When She Woke, written by Hillary Jordan, is a futuristic novel based on a woman’s life who has been sentenced to live as a Chrome- a genetically altered, by way of coloring her skin for sixteen years based on her crime committed. Hannah Payne becomes a Red; the color signifying she is a murderer, the victim being her unborn child.
In the novel, Church and State are no longer separate, and the laws of the Bible, interpreted by fundamentalists, are now punishable by the State. Hannah started out her life as a devout Christian, sheltered by her parents and her church. But she always asked too many questions and did not see validity in her daily life as she was supposed to. Being a seamstress by trade, she hid in her studio creating elaborate and sometimes risqué dresses that fit her own body, but she had to keep them hidden because they did not fall into the dress code, dresses consisting of shades of gray, that her religion forced upon her.
Hannah tried to be what her parents considered a good Christian. She even worked in the church’s office. Ironically, that is where she met her lover, the revered Reverend Dale. They fell in love, not just in lust, and Hannah became pregnant. Knowing that Reverend Dale would never leave his wife, Hannah never told him she was pregnant before she went to have the child aborted. While Hannah struggled with the decision, she would have rather sacrificed her soul to an eternity of Hell than expose the one she loved. After the illegal abortion was finished, she is caught and sentenced to one month of incarceration and sixteen years as a Chrome- red skin and sterility implant.
Once out of the Chrome ward, Hannah is released back into a society that hates Chromes. Always trying to hide her bright red skin, she finds herself in a situation where she has to run away from the family who still loves her. She has to make her own life to protect theirs. For instance, Hannah has a pregnant (after marriage) sister who is physically abused by her husband. Her husband hates Hannah and eventually tries to kill Hannah. Her brother-in-law tells her that in order to keep her sister safe, Hannah can never be around her sister again.
After leaving the small world she has known, Hannah discovers the world is a big bad place, but there are good people out there, who are considered criminals in their own right by members of her church. These people want to help Hannah survive and start a new life. Hannah evolves into a new person, one who decides for herself what is moral and what is not. She decides that she is not going to be told how to live anymore. In a way, she is now truly free in a world where she has to hide.
I decided to read this book because I was looking for a strong female heroine and a story did not progress by way of coincidence. I wanted to find something that had a religious undertone. I found these attributes in When She Woke. Hannah Payne goes on a great adventure filled with love and heartbreak, danger, murder, and suspense. It contains deception, heroes, and the will to survive. The strong characters leave noting to chance and steer their own lives even after being thrown into situations that otherwise may have been destructive. As Hannah embarks on her journey (a physical trip to safety), she makes her own decisions even when she is told if she strays from the path, the people who are helping her will kill her. But Hannah makes her own decision to steer away from the path because she has to see her lover one more time. Then she decides she cannot condemn him to a life on the run and his followers need him, therefore, she sacrifices her own happiness for the good of the people.
This reminds me of how I want Abby’s character to develop. I want her to sacrifice herself for her beliefs, and I want her beliefs to be strong enough that some would consider them to be wrong. I believe if a person whole-heartedly believes in some intangible thing, there is someone else who whole-heartedly believes you to be completely wrong. Similar to this idea is the rightness of killing a killer. Is this wrong? Some people would say absolutely while others would say absolutely not. I not only want Abby’s story to run without coincidence, like When She Woke, but I also want readers to question what is truly right. Is it what they have been told their whole lives? Is that different than what lies in their hearts? If a reader is able to stand in someone else’s shoes, even if only for a moment and truly feel how another feels when faced with crime and sin and not judge them but rather feel empathy for them, I have done my job.