When She Woke

When She Woke

by Hillary Jordan


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Bellwether Prize winner Hillary Jordan’s provocative new novel, When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed—their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes—and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616201937
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 09/18/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 189,206
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Hillary Jordan is the author of the novels Mudbound (2008) and When She Woke (2011), as well as the digital short “Aftermirth.”

Mudbound won the 2006 Bellwether Prize, founded by Barbara Kingsolver to recognize socially conscious fiction, and a 2009 Alex Award from the American Library Association. It was the 2008 NAIBA Fiction Book of the Year and was long-listed for the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Paste magazine named it one of the Top Ten Debut Novels of the Decade. Mudbound has been translated into French, Italian, Serbian, Swedish, and Norwegian, and the film version is forthcoming in fall 2017.

When She Woke was long-listed for the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist. It has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Turkish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese complex characters.

Jordan has a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She grew up in Dallas, Texas, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What People are Saying About This

the Oprah magazine O

“Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day“[A] chilling futuristic novel.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

From the Publisher

“Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day

Valerie Martin

“Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day

Customer Reviews

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When She Woke 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 252 reviews.
ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
Hannah is a grown woman living in a society where crimes are punishable by discoloration of the skin. They are referred to as Chromes, and after being convicted of murdering her unborn child, Hannah wakes up to find herself bright red. She anticipated that her life would change, but she could never have seen just how hard living as a Chrome would become. Enemies can be disguised as friends. Trust is a commodity. But Hannah finds a kindred soul in Kayla, another Red, and together these two women set out through dark times to save themselves and each other. I tore through this book at breakneck speed. The first chapter left me breathless and there was no turning back from there. Every time I had to put down the book and step away, my mind couldn't stop lingering on Hannah's story and craving more. This novel is a very scary vision of society's future, both dark and eerily plausible. I felt Hannah's struggles keenly, and didn't want to trust the people she met, even when she did. Hillary Jordan fills her characters with heart-breaking dialog and gut-wrenching descriptions. I really liked that everyone had their own personal story of difficult decisions, always lurking just below the surface until spoken out loud. There were a few questions that lingered in my mind, like whatever became of Hannah's sister? But Jordan has made me think about ugly and beautiful things, and I will not soon forget this incredible read.
TheaF More than 1 year ago
Jordan's protagonist Hannah Payne has the reader pulling for her from page one. She faces seemingly unconquerable odds: she has been chromed red for aborting her child, which is visible to all; her family has abandoned her, and she must make her way in a hostile, unforgiving world. Her naivete threatens to sink her, but her remarkable courage and desire to keep from harming the ones she loves fortify her, keeping the reader bound in the spell of her harrowing adventure. Hannah's epic journey enables her to know herself; no longer is she merely a product of what society and her family have taught her. Jordan creates a riveting journey of a young woman who not only survives the demons created by herself and the state but who is self-actualized by the process. Hannah Payne is a memorable character brought to life by Jordan's insight and skill as a writer. This book will probably create a stir because of its political and religious subject matter,which is exactly what a good book should accomplish. When She Woke would make a perfect book club book; the opportunities for discussion are many. Highly Recommended
Shannon_Elise More than 1 year ago
The imagery in Hillary Jordan's When She Woke is phenomenal. The world is painted so vividly that reading the book, one feels as if they are in a world where certain people of various ages and races are a primary color based on a certain crime they may have committed. I don't like to give away plot lines in reviews, but I really loved the journey that Red Hannah Payne went through. From getting an abortion and being confined to a new color (Red) to an escape that would take her anywhere and everywhere she never imagined, finding allies in those she never would have trusted, and finding attraction in places she never would have looked. The only part I did not enjoy was the immense longing for the unobtainable man that I found unreasonable, but that is quite possibly a personal bias. Where the journey took her from "when she woke" as a Red to "when she woke" reborn was a mix of The Scarlet Letter and the confinement of The Handmaid's Tale. There was a significant amount of women's rights and religious subtext, but was not over-the-top. Highly recommended.
