This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

I decided to read this one when I read about the review on the Book-A-Day blog that the Wake County library provides. Unfortunately for me, their review was a better read than the novel itself.

Why did I break my rule of finishing a book that I generally don't enjoy? It was a short book: 341 pages. And I was curious to see how it would end. It ended as cheesy as I didn't envision.

When I first started reading it, I almost tasted a little of The Hunger Games. I thought: Hey, is there another great author out there? Bringing me another great Katniss character? But the more I read it, the more the answer became clear...Ummm, NO.

The story is about a future society -- but how far into the future doesn't seem clear, which makes it more over-the-top for me because it doesn't seem to be _that_ much into the future.  This future becomes a radically conservative religiously governmental society (think President Rick Santorum). Roe vs. Wade has been overturned and abortion has been outlawed, replaced with Sanctity of Life Laws. But there are still the underground movements and when Hannah Payne discovers she is pregnant, she finds a way to have an abortion.

But right after the procedure, a suspicious neighbor calls the police and she is arrested and charged with murder. And with this future society comes a new method of penalizing: chroming. Chroming is the changing of the skin color, so that people will know you were convicted of a crime. You will be permanently colorized for the duration of your conviction. Sound familiar? Scarlet letter anyone?

Criminals are color-coded based on their crimes: lighter crimes are yellow, molesters and rapists are blue (and rarely make it very long in society), and murderers are red. So Hannah Payne wakes up red and will be red for 16 years.

What made this over the top for me was: the father of her baby was the top reverend of her church, a married man. Not so unbelievable in reality, of course, but just a little too stereotypical. And Jordan wrote the relationship as the most unbelievable love story: his undeniable love for her that could not ever be...because of his position in the church and his marriage.

And also over the top was that all of society was this extreme right wing conservative belief. How can this be the future? How do we go from what we are today to everyone believing that the bible is the only way? That all people would be pro-life and have hatred for anyone who would believe otherwise? It was just too far-fetched to buy into.

I expected, based on the review, this book to delve more into society judging people by their skin color when skin color was 'planted' vs. being born that way. Sort of the "you-can't-tell-if-i-am-black-or-white-or-brown-because-i-am-red" thing but none of that is addressed here at all. Instead, if you are red, yellow or blue, you are an outcast. Period.

And then there is an underground society that does try to help Hannah but it's so underground that if anyone knows about it, you are killed. It's just so extreme!

Hannah is also a wallflower and then becomes an adulteress, then refuses to confess the father of her child, or her abortionist, which adds to her sentence for the murder of her fetus.

When she is sent to a 'halfway house', which is basically another extreme religious house where therapy involves speaking to your aborted baby about how sorry you are for killing it, she rebels against the 'caregivers' there. This girl who obeyed her parents, God, and everyone around her for her entire life, suddenly stands up to everyone, while she still thinks about God and wonders who He is (I capitalize because Jordan does the same in the book).

It's wishy-washy in the book. Is God good? Is He there? Or not? I don't know what Jordan's point is. I don't think there has to be a point. It can just be a story but it seems like she is trying to say something. And that something is mildly irritating to me because she isn't making it clear.

But along the way, Hannah has a lesbian encounter but still loves the father of her baby. Seriously? How many more political movements can you put into 341 pages? The answer is not many because, in the end, you end up with a crappy book.

Jordan has a flair for using a lot of "big" words (like purlieu) too. I kept looking them up on my favorite dictionary app (Merriam-Webster - free, but I paid for my version because I love it so much). As many of you know, I am a logophile, which is a _lover_ of words, not generally a person who actually knows and uses big words). And I don't generally mind reading books where they scatter big (when I say big, I mean unusual) words in their text, but Jordan liked to litter her pages with these words. I found it otiose and highfalutin. :)

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