When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan has been compared to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, but it is really a combination of the two as Hannah Payne is not melachromed for adultery, but for another sin and she lives in a world where the separation between church and state has been broken.  Roe vs. Wade has been overturned once a scourge has rendered most women unable to have children and men who are carriers unwittingly have passed the disease onto unsuspecting partners.  Under the defense of saving the human race, society has outlawed abortion.  This idea parallels the notions of The Handmaid’s Tale, though the society in that novel is more severe in terms of limiting women’s rights and control over their bodies.

Punishment for breaking the laws of this society are no longer being thrown in jail, but being chromed and thrown back out into society to face ridicule and stigmatization.  Chroming takes place when a virus — which had unknown side effects for many years and often results in fragmentation of the brain if not re-administered every six months or reversed properly — turns the skin the color of the crime, such as red for violent offenders and blue for molesters.  Once back in society these men and women are looked upon as freaks and outsiders, and they are lucky if they are given jobs to survive on their own while their sentence is carried out.

“The virus no longer mutated the pigment of the eyes as it had in the early days of melachroming.  There’d been too many cases of blindness, and that, the courts had decided, constituted cruel and unusual punishment.”  (Page 6-7)

Aiden Dale in Jordan’s book is very reminiscent of Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter in that his character is very weak and he is forced by the pressures of guilt to confess.  Naturally, Hannah is a young women in a close knit community of religious communities and the injury of her father leaves the family in a precarious position until their pastor Aiden Dale comes to the rescue.  His character is only seen through Hannah’s eyes as she is the main point of view throughout the novel, which leaves a lot of his motivations in question, especially given the relationship he embarks upon as a pastor and married man.

Jordan’s novel is very fast-paced, and may even be too fast-paced as it seems that Hannah needs a moment to slow down, breathe, reflect but her character is very emotional, impulsive, and impatient.  Given her upbringing in a religious community, it is clear that she knows little of the outside world in Texas, which is cliche location for a novel about ultraconservative religious groups, etc.  Her actions are frustrating, but at least they are understandable given her upbringing, but there are other occasions where she seems superior in her perceptions of others’ personalities and actions and yet completely oblivious when others are plying her with food and a place to sleep after being chromed.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is ultimately a mesh of worlds that does not go to the extremes of the other nations created by Atwood and Hawthorne, and in that, the world building loses ground as it uses a heavy-handed nature in drawing parallels to today’s society, its punishments, and our own history of discrimination against certain groups.  However, this novel would make an excellent selection for a book club discussion given the issues it raises about the separation of religion and government, abortion, crime and punishment, and other topics.

About the Author:

Hillary Jordan received her BA in English and Political Science from Wellesley College and spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.  (Photo by Michael Epstein)

What the Book Club Thought (beware of spoilers):

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan was one of the two books I nominated and the book club selected it for this month’s discussion.

Most members agreed that the character of Aiden was very weak and that we disliked him.  One member insisted that most of us had laid too much blame on Hannah for what happened to her, but the women of the group said that blame lied with both Aiden and Hannah.  Given that Hannah knew Aiden was not only her pastor, but also a married man, she should not have engaged in an illicit affair with him, and he knew he was married and a paragon of the community.  While this is billed as a love story, I didn’t see the depth I expect from love-based relationships and the relationship between Aiden and Hannah appeared to be more one of lust and passion than of love.

While some of the sci-fi elements worked best for one member of the book club, others of us were happy that unlike the Hunger Games series of books the back story as to why the society had changed so drastically was presented.  Some of the members thought that Jordan skewed some elements of the society such as making all of the religious figures and members mean or evil, except for the one female priest.  But one of us thought there was a balance in the casting as there were good and bad in both the religious community from the bad priest and his wife to Hannah’s father who was more tolerant and in the Novemberists (which reminded me of the V is for Vendetta movie with its focus on November and bombing, etc.) there were good and bad guys as well.

In terms of the books we’ve read so far, this one generated a great deal of discussion about what would happen in today’s society if Roe vs. Wade was overturned (which most of us don’t see happening), what punishments are considered cruel and unusual, what being a second-class citizen would entail if we were chromed, and how the women in the group felt about abortion.  One of our members also suggested that the book is focused on demonstrating that we should not judge others and their sins but worry about ourselves, even if we are devote Catholics, etc.

This is my 57th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

BBAW Winners and More Winners

The winner of The Gendarme by Mark Mustian was Jill of Rhapsody in Books.


The winner of Operation Blue Light by Philip Chabot and Laurie Anne Blanchard during BBAW is Emily of Emrelove.



The winner of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles during BBAW was Florinda of The 3 Rs Blog.



The winner of Women Know Everything! by Karen Weekes during BBAW was Aths of Reading on a Rainy Day.


The winner of The Snow Whale by John Minichillo during BBAW was Amy of The House of Seven Tails.




The winner of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan during BBAW was Lauren of Shooting Stars Mag.


Congrats to all of you and I hope you enjoy the books.



