Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: When She Woke

Title: When She Woke
Description: The main thing to know about this novel is that it is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter. It’s not hidden: the main character’s initials are HP, her baby is Pearl, the lover is Aidan Dale. The differences: the story takes place in a future United States where there is a Cabinet post called Minister of Faith and SOL (Sanctity of Life) laws make abortion legally equivalent to murder. In this book, then, Hannah’s sin is not adultery, but abortion, and her punishment is melachroming, a process by which her entire body is turned red.
Review source: ALA
Plot: Hannah has to learn how to live on her own in multiple ways. Although she is in her mid-twenties, she has always lived with her parents and has adopted their conservative Christian beliefs as her own. Her sin and punishment alienate her from her family and from society at large, and she has to discover what she believes and learn to make her own choices.
Characters: Hannah is a sympathetic main character. Secondary characters are well-drawn and interesting. To me, the main flaw was Hannah’s continued infatuation with the man who ruined her life (while his got better and better). Although that frustrated me, I suppose that it’s realistic. Women often make bad choices about who to love (and when to stop).
Writing style: The book was well-written and held my interest. I would definitely read others by Jordan. I should probably say something about her handling of Christianity. The United States she envisions is something that could come to pass; I can easily see it happening, and many churches rejoicing. In other words, it’s not that far from where we are now. Jordan does ask what it means to live as a Christian, as opposed to bearing the label of “Christian” in isolation from one’s actions and values. Hannah’s father, for example, is a character who buys in to the whole program, and lives it. Hannah moves, during the course of the story, from blind acceptance of her parents’ (and lover’s) faith to agnosticism, then to a more nuanced faith. So I don’t think that Jordan is condemning Christianity, so much as condemning legislated morality. That’s not to say that I buy into the faith that Hannah ends up with, but at least Jordan doesn’t fall into that easy trap of demonizing all Christians.
Audience: It’s literary fiction. Anyone who is interested in fiction and Christianity, or anyone who wants to see what Jordan does with The Scarlet Letter. I think YA readers would like this book (Hannah comes across to me more as a teenager than as a young woman in her twenties), but there are some scenes in it that their (conservative) parents would probably object to.
Wrap-up: For folks who want to be challenged. Not for the easily offended. 4/5*

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