The-Happy-Booker More than 1 year ago
When She Woke is a dystopian themed adult fiction inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. And like Hawthorne's book, the main character, Hannah Payne, is publicly condemned and ostracized for her perceived crime and forced to wear scarlet as a badge of shame, yet refuses to name the man who responsible for her pregnancy. When She Woke also explores similar themes of religion, adultery, and criminality as did The Scarlet Letter. After being convicted of murdering her unborn child, Hannah goes through a process called melachroming which entails a convicted criminal having their skin color altered to announce the type of crime they committed. She wakes to find herself in a solitary room with only a shower, sleeping platform, and a camera in the wall that will, for her first thirty days as a "Chrome," monitor and broadcast her every move to the entire world. The dystopian society was one of extreme religious conservatism and the one aspect of this that almost didn't fit for me was that in such an almost Puritanical society, would they really rely so heavily on technology? Otherwise, imagining a society built on the tenets of extreme fundamentalistic Christian beliefs was downright frightening. Hannah was forced to contend with her guilt over making choices that not only went against every principal she had been taught to believe in her strict evangelical upbringing, but also put her in the untenable position of losing her friends, family, reputation, and possibly her own life. She struggled to reconcile her actions with her religious beliefs and wondered if she would ever feel a connection to God again. I found When She Woke to be extremely thought provoking. The idea of melachroming intrigued me. There is some part of me that is not fully convinced that this is such a bad idea as it would effectively punish the criminal through public humiliation yet save the state the expense of housing all but the most violent offenders. In the book, there was a lower life expectancy for some crimes or "colors" such as Red (murderers) and Greens (Child Molesters) while those convicted of less serious crimes (Yellows) were less feared and hated but still ostracized. Right or wrong, it was certainly a fascinating concept to consider. With all of the heavy and thought provoking themes in When She Woke, it still managed to be an exciting and engaging read. I devoured this book in just one day, unable to put it down. I knew before the first hundred pages that I wouldn't be getting any sleep that night until I finished it. It sinks its hooks in early and never lets go as it takes you on an action packed and emotionally stirring journey. When She Woke takes a fairly clear stance on the topic of abortion, however, I don't believe it was presented in such a biased way that those who differ in their beliefs would be unable to enjoy it. When She Woke presents the story from a clearly feminist perspective and this may be off-putting for some but I found it to be an inspiring story about the struggle from oppression to empowerment. This will definitely be shelved with my all time favorites. I would recommend this to fans of dystopian themed fiction, those who enjoyed the Handmaids Tale or The Scarlet Letter, and those who enjoy fiction that focuses on socially relevant issues.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this book. The premise sounded very interesting and promising, but truth be told, I abandonned the book about a third of the way through. I'm a huge Margaret Atwood fan and looked forward to a different take on women's rights in a disutopian society. Hillary Jordan tries very hard to emmulate Ms. Atwood...but she fails miserably. While Atwood is able to subtly describe and reinforce the nightmare of living in a conservative disutopia, Jordan fails to exhibit this skill. Where Atwood uses a scalpel to 'disect' her world, Jordan attacks hers with a sledgehammer. The Religious Right seems to be a character all its own, and a rather flat, 2-dimensional character at that. While I sympathisize with Jordan's evident dislike of the Religious Right, her clear bias weakens any message she was trying to communicate. While the plot sounded promising, it fails to deliver. Jordan has relied on the thoughts and successes of greater authors, namely Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Atwood, to carry her story. But not even the insightful prose of these litterary greats could support Jordan's attempt. If you are looking for deep, thought-provoking litterature, keep looking. I strongly suggest Margaret Atwood. If, however, you are looking for simplistic fiction, look no further than When She Woke.