When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

I have a very fond association with The Scarlet Letter after having read it in college and so am open to any re-interpretations of the novel, though I have yet to read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. When She Woke is also a futuristic take on the Hawthorne novel, set sometime in America’s future after a nuclear attack has devastated Los Angeles and very strict morality laws have been passed in reaction to a terrible STD outbreak that sterilizes thousands of women.

Hannah Payne lives in suburban Dallas and has been raised in a rather strict, religious household. She’s always been a questioner, however, and doesn’t hesitate in reading forbidden books or using her sewing skills to construct immodest dresses.

As the book opens Hannah is in prison, convicted of murder by having an abortion and her skin is dyed bright red as a symbol of her crime. Melachroming has been legalized by the US government and minor criminals are dyed different colors according to their crime and sent out into society to survive among hatred and prejudice and violence against them. After Hannah serves her 30 days in prison she is released to a demented half-way house until she is presented with an opportunity to completely change her life.

Woven through the tale is her desire and passion for the man who got her pregnant, influential pastor Aidan Dale. Dale is not quite slimy, but very close to being a complete scum bag and it is hard to see why Hannah would love him.

At the other end of the slimy scale is Hannah’s father. Several scenes with her loving, supportive dad had me in tears. I loved that Jordan did not make all of the religious characters ridiculous caricatures – Hannah’s dad is definitely an example of someone who truly lives his religion.

And speaking of religion – this is definitely meant to be an indictment of extremism, but Jordan clearly avoids condemning spirituality and Christianity outright, which made the book more legitimate to me because I don’t like when authors trash religion unconditionally.

This is a really good book. It has complex characters, a suspenseful plot and presents a vision of a scary future that I hope never comes to pass, but that makes you think about how fear and uncertainty can lead to harsh governmental control. Now I’m thinking I need to read The Handmaid’s Tale to experience Atwood’s take on a similar theme.