Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

"When she woke…she was red." Come on, how can you not love that opening line? This novel takes place in a not-to-distant America, where peoples crimes are worn brightly on their skins. We follow the main character, Hannah, a heavy-handed mix between Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) and Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale). Hannah wakes up in a prison, with her skin red - stop sign red - we find out shortly that she is being punished for having an abortion. Red is the color of murder. 

Hannah’s prison time is 30 days in solitary, followed by 16 years of public humiliation. Her sedate, uneventful life will never be the same. She is shunned by family members, her neighbors, her employer… 

Hannah was born in the America that we know now, but shortly after her birth the US (besides California and New York - of course) was taken hold by highly religious politicians, which the citizens voted for. There does seem to be religious freedom, some residents do still live their lives; however, the laws have changed to ultra-conservatism and though they may not believe in God, they are subject to these bible based punishments. 

We follow Hannah as she leaves prison and enters a community, or safe haven for “chromes” as they are called. She was given a place in this half-way house due to a kind word from her Pastor/Baby Daddy, Aiden Dale (see heavy-handed, right?). Hannah refused to label Aiden as the father of the child, and aborted the child without telling him to protect his reputation in society. You see, Aiden, is happily married and a powerful religious figure in the country. 

What follows in the story is exactly what I wanted to know about Offred’s journey at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, a 20-year late conclusion (of course, this is not to disrespect Margaret Atwood’s work in any way, that woman is a goddamn legend). 

This was an amazing read. Just get past the cringe-worthy references to The Scarlet Letter and you’ll be good to go. 

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