When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Set in dystopian America, when separation of church and state has been abolished, Jordan’s novel follows Hannah Payne. Hannah, after an affair with a high-ranking church official, becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion. In current society, abortion is murder, and, after she is caught, Hannah is melachromed so that her skin remains an unyielding red. In many ways a tribute to Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter, Jordan’s novel tackles difficult and important social issues, such as women’s reproductive rights, religious fanaticism, and humane criminal punishment.

I have to say that I am a fan of the story of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, but not necessarily its execution. Jordan’s novel is the best of both worlds. It features Hannah Payne (Hester Prynne?) as a confused young woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. However, instead of having her illegitimate child, Hannah terminates the pregnancy and refuses to reveal the father of the child. In the hyper-religious society Jordan creates, Hannah is ostracized, abandoned and shamed, much as Hester is in Hawthorne’s work. Jordan’s novel adds a sci-fy twist to the traditional story, full of unexpected turns and interesting plot developments. That said, I felt the suspense in the novel fell somewhat short of what I expected. It’s still a great read — something’s just missing. However, the book provides MUCH room for discussion, as I don’t feel Jordan’s world is all that impossible to imagine as reality.

*Booklist Editor’s Choice, 2011

Rating: 4/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.


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