Hillary Jordan doesn’t like to be defined.
At least that’s the impression I got upon meeting her at an author’s lunch. Jordan seemed perplexed at the suggestion her book could be geared toward the young adult genre, and the notion it could also be considered science fiction.
I’ll agree with her on one count.
“When She Woke” is the tale of Hannah Payne, a futuristic Hester Prynne, as she comes to terms with being quite literally being painted red for her crime—aborting a pregnancy in an age when it’s illegal. The father? The futuristic Rev. Dimmesdale, of course—Rev. Aidan Dale. Instead of being forced to wear a colored badge denoting her crime, Hannah is “chromed”—her entire body turned a scarlet hue, so that she’s easily identified as a felon prior to being set free after 30 days in a reality-television prison cell. Abandoned by her lover, her family (save her father, who I suspect needs her more than she needs him) and now society, Hannah has to figure out how to stay alive and with whom she can place her faith, since she is no longer willing to hand it over to the Church.
It’s an engaging, twisted road she takes, and is a great read. I can understand Jordan’s raised eyebrows at the book being placed on a Young Adult shelf at the book store. While clearly modeled after “The Scarlet Letter,” (mashed with tinges of Margaret Atwood) there are several passages that made me blush. It’s not that a teen couldn’t handle it, but it takes its sex, as well as the abortion debate, kind of seriously.
However, I do think the book straddles the genres of fiction and science fiction. With its futuristic setting, the chroming process, vids, ports, NIC cards, and other small sci-fi-ish details peppered throughout the book, it’s easy to see how a sci-fi fan would appreciate it, while the general fiction lover would not become disinterested.
So here’s your book club question—if you were Hannah, would you choose to give up everything you know and love for a chance at anonymity or not? It’s all about the red with this book, so pair it with anything from a cherry Coke to a smooth merlot. Block out a couple of hours and lose yourself in a world we can all hope (!) isn’t waiting for us.
Hillary Jordan and I spoke at the same book conference in Oxford, Mississippi. We also spent an evening together drinking cocktails in the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Mississippi. I was struck by Hillary’s intelligence and complete devotion to writing. She gets totaly immersed in what she is doing, and I am not surprised at her recent success.