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#372 ~ When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Published by: Algonquin Books

Published on: October 4, 2011

Page Count: 352

Genre: Dystopia, Political Fiction

My Reading Format: ARC sent to me by the publisher for consideration

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Comments on Reading Formats: While I normally preach audiobooks and love my eBooks, this is one book I’m so glad to have read in print. There was just something about being able to touch the red face on the cover and feel the weight of the book in my hands.


My Review

Hannah, a young woman in her mid 20s living in a futuristic United States, wakes up to find herself isolated in a cell. Not only is she imprisoned, she’s been chromed by the state of Texas. Her crime? She had an abortion. Her color? Red.  Being isolated and videotaped is only the beginning of Hannah’s sentence. After a month of complete solitary confinement, she is sent out into the world with very little more than the clothes on her back. How is she to survive? Her father will do what he can for her, but her mother has disowned her because she refuses  to name the man who impregnated her. Her sister is married to a man in the chrome equivalent to the KKK. How does a devout woman come to terms with the mess that has become of her life? She was strong enough to keep the truth of the father to herself. Can she find a way to survive the constant threat of abuse or worse through her 16 year sentence?

Hillary Jordan writes gripping and thought-provoking novels. The setting in Mudbound was an actual time and place. When She Woke takes place in a future nightmare. Democracy has been replaced with theocracy. The Christian leaders of this dystopian America of the future are heavy on the shame with little mercy to spare. Compassion is something shown to those less fortunate living outside of the country. Not for American citizens who do not follow the church’s mandates. The lives of women especially are monitored after an earlier epidemic of infertility. Forget the Right to Life, groups such as Womb Watchers have sprung up to help ensure that no matter how much shame is heaped upon an unwed mother, no pregnancy ends in abortion. I frequently got goosebumps while reading, especially during the first 2/3 or the novel.

When incarcerated by oneself with nothing but a daily shower, regular meals and a Bible to distract oneself, a great deal of soul-searching takes place. It is in this state that we learn much about Hannah’s past. She lived in a home where designing a dress that flattered a woman’s figure and accentuated her beauty was sinful. That making beautiful dresses, dresses that had to be hidden, worn and enjoyed secretly, was the only outlet Hannah could find for her spirit, it was not surprise that the man who captured her heart was forbidden. Any man who would meet her parent’s approval would keep her suppressed as well. Perhaps the one advantage of living as a chrome was that she no longer had to worry about what others thought of her. They assumed the worst from the beginning. Hannah was able to shed light on her heart and discover what she wanted and what she believed. Anyone who has struggled with his or her faith or family’s values can certainly relate to her. Just has Hannah had much to think about, so do those readers who get to know her.

While the story lines between Mudbound and When She Woke are entirely different, it didn’t take me long to recognize the emotion of reading a Hillary Jordan book. She also has this tremendous way of depicting “good men” and the impact they have on the lives of the women who love them. While I never once wanted to shoot the father Hannah refused to name,  I never once opened my heart to him. While the world may have put him on a pedestal, only a coward would allow an otherwise innocent young woman to stand for the punishment their harsh world called for, regardless of Hannah’s protests about protecting his reputation. Hannah willingly began her relationship with this man, but he knew he couldn’t give her what she deserved from the very beginning. That he dragged her down into his own pit of misery and then climbed on top of her to try to get out was unforgivable.

The only thing that kept this book from skyrocketing to the top of my Best of list this year happened just after a significant turning point. Hannah made a choice and took and action that just didn’t sit right with me. She was a woman going through rapid change in a constant state of alert, but the decision felt out of character. I’ve given this particular section a great deal of thought and it still didn’t work well for me. While the opportunity was certainly there,  it would have made more sense to me after the ending.

Hillary Jordan impressed me so much with Mudbound that I coveted her follow-up novel before I even knew what it was about. I never wanted to put When She Woke down once I picked it up. When a lunch break came to an end right at the most pivotal moment in the book, I considered what color I would be chromed with if I skipped the rest of the work day to finish the book. It would be well worth the consequences. I’d love for people to just be able to look at me and know that I read When She Woke. It would make for fantastic conversations. Regardless, this is a book that will be talked about for a long time to come. Hillary Jordan is an author to keep on your radar.

26 Comments

  • At 2011.10.03 00:05, Pam said:

    Definitely Yellow chrome for skipping work. I would love to hear what part of the book you are talking about not being in character. I have two in mind.

    • At 2011.10.03 00:13, dogearedcopy said:

      LOL, I think this is the first review I ever read for the tags!