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great, but it seems to just be a modern, "dumbed down" version of "The Scarlet Letter." The similarities between the two books include: (1) symbolism of the color red; (2) the initials of both book's main characters "H.P."; and, (3) in TSL Hester's baby is named "Pearl,' in WSW, Hannah remarks that she wold have named her baby "Pearl"). Overall, the book was a quick, easy read; however, I give it only 3 stars because of the author's undisguised and unrecognized reliance upon Nathaniel Hawthorne for her story-line.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Think it can't happen here? Think again. This is what happens when citizens sit back and allow radical conservative candidates to gain control. Hannah reminds us of the importance of struggling to remain human and evolving from the bonds of fudamentalism. This is a must read, especially in today's teavangelically charged climate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished When She Awoke. It had so much potential, but it was a let down. Lot of parallels with Scarlet Letter, but it never really hit the mark.
Marcaine_Art More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book for my nook app for my daughter but I read everything she reads first usually. I thought this was a good story with some very good ideas and thoughts in it. If it could have been longer so as to flesh everything out more I would have given it 5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book overall was great but the ending just felt like it didn't fit with the rest of the book. But overall I loved it and highly recommend it.
Nancy154 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. Once I got into the story I couldn't put it down. The characters were believeable and the main characters, Heather and Kayla were likeable and grew as the story progressed. I loved how the story progressed and hope that she will write a sequel to this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books ever. A sci-fi twist on the Scarlet Letter story. I could not put it down and hope to see more like this book from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jordan took the basic themes from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and brought them into the future. This book explores the profound and disturbing changes taking place in (dystopian) America to include the rise in religious fundamentalism, the muddying of the line between church and state, and infringements on civil rights. The plot was compelling, fast paced, and thought provoking. It's scary that the line between church and state is so thin and how this book shows what can happen when that line is crossed under the guise of patriotism and national security. This novel is challenging in the questions it raises and unflinching in its warnings, as any quality dystopian book should be.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is futuristic take on the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne book, The Scarlet Letter. And it was really really cool and strange.  But only for the first 50% of the book.  Then it got a little too twisty-turny for my taste. Hannah is a religious girl in a futuristic time when there is a virus that makes the majority of women infertile.  Because of this, many religious laws are created in order to protect the sanctity of life. Remind anyone else of The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood? Hannah becomes romantically involved with her (married) pastor, who also just happens to be one of the most successful men in America at the time.  When she realizes she is pregnant, she breaks the law in order to have an abortion (they repealed Roe v. Wade). Hannah is found out, convicted, and sentenced to be a Red, with her skin dyed in order to single her out as someone who committed murder. Like I said, the first 50% of the book was amazing and kept me on the edge of my seat.  It was a fabulous cross between The Handmaid's Tale and The Scarlet Letter! But then the book fell apart for me.  The twists and turns were too much, and at some point I stopped believing them. That's just me, though!  The book is rated a 3.7ish on Goodreads, and it's worth taking a chance on if this concept sounds as intriguing to you as it did to me. What are your thoughts on post-apocalyptic fertility stories? Just kidding! Have you read any of these books (Handmaid's Tale, Scarlet Letter, When She Woke)? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just happened upon this book at one time and was so glad I did!I had a hard time putting down
Meli_Green More than 1 year ago
When She Woke is a dystopian themed adult fiction inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. When She Woke explores similar themes of religion, adultery, and criminality. This was one of those books that I couldn't put down. The story is well told and moves at a fast pace. This dystopian society was one of extreme religious conservatism. Imagining a society built on the tenets of such extreme fundamentalist Christian beliefs was downright frightening. Hannah is a young Christian woman who, through a series of bad decisions, wound up having an affair, and consequently, an abortion. In her society, this is a serious crime, punished by having one's skin turned a bright red hue for a period of many years. Coming out of the prison and into the real world as a "Red" is a brutal life... Reds are hunted down and beaten or murdered on the streets. Hannah's new life is filled with danger, sexual exploration, dangerous escapes, and coming to terms with this new life that she must face. Hannah was forced to contend with her guilt over making choices that not only went against every principal she had been taught to believe in her strict evangelical upbringing, but also put her in the untenable position of losing her friends, family, reputation, and possibly her own life. She struggled to reconcile her actions with her religious beliefs and wondered if she would ever feel a connection to God again. