Friday, October 28, 2011

When She Woke - Be Very Afraid

I was having such a love/hate relationship with this book that I almost cashed it in. I'm so glad that I didn't! Without a doubt, it's one of the most terrifying novels I've ever read. Though reviewers are saying it's supposed to be a modern day Scarlet Letter, I'm thinking that it's much more akin to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a book, I might add, that can still give me nightmares twenty some years after reading it.

Hannah Payne (initials H.P. like Hester Prynne) awakens in a hospital ward/prison as a "red." She is under 24 hour video surveillance by anyone in the entire country who wants to witness her shame and tragically, like a reality TV show, people do.  She has been chromed.

You see, in the not too distant future - just imagine Rick Perry as your President - the United States (this particular novel begins in Texas) has become an evangelical Christian nation with laws that make Sharia look loosey goosey. The only problem is that the prisons are just too full and costly to maintain - sound familiar?
 Criminals are treated with a drug that changes the color of their skin to match their crime. Hannah has had an abortion and to add to that sin, she has refused to give up the name of her lover or the doctor who took mercy on her and performed the procedure. Her red skin is now the outward symbol of her treachery, putting her at the mercy of vigilante groups like The Fist who can monitor her every move through advanced gps technology.

In this eerie time in our nation women are relegated to being seen and not heard. Their education consists of mastering the domestic arts, sewing, cooking, and raising a family. Their opinions are not solicited and, if offered, are ignored. Over a few generations, a woman might not realize what she's lost. But Hannah, who spends a horrifying few weeks in a halfway house undergoing "enlightenment" treatment, meets other women, in particular a college educated woman named Kayla, who offers her  the possibility of another kind of life.

With the help of an underground railroad of activists called It's Personal, Hannah embarks upon a journey of self discovery, an awakening if you will, an arduous trip to safety and reversal treatment for her skin pigmentation.  The question is, will she have the moral courage to proceed?

I just realized that I haven't yet mentioned the outstanding young author of this incredible novel, Hillary Jordan, whose first book, Mudbound, received all kinds of kudos. I suspect that, with this second endeavor, she has cemented her position as another one of these talented young writers who will be producing glorious works of literature for years to come.

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