      • At 2011.10.03 00:26, Literate Housewife said:

        I sent you an email. I’m curious about what the other scene might be…

      • At 2011.10.03 00:28, Literate Housewife said:

        Crap. My reply went to the wrong person. I better get to bed. I need to come up with a new hook for Tanya for my next review. LOL!

        • At 2011.10.03 04:33, Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting said:

          I’ve read some amazing reviews of this book, so far–it has a very Atwood-esque feel to it. Definitely one I plan to pick up.

          • At 2011.10.03 23:23, Jennifer said:

            Believe it or not, I’ve never read Atwood. We need to read the book that each other hasn’t.

          • At 2011.10.03 08:25, rhapsodyinbooks said:

            Totally agree with your penultimate paragraph. That behavior seemed very out of character to me also, and an unfortunate choice for Hannah!

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            • At 2011.10.03 23:31, Jennifer said:

              I understand that she had just come out of an experience, but I can’t see her making that move, not until things were completely sorted out with Aidan. Still, it was an interesting and intriguing novel. So glad I picked up on Jordan with Mudbound. I love reading her work.

            • At 2011.10.03 09:02, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

              I love the cover of that book too and can picture you touching it while you read it. The fact that something didn’t sit right with you makes me think it would be a good book club book.

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              • At 2011.10.03 23:33, Jennifer said:

                It is almost required reading for any book club. Abortion can be a derisive topic, though. Important to discuss, but emotions run high.

              • At 2011.10.03 10:12, Karen White said:

                I REALLY loved Mudbound as well. She seems to be able to write about the ugliness in humans, without totally giving up on us. And timely, with the political/religious climate of our times. Curious about the choice she makes, but I am still moving this to the top of my TBR list. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

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                • At 2011.10.03 23:34, Jennifer said:

                  Karen, you must read When She Woke. As someone who’s also read Mudbound, I want to know how you feel about Jordan as an author across both books. It’s a great book on its own, but I enjoy knowing an author’s body of work.

                • At 2011.10.03 10:18, Beth Hoffman said:

                  Terrific review, Jennifer. I thoroughly enjoyed Mudbound and will most likely add this one to my list.

                  Have a great week!

                  • At 2011.10.03 23:36, Jennifer said:

                    Like I said to Karen, you must read this and let me know what you think about Jordan’s work across both novels. This will keep people talking for a long time.

                  • At 2011.10.03 11:00, dogearedcopy said:

                    This sounds like ot would pair really well with both Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (and to a lesser extent Nini Holmquist’s Unit.) I think I’ll have to check it out!

                    • At 2011.10.03 23:37, Jennifer said:

                      It really would. I seriously must read The Handmaid’s Tale. I have no idea how I made it to 40 without reading it. It’s not what one might consider a typical Christmas read, but I am planning on reading it while I’m off.

                    • At 2011.10.03 12:04, Alyce said:

                      I’m pretty sure I had the same issues with this book that you did (the same part not sitting right). Otherwise the book was very good though. I haven’t read Mudbound but bought it from the library sale shelf the other day.

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                      • At 2011.10.03 23:38, Jennifer said:

                        Alyce, I’m sure it’s the same spot. Jill seemed to have had the same reaction. I think you’ll love Mudbound. Let me know what you think when you’ve finished it.

                      • At 2011.10.03 22:12, softdrink said:

                        I loved this book! I was worried for awhile that I was going to be a bit pissy about the end, but it all worked out, if I don’t think about some stuff too much. I think there was a bit too much zig zagging, if that makes sense.

                        • At 2011.10.03 23:42, Jennifer said:

                          It does make sense. I wonder if there was an attempt to make Aidan a little less of a coward. He was in no way redeemed for me. The second third of the novel was the strongest for me, but I really enjoyed it overall. I’ll definitely be thinking about this novel for a long time to come.

                        • At 2011.10.04 13:02, Kimberly said:

                          After reading softdrink’s review, I added it to le ol’ TBR pile. I’ll bump it up a bit, though. ;)

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                          • At 2011.10.04 15:51, Jennifer said:

                            I have to read Softdrink’s review. I’d love to buy her a drink and talk about this one. You, too, when you finish it. There is so much to discuss.

                            I see you just reviewed a Chris Bohjalian. I’ve still not read him yet. Have you read others?

                          • At 2011.10.04 20:30, Kailana said:

                            I really enjoyed this book, too, but I didn’t love it.

                            • At 2011.10.05 13:30, Ti said:

                              I HATE when a character does something “out” of character. It really sticks out, doesn’t it?
                              This one sounds so different than anything she’s done before.

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