BBAW, the Final Send Off

It has been a crazy week of book blogging and celebrations, and I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who voted, participated, commented, read, and brought the giveaways and posts to the community.  You’re all fantastic people and your voices have been heard.

I also want to thank you for voting for my blog as Best Poetry Blog.  I appreciated that more than you know.

Three Tips for Blogging:

1.  Be Creative:  Come up with your own events, challenges, review formats, weekly features, and interview questions.  Take inspiration from other blogs, television, your neighbors, strangers on the subway, and wherever else you find it.

2.  Try it Out:  Even if you try out an idea and it doesn’t work, you gave it a chance.  You should also give it more than a few weeks.  Keep the events, formats, and other stuff you try going for a month or more because the blogging world is so big, it takes more time to get noticed.  You can help that along by following tip #3.

3.  Spread the Word:  Facebook, Twitter, and commenting are your friends.  Its how you make connections, how you build a following, and how you inform others of what you are doing.  This works for your reviews, your interviews, your giveaways, your events, and more.  If you are starting your own challenge, you should submit the information to the Novel Challenge blog.

One of the latest things I’ve done is make a Facebook page for the blog, and use it to spread information about poets, interesting articles, and publishing updates and trends.  It’s been a great way to keep discussion going, and you don’t need to constantly watch it like you do Twitter.

I hope everyone had a great time this week and found some more blogs to follow and enjoy.  Take the time to read through these new blogs and get to know the people behind them.  You’ll be richer for it.

What are your tips?

Since I received a second copy of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, I’m going to pass one along to a book blogger. I haven’t read this yet, but it sounds fantastic.

All you have to do is comment and leave a link to your blog so I can visit.

This International giveaway ends Sept. 16, 2011, at 11:59PM EST.

Appreciating Bloggers

Book Blogger Appreciation Week starts Sept. 12 and runs through Sept. 16 with a variety of giveaways and activities for the blogging community.  Each year, I take the opportunity to visit bloggers I don’t really know or have never seen before, and that’s how I find gems, like Unabridged Chick.

In appreciation of my fellow book bloggers, I’m going to offer up some books for giveaway throughout the week, starting tomorrow.  You must be a blogger to enter, which means you must leave me your blog address in the comments to be entered.

So you can plan ahead, these are the books I’ll be offering this week:

1.  Operation Blue Light by Philip Chabot and Laurie Anne Blanchard, which is a memoir and I didn’t feel interested in; I want to pass this along to someone who would enjoy it.  Here are the details from Amazon:

In Operation Blue Light: My Secret Life among Psychic Spies Philip Chabot reveals for the first time the powerful story of his growing psychic ability and the government s growing interest in him. Mr. Chabot details a type of psychic ability he calls spoken telepathy and tells how it came to steal away a summer of his young life. Philip Chabot recorded his memories of the experience three years after the story ended but kept those tapes private until after he retired. After forty years of keeping his and the government s secret he now tells what lead to that hot summer afternoon in Lebanon, Missouri. He reveals how his psychic abilities had grown to such a state that he was actually interrupting intelligence efforts around the world.

2.  Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles, which I recently read and reviewed for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge at War Through the Generations.  Here’s part of the description from Amazon:

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family’s avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee. The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison.

But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

3.  Women Know Everything! by Karen Weekes, which I received from Quirk Books and want to pass along to someone else to enjoy.

With more than 3,000 quotations on everything from fashion and feminism to men, marriage, friendship, history, technology, sports, and more, this massive compilation proves once and for all that women know everything! Each page offers wisdom, wit, and inspiration from a host of legendary women—from Jane Austen and Colette to Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Toni Morrison, Liz Phair, Ellen DeGeneres, and Naomi Klein.

4.  The Snow Whale by John Minichillo, which I reviewed earlier this year.

When John Jacobs, a mild-mannered suburban office worker, takes a DNA test and discovers that he is part-Inuit, he so embraces his new identity that he declares it his Inupiat tribal right to set forth on a whale hunt.

So begins this postmodern satire, a seriocomic, quirky adventure set in the oldest continuously settled town in North America, in the North Slope of Alaska, on the frozen Chukchi Sea, literally at the top of the world, where the inhabitants and their ancestors have depended on subsistence whaling for thousands of years.

5.  When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which I received 2 copies of and have an extra copy to pass along to one of you.

Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family, but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she is lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a new and sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, according to the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she’s shared a fierce and forbidden love.

I hope you’ll all be stopping by and entering the giveaways, but most of all checking out new blogs this week and most of all enjoying the community.  Don’t enter here, but on the posts throughout the week.  There are also 2 other giveaways in the sidebar for all readers.

Also, please take a moment today to remember the people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and who died after helping people out of the rubble and more.

Mailbox Monday #138

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  This month our host is Life in the Thumb.  Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.  Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  When She Woke by Hillary Jordan from Algonquin Books for review in October.

2. The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls by Wendy Del Sol, which I received from Berkley for review.

3. The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate from Algonquin for review.

4. Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan from unrequested from Algonquin.

What did you receive this week?