In the mid–21st century, a young woman in Texas awakens to a nightmare: her skin has been genetically altered, turned bright red as punishment for the crime of having an abortion.
Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke depicts an American dystopia where terrorist attacks, natural disasters and a pandemic causing infertility have swung the country to the far right, and convicted criminals are “chromed” according to the nature of their crime and then released. A stigmatized woman in a hostile and frightening world, Hannah Payne must seek a path northward to safety. Her perilous journey becomes one of self-discovery and transfiguration as she realizes that faith, love and sexuality are not just political. They’re personal.
What an amazing, heartfelt, gorgeous read. When She Woke grabbed me from the beginning and I was a goner. I know this is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter (which I have never read) but it reminded me of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Not necessarily the actually story, but the tone and the telling, both of which I loved.
I loved watching Hannah grow into her own person, questioning everything that she was raised to believe. It was definitely not a smooth journey to self-discovery, but is it ever? I also enjoyed that every person that she came in contact with, whether good or bad, had an affect on her.
There’s a lot of religion in When She Woke. A lot. And as a very non-religious person, I thought this was going to be a problem for me. But it wasn’t. It was just another aspect of the story that made the book work. (Note: it wasn’t a pushy religious book. But because the right is an EXTREME right, religion factors in big time.)
I had heard great things about When She Woke before I picked it up (Actually my mom bought it for me – she’s totally a book enabler) so I was a bit worried that it might not live up to the hype. But, oh, it did. I have a strong feeling that if I had read this in December it would have made last year’s best of list.
*Side note* I read While She Woke a while back, before all the scary stuff in the States regarding women and reproductive rights hit the fan. I think that if I were to reread it now, I would it find it a much scarier, darker read.