When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Source: ARC provided by the Amazon Vine Program

Rating:  5/5

When She Woke is, in its simplest terms, a futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter. This sophomore novel from Mudbound author Hillary Jordan takes Hawthorne’s classic several steps further, turning it into a pointed, blunt warning about the consequences of an America run by the church, not the state.

Hannah Payne is sentenced to sixteen years of melachroming for aborting her child. Instead of bearing a scarlet “A” like Hester, Hannah’s pigment is dyed a stop sign red, leading her to endure an ostracizing societal punishment as well… While some readers may balk at Jordan’s political and religious messages, the story of owning our decisions and actions is the focus of this engaging tale of redemption. (Goodreads)

My Thoughts:
This book was amazing! Kept calling to me until I finally picked it up, and then I couldn’t put it down! The story really grabbed me, and I wound up staying up much too late in order to finish it. The whole idea of literally dying people different colors is both unbelievably cruel, yet strangely fascinating.

While I’ve seen several reviews referencing The Scarlet Letter, this story actually reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale, where women had their rights stripped away and the country was taken over by self-righteous male hypocrites.

Hannah was raised a “good girl” and made to feel as though her natural feelings were somehow wrong. A gifted seamstress, she was reduced to designing and sewing gorgeous outfits in secret in order to feed her artistic side. Repressed in every possible way, she engages in an affair with a married man and chooses to have an abortion rather than risk her lover’s career.

Her punishment is severe. Kept in solitary confinement for 30 days after the procedure, with her every move televised to the public, Hannah is then released to survive as best she can. Forbidden to return home by her scandalized mother, Hannah’s father finds her a place in a halfway house called The Straight Path Center. Technically a religious organization to help women find their way back to redemption, it’s actually worse than prison.

Hannah finds that she’s stronger than she ever believed possible, as she takes a stand and refuses to take any more of the abusive treatment and leaves the halfway house. Her journey to freedom is fascinating, and I loved watching Hannah grow and discover that there’s a whole other world out there. While there are several strong secondary characters who help her along the way, this is ultimately Hannah’s story.

This was a fascinating story, with fully developed characters, an interesting plot, and a totally fascinating premise. Jordan is an amazingly talented writer, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! Definitely one for the Keeper Shelf!

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