Thursday, February 23, 2012

Books I Love: When She Woke



I’ve convinced myself that if I like a book enough I should be able to write a substantive review. Something over 300 words and using a lot of fancy adjectives and terms I crib from the New York Review of Books. But sometimes? Sometimes I’m too lazy. Kind of like when you’ve been married for a decade and you know you really ought to get waxed every week but decide he’s lucky you shave under your arms every day.

Laziness aside some books are so beautifully written in one way or another (i.e. The Dovekeepers) that a real review is necessary. Others are great in a certain way but not in others, making going on about them too much an anticlimactic reading experience. Make sense? It will have to because I’ve got nothing else except this brief shout out to a book I just finished and want you to read. Caveat: I don’t want you to read this book if any of the following apply: you don’t think a woman has the right to make choices regarding her own body, you take the Bible literally, and you think everything in America is hunky dory. If that’s the case, you’ll try and send this off to your Congressman with post-its on every page asking “why aren’t you doing this?”

When She Woke is a new take on The Scarlet Letter in an America that may never come or is only years away, depending on how optimistic you are. Hannah got pregnant by her married lover and was caught after having an abortion (this is on page 7 so don’t get all agitated that I’m spoiling things for you). Thanks to technology and new laws this is murder and she is condemned to be Chromed- a process that turns her (in the case of murder) red. Through and through, can’t hide it red.

This premise alone gives me pause because on the one hand it solves the problem of overcrowding in prisons. You don’t have to lock people up because they can’t hide their crime plus they’re at a very low risk of recidivism if only because they stand out so clearly in the population. So, maybe that’s a very interesting idea. Until, as the story progresses, you realize there are implications beyond the resolution of prison crowding and rehabilitation.

Author Hillary Jordan doesn’t stop there with the Scarlet Letter parallels. Hannah refuses to divulge the father’s name and it’s a doozie (of course).  Ultimately, Jordan tackles a number of issues both societal and moral but does it at a pace that keeps you reading. My only complaint comes in the last 80 pages when she briefly introduces a plot twist I find to be unnecessary and a bit of overkill. Almost as if she was on a writing tear and thought ‘I’m going for it’. It doesn’t add anything to the story.

That aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of dystopian fiction. It will offend people of a certain mindset but my feelings about those people is that their mind is already closed so who cares? They’re always offended. For the rest of you, it’s a really good read.

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