My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Roe v. Wade had been overturned. Only the most violent criminals sat in prison. The rest were infected with a virus that turns their skin the color associated with their crime–yellow for misdemeanors, green for crimes like arson, blue for child abuse, and red for murder, including abortion–and called Chromes. After Hannah had an illegal abortion, she was caught by the authorities. She refused to name the father or give any details about the doctor who performed the abortion, and she was sentenced to thirty days in the Chrome ward (broadcast to an eager public) and sixteen years as a Red.
After her arrest, her mother disowned her, so her father found Hannah a place at a halfway house, the Straight Path Center, ostensibly run by Reverend Henley but in practice controlled by his sadistic and cruel wife. There, Hannah met Kayla, Red for shooting her step-dad after he molested her younger sister. Each woman left the center, Kayla to find her boyfriend, and Hannah, repelled by their tactics. Outside, on the run, the women encounter the Novemberists, a pro-abortion group who promises passage to Canada and reversal of the melachroming–but was their price too much to pay?
As the women begin their journey from Texas to Canada, they confront betrayal and threats of violence from the Fist of Christ, a Christian vigilante group, as well as men who might take advantage of Chromes, women who have few rights. Hannah confronts the father of her aborted child and admits to desires previously unthinkable to her as a dedicated member of the ruling Trinity Party and a staunch Christian.
I devoured When She Woke because the story captured my attention. The characters were interesting enough, if slightly one dimensional, but I thought Hannah’s personality may have changed too much, too unrealistically during her journey. I expected one ending to the novel and was surprised (and pleased) when my expectations were thwarted. What stayed with me most about the novel, though, is how seamlessly society moved from our lived experience of today to a theocracy where women, gays, and anyone not fitting the proper mold are oppressed. As such, it’s a cautionary tale.