Classic lit meets modern dystopia

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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

The future is here, and it is bleak.
Cedar Goslin
The Broadside
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is a dystopian novel that paints a picture of an America where there is no separation of church and state, and criminals face a unique punishment. Rather than face jail time or capital punishment, most criminals are “chromed,” which is the process of infusing a person with chemicals that dye their skin a bright color. Colors are assigned to chromes to match the severity of their crimes. After having an illegal abortion, Hannah Payne is chromed the crimson reserved for murderers. Once Hannah is released to face society as a chrome, she has to struggle with the traditional morals of her family and society, and find her new place in the world– which may mean risking her life to betray the law.
The many allusions to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel make it clear that Jordan intended this book to be a futuristic re-interpretation of The Scarlet Letter. The same themes of adultery, public shame and the sharp teeth of tight-knit society are explored, but told in a much more readable style. Jordan’s narrative is reminiscent of the smooth style of Margaret Atwood, making this book nearly impossible to put down. The actual premise of the novel is outlandish enough to be entertaining, but not so much that the circumstances and events are unfathomable, making this a good choice for any dystopian lover.
When She Woke starts out strong, but begins to lose steam toward the end of the novel. Most of the situations are well composed and fit well into the plot, but at some points in the book it does seem as if Jordan is trying to cram as many women’s issues as she can into one book, even at the expense of the fluidity of the plot.
Though it’s true the book doesn’t finish as well as it began, When She Woke is still a powerful novel. Jordan’s picture of the future is imaginative and unique, and she does a fantastic job of capturing human emotions. Readers will find themselves fascinated by the fictional world and riveted by the multilayered characters.
(Contact: cgoslin@cocc.edu)

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