I’m not usually interested in books that are touted to be just like another book, but after reading reviews of When She Woke that compared it to The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid’s Tale—two of my favorite books—I was intrigued. Hillary Jordan’s second novel takes place in the near future, a dystopic future where criminals are infected with viruses to turn their skins bright red, blue, green or yellow depending upon the severity of their crimes. The heroine of the novel, Hannah Payne (an obvious homage to The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne), is convicted of murder for procuring an illegal abortion and sentenced to live her life as a Chrome. Chromes—the brightly-colored convicts—generally suffer particularly awful fates as they are shunned, beaten, or worse by members of their community. When She Woke follows Hannah Payne as she attempts to deal with brutal realities of life as an outsider.
Though I enjoyed reading it, there are a few things that irked me about the novel. The social commentary is very heavy-handed, and at points I found myself thinking “all right all ready, I get it!” There are also a few things Hannah Payne does that seem out-of-character for her—things done solely to make a point, not because Hannah would have naturally done them. However, for fans of The Scarlet Letter, The Handmaid’s Tale or dystopias like 1984, this is worth the read. It’s absorbing, fast-paced, and thought-provoking.
When She Woke