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending. I wanted to know what happened in the next chapter of her life. It might be left open for a sequel, I'm not sure. Overall an excellent book I would recommend instantly, I can definitely understand why it is in line for book club.
srfeike More than 1 year ago
I read The Scarlet Letter many, many years ago. I was going into When She Woke thinking it was a re-telling of The Scarlet Letter, but although the underlying premise was the same, ultimately this was a completely different story from a completely different time. I liked the setting of the world created in this book and how the author did not spend chapter upon chapter describing it. She unveiled her world to us through the telling of the story, which was an interesting way to see it. As for the characters, I had a hard time connecting with Hannah. I did like her more as the story went on, but I never really fell in love with her. Maybe it was the emotional distance that she kept from everyone that kept me at a distance as well. However, I did like how she questioned everything and was always looking for answers. I absolutely hated Aiden, but I think we were supposed to. He was hypocritical, self-centered, selfish…need I go on? However, it was pointed out to me that a good book brings out emotions. Hate is a very strong emotion. From the beginning Aiden orchestrated and controlled their whole relationship...He took advantage of Hannah's trust and innocence and abused his power over her. Ultimately, the book definitely did not go where I thought it would, and although I really enjoyed the book, I did not really like the ending. I can't really pinpoint it, but something felt like it was missing to me. I guess I just wanted something more to happen. I felt the whole last section was too rushed. I would have loved an extra chapter on the end to tell how everything played out. What happened to Aiden and Alyssa? What is Hannah going to do now? Though, I think any good book gets into your mind and leaves you with questions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books is "the Scarlet Letter" and when the reviews said Jordn had written a modern-day version of Hawthornes version, I was not disappointed. I read the entire book in one day. The parallels to our current world were subtly placed and yet highly intriguing. I would recommed this book for anyone who eants a wuick, easy,entertaining, and thought-invoking read,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. It was enjoyable to read. I appreciated the political, religious, survival of the fittest themes all rolled into one. A unique storyline that will not disappoint!
Elderone More than 1 year ago
Hillary Jordan's book is set in Dallas, Texas and very appropriately. When the story opens a seventeen year old girl in a very strict religious family, is questioning the fundamentalist teachings of her church, and the views of her parents. She has always been "different". Very ironically, she becomes pregnant by her charismatic minister!!! In order not to expose him and bring shame on her family, she has an illegal abortion, but is caught. Still she does not reveal his name. In this future society she is then taken away and "cromed". Her skin is made red. Each offender is colored according to his or her crime. Green, blue, or yellow. Red is for murderers. While escaping to Canada, she questions her faith, and comes to reject only the extreme elements of religion. She still believes in God. This book ends abruptly...must mean a sequel.
ewine002 More than 1 year ago
Excellent concept, ending seems somewhat premature and blase.
Melissa-Caudill More than 1 year ago
Explosive beginning...couldn't put it down! Found it a bit anticlimactic but still proved to be an interesting book overall. Turned out to be a good conversation starter as it addresses several societal issues. Short and a quick read I would definitely recommend this book, in fact already have!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book if you like futuristic dystopia books (which i really do). The imagery and writing is good, although a little long-winded at times. It's good despite the fact that it is quite preachy about religion and abortion. Even though i agree with a lot of the ideas in the book, i think i would have enjoyed the book more without all the politics,or at least have the politics hidden a little better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down. Great read, but rushed ending. Left me wanting more.
mrssparky More than 1 year ago
Loved the book! Very interesting insight into religion and its unavoidable intersection with politics. It's a disturbing perspective, but I loved it.