Christian fundamentalists may shun this novel, but book clubs will devour it, and savvy educators will pair it with Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Essential.”—Library Journal
Jordan blends hot-button issues such as separation of church and state, abortion, and criminal justice with an utterly engrossing story, driven by a heroine as layered and magnetic as Hester Prynne herself, and reminiscent, too, of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Absolutely a must-read.”—Booklist, starred review
It reads like a thriller, and one that makes you think hard, to boot. I’ve already placed this one on my favorite-books-for-book-clubs list.”—The Book Case
“An utterly engrossing story, driven by a heroine as layered and magnetic as Hester Prynne herself, and reminiscent, too, of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Absolutely a must-read.” —Booklist, starred review
“The Scarlet Letter could unfurl from no better a speculative pen than that held by Hillary Jordan. She takes the seeds of that story and roots them in a world where ‘right to life’ is the law of the land . . . The result . . . is as compulsively readable as it is thought-provoking.” —The Denver Post
“In the chillingly credible tomorrowland of Jordan’s second novel, Roe v. Wade has been overturned, abortion has been criminalized in 42 states and a vigilante group known as the Fist of Christ brutalizes violators . . . Jordan’s feverishly conceived dystopia holds its own alongside the dark inventions of Margaret Atwood and Ray Bradbury.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Hannah’s fight for freedom is both a sober warning and a gripping page-turner. Already it reads like a classic.” —AARP
“Jordan’s take on the hot button issues of our time—separation of church and state, abortion, an imperfect criminal justice system—is compelling.” —San Antonio Express-News
“An inventive tale about a new America that has lost its way . . . When She Woke is, at its heart, a tense, energetic and lively paced story about self-discovery and reclamation in the wake of enormous shame. It is a story about the price of love.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] provocative, politically charged novel . . . [Hannah’s] journey to reclaim herself is equally chilling and riveting.” —Family Circle
“Will spark many an intriguing book club discussion.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Christian fundamentalists may shun this novel, but book clubs will devour it, and savvy educators will pair it with Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Essential.”—Library Journal
Though she was raised a good Christian, Hannah Payne often asks uncomfortable questions in Jordan’s second novel (after Mudbound), such as “Why does God let innocent people suffer?” But questioning authority and breaking Texas law are two different things. Involved with her pastor, Hannah finds herself pregnant; to have the baby would mean publicly naming the father, so Hannah has an abortion. But in this alternate America, three years after the “Great Scourge” turned many women sterile, abortion is illegal, and Hannah is arrested. Her sentence: to live for several years as a “chrome,” injected with a virus that turns her skin bright red. Her father finds her refuge in a halfway house for nonviolent chromes of all hues, but Hannah rebels against the abuse she receives in their “enlightenment sessions” and flees into the arms of an underground feminist group whose brutal pragmatism frightens her. But as she falls victim to betrayal after betrayal, Hannah’s occasionally jarring naïveté begins to break down. Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale are inevitable; Jordan extrapolates misogynist fundamentalism to a logical endpoint, but she does little else. Characters are political archetypes, the narrative wanders, and even Hannah’s transformation from dutiful daughter to take-charge fugitive feels false. (Oct.)
“With Corrigan’s excellent performance, this already thought-provoking novel becomes an utterly compelling, can’t-stop-listening audiobook.”
—Publishers Weekly [starred review]
[A] chilling futuristic novel.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
A young woman's life goes from heavenly to hellish is this dystopian vision of The Scarlet Letter from Jordan, who won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for Mudbound, a searing portrait of racism. Jordan now proposes a further, more insidious form of discrimination. She imagines a society in which convicted criminals are chromed—their entire bodies dyed to a bright color—and sent into the world to face a sentence of public hatred and abuse. The victim in this story is Hannah Payne, an obedient daughter of a morally righteous family who senses a spark of sexual attraction with Rev. Aidan Dale, pastor of a powerful megachurch. Quickly, Hannah's life takes a turn toward abortion, conviction, incarceration, chroming, and government-sanctioned torture. Summoning up a newfound inner strength, Hannah goes on the run and follows an Underground Railroad-like path, where she learns to live by her wits and to trust no one. VERDICT Jordan offers no middle ground: she insists that readers question their own assumptions regarding freedom, religion, and risk. Christian fundamentalists may shun this novel, but book clubs will devour it, and savvy educators will pair it with Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Essential.—Susanne Wells, MLS, Indianapolis
A retelling of classic Hawthorne in which the heroine becomes literally a Scarlet Woman.
Hannah Payne has committed adultery with respected preacher Aidan Dale, and in Jordan's postmodern world such transgressors are repigmented in a way that suits their crime—through the miracle of modern chemistry. Hannah is turned bright red. Again reminiscent of Hester Prynne's heroism inThe Scarlet Letter, Hannah refuses to name her fellow adulterer, so she bears much of the burden of her guilt and her punishment. The bleak world that Jordan has created has turned back Roe v. Wade, and all abortions are equated with infanticide, so technically she's a murderer as well as an adulterer. (In one clever episode, Hannah is forced to make a cloth doll of her dead child, whom she names "Pearl.") Because Hannah has had a strict religious upbringing, she constantly weighs her "evildoing" against the "rightness" of her deep love for the minister. We trace her journey through various stages of reclamation, starting with a spartan and severe halfway house run by a minister and his domineering wife, whose interest in Hannah's case seems both perverse and voyeuristic. After Hannah runs away from this establishment, she's caught up in a journey that she hopes will eventually lead her back to her family and to Aidan, but the politics get complicated when she links up with some radical feminists who support the right to choose and whose aim in life is to help those they feel have been wrongfully stigmatized. Things start to become even more sexually muddled when Hannah begins to have feelings for one of the feminists and has a brief fling.
Jordan manages to open up powerful feminist and political themes without becoming overly preachy—and the parallels with Hawthorne are fun to trace.