When She Woke

[Image from blogs.ajc.com]

Hillary Jordan takes an old idea and flips it to give it a modern yet controversial flair in When She Woke. When She Woke, which is based loosely on Nathaniel Hawthorn novel, The Scarlet Letter, takes place in a dystopian society based on an ultra-conservative and religious America. The protagonist, Hannah Payne, who serves as the novel’s Hester Prynne, becomes pregnant after leading an adulterous affair with the young pastor, Aidan Dale (Arthur Dimmesdale). Hannah, desperate to hide what she has done, goes to have an abortion. However, in this world, abortion is illegal, and she is thrown into jail. Rather than forced to wear a scarlet letter like Hester Prynne, her skin is dyed red so all will know of her sin.

While When She Woke may evoke emotions in both pro-choice and pro-life advocators, overall, the novel addresses how private shame becomes public domain. Rather than imprisonment, criminals have their skin dyed (or “melachromed”) certain colors in order to make an example out of them. In our society, criminals who had mild offenses are often rehabilitated and sent along their way. In this society, they are punished by being painted red, blue, green, or yellow. That way, people around them would know their crimes, and the criminals would be forced to endure jeering, attacks, and threats.

When She Woke is a standout novel in a sea of YA starring vampires and werewolves. The novel makes references to issues such as women’s rights, racism, and other issues, but draws some questionable analogies – most of which occur in the second half of the novel. It is still a great read, and I highly recommend it to those who are fans of dystopian novels.

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