  she was a naturally inquisitive child and asked a lot of questions that were difficult to answer without an "Because god said so", she managed to convince herself that her affair with the married minister happened because...Jesus. Seems weird, but I can understand that it's easy to justify doing what you want if the decision never in your hands. It was mostly satisfying to see her become more self-sufficient and aware of her own motivations and beliefs but the story takes place over a pretty short period of time and she doesn't quite get where I want her to be.

The story is about more than Hannah though, it's a commentary about prejudice. Chromes are subject to wide-spread hatred; violence against a Chrome is nearly always ignored, both by regular citizens and by law enforcement. The women especially are prone to sexual violence. It's difficult to get a job, find housing, even use a public restroom if your skin is Red, Green, Yellow, or Blue. And while it would have been easy for the author to make racial prejudice disappear, there is an effort to confront that. There is also an effort to address Queer issues, but I don't think it was handled well. It felt more like "Inclusivity, we got it!" than anything else.

*Convicts are subject to a 30-day prison stay, during which all of their activities are nationally broadcast. I'll admit I don't quite understand how this voyeurism fits into the story, unless it's to drive home that Chromes aren't really considered people and have no real rights. 

Final Reckoning

Should you read this? Yes, overall, I think this was a pretty good book. Until the last quarter or so, where it takes a bizarre turn that detracted from the strength of the story. I would like to recommend it unreservedly but the ending made me glad I got it from the library.

Buy It . Borrow It . Skip It

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Series: n/a
P.O.V.: First person, past; single narrator
Language: Fairly clean

It's more Speculative Fiction than Fantasy, but I don't feel like starting a new tag