Set in a not-too-distant future, an intense evangelical movement sweeps across the country, abolishing Roe V. Wade, outlawing abortion and contraceptives, and eradicating the concept of "Separation of Church and State" virtually overnight. Among the movement's sweeping reforms is the refusal to imprison criminals anymore, but rather genetically alter their pigmintation -"Chroming"- to match the prescribed color of their crime, and then release them back into the world to be shunned or even hunted by the "morally righteous" members of society. Into this nightmarish scenario comes Hannah Payne, newly convicted of aborting her unborn child and refusing to name the father. She is chromed Red (the color of murder) and cast back into society to survive and defend herself against a once loving family who has ostracized her, friends who now shun her, and a world grown virulently hostile to her and "her kind." She has lost everything she once held dear, everyone she has ever loved...and yet, on this journey of reflection and discovery, may yet find the one thing which will keep her alive and sane- herself.
When She Woke is a modern reimagining of The Scarlett Letter. Hannah Payne wakes up to discover she is red, a process known as chroming whereby criminals are sentenced to have the pigments in their skin changed to a specific color so that everyone will know their crimes. In what has mostly become a theocracy, Hannah’s abortion is considered murder, and her refusal to name the father of her baby—a certain very influential reverend—adds extra time to her sentence. Hannah attempts to adjust to life as a Chrome, but her new state comes with prejudice and violence, and it leads her to question everything she has ever known: her faith, her love, and herself. Hillary Jordan’s prose is inquisitive and compelling, and she weaves in the details of this not-too-distant future in subtle and engaging ways.
October 2011 Indie Next List
“Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, this is a stunning, suspenseful, and scary look at what happens to Hannah Payne when she is arrested and convicted of having an abortion in a futuristic America. Her punishment is to become a 'chrome,' a criminal whose skin color is genetically altered to reflect her crime. Hannah becomes a Red for the crime of murder, and she further complicates her situation by refusing to name the father of her unborn child. Once chromed, she is released and must survive as best she can. Her navigation through the perils of a hostile society launches Hannah on a journey of self-discovery and makes readers question the consequences of politicizing the personal. Jordan's characters are compelling and her pacing is flawless; I couldn't put this book down!”
— Erica Caldwell, Present Tense, Batavia, NY
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.
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.
“[A] chilling futuristic novel.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
— Kirkus Reviews
“Jordan manages to open up powerful feminist and political themes without becoming overly preachy—and the parallels with Hawthorne are fun to trace.”—Kirkus
— Library Journal
“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
— Family Circle
“[A] provocative, politically charged novel... [Hannah’s] journey to reclaim herself is equally chilling and riveting.”—Family Circle
— The Book Case
“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