When She Woke is the second novel by Hillary Jordan. Unlike her prize-winning historical fiction Mudbound, When She Woke is a dystopian novel inspired by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The novel opens as Hannah Payne awakes in prison and tries to come to terms with the fact that her skin has been turned red. In her near-future Christian fundamentalist America, convicted offenders are “melachromed”, injected with a virus that turns their skins the color of their crimes and most are promptly released from prison to a public life filled with prejudice and hardship. Melachroming takes discrimination based on skin color to a whole new level.
Hannah has been sentenced to 16 years as a “Red” for aborting her unborn child and not revealing either the identity of the abortion provider or the father, who has just been promoted from a mega church priest to the Secretary of Faith. After her release from prison, Hannah is banished by most of her family and it is arranged for her to enter a horrific Straight Path Center. This is just a beginning of Hannah’s story which is not only a social and political commentary, but also a quite exciting thriller.
“The advertising for this novel recommends it to the reading groups because women will want to discuss its big issues. I think they might end up screaming at each other,” says Carolyn See in her Washington Post review (published 09/29/2011). I am proud to report that When She Woke sparked a highly interesting conversation among the Corinth Book Group members, both men and women. We discussed several hard topics covered in the book – women’s reproductive rights, spousal abuse, religious fundamentalism, criminal justice system and self discovery. We agreed that When She Woke is a timely, compelling and cautionary novel and a great choice for adult and teen book groups that do not shy away from hard and possibly controversial topics.