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When She Woke

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  15,265 ratings  ·  3,129 reviews
I am red now. It was her first thought of the day, every day, surfacing after a few seconds of fogged, blessed ignorance and sweeping through her like a wave, breaking in her breast with a soundless roar. Hard on its heels came the second wave, crashing into the wreckage left by the first: he is gone.

Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’...more
Hardcover, 344 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Algonquin Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern1Q84 by Haruki MurakamiThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenThe American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Best Cover Art 2011 (Non-YA)
17th out of 278 books — 1,545 voters
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins1984 by George OrwellThe Giver by Lois LowryDivergent by Veronica RothBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
126th out of 1,878 books — 16,670 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This was a four-star book until the last 80 or so pages, and then it lost its way. So 3.5 stars it is.

The novel starts off strong with a tale of private shame made very public, and gleeful cruelty masquerading as religious piety. I saw some spooky parallels with the way Warren Jeffs was controlling the FLDS Church a few years ago.

Jordan takes the basic themes from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and brings them into the future with the addition of abortion and extreme fundamentalist rule. Hanna...more
Emily May

I wish I could write two reviews for When She Woke, one for the first half of the book and another for the second. Unfortunately, this is not one of those books that I can say starts off not so good but finishes on a high note; on the contrary, the first half was one of the strongest dystopian openings I've read in a long while and the second was just, well... a mess.

The first half of this book was at least a solid four stars. It was well-paced, fast without feeling rushed, and it was very clea...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 04, 2011 Hillary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  (Review from the author)
"If you must read one book this year, make it WHEN SHE WOKE." —Hillary's mom
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 12, 2014 Steph rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
How absolutely cool is the premise of this book? In this dystopian society, skin is genetically mutated a certain color to paint convicts to represent their crimes. Red skin means murderer. In this society, red skin also means someone who has had an abortion, a procedure that has been deemed illegal now that Roe V. Wade has been overturned. This novel had the potential to be as frightening as Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a novel that didn't seem entirely far fetched when it was published, and s...more
Sep 09, 2011 Kara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kara by: Jessica Donaghy
Shelves: big-issues, owned
I really loved this book. Not only was the plot compelling and fast-paced, but the issues explored in the story (abortion, religion, justice, feminism, individualism, etc) were pretty thought-provoking.

The author also did a fantastic job creating complex, believable, intensely human characters. Hannah's personal development through the course of the novel in particular was well done.

Great read, highly recommended.
Oh dear. A dystopian novel with echoes of The Handmaid's Tale (which I love) and The Scarlet Letter (which I haven't read) sounded promising. It was dreadful.

I'm not a big fan of "How to write" checklists; they're usually far too prescriptive, and very negative (a list of don'ts). However, I found myself wanting to shriek "Show, don't tell" every few pages. I kept reading only because I had time on my hands and thought it could only get better (it didn't).


Hannah is a good(ish), 26...more
First off, I do not just go around tossing out 5 stars all willy nilly. This is something I reserve only for my very favorite books. I predict that this book is going to be a hit with book clubs across the nation. It is an excellent read, it is provocative, enthralling, and thought provoking. This subject matter sticks with you. It forces you to take a closer look at your beliefs and see things from a different point of view. I highly recommend checking it out when it is released. Hillary Jordan...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Hannah Payne is twenty-six years old and Red, with a capital R, her badge of shame. Her skin has been “melachromed” by the State for her crime of abortion, and for not naming the abortionist and not identifying the father, the celebrated pastor and TV (“vid”) evangelist, Aidan Dale, who is now the nation's "Secretary of Faith." Her sentence is thirty days confinement, and then sixteen years in the community as a Red, where she will be constantly ostracized and persecuted.

Other criminals of the s...more
It takes a special book to hook me into reading it in one sitting. Maybe it's the timeliness to the current political and faith debate, maybe it's my affinity for The Scarlet Letter, or maybe Hillary Jordan is just that damn good. Whatever the maybe, this book grabs you and drops you into a completely realized world that is both terrifying and familiar. If you enjoy books like The Handmaid's Tale, or even the more current and YA focused The Hunger Games Trilogy, this book is sure to grab your in...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
"When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign."

So begins When She Woke, the gripping near-future story of Hannah Payne who pays for her crime of aborting the foetus in her womb by being sentenced to sixteen years as a Chrome. Blending the religious fervour and moralising of The Scarlet Letter with the chilling dystopian repression and tight control of The Handmaid's Tale, Jordan has created a very human story, one about love and loyalty, b...more
Crystal Starr Light
Bullet Review:


You know, up until the last, what, hour of this audiobook, I was fully intending to give it 3 stars. It has its faults, but you know, it tries. It's no "The Handmaid's Tale", but it tries.

And then we have to go and have that *censored* scene! And gorrammit, that ruined the message of the book for me. RUINED.

Message: 4 stars
Characters: 2 stars
Book up until last hour: 3 stars
Book after THAT SCENE: 1 star
Final Rating: 1 star

Maybe if you haven't read 1984 or...more
When she Woke is the second novel I have read by Hillary Jordan and I really enjoyed this story.

Every now and again I love to read dystopian literature that is well written and interesting.

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 colour is genetically altered to match the clas...more
The premise hooked me, a modern day Scarlet Letter meets Margaret Atwood, and the beginning few chapters had me intrigued as to what type of world this woman lived in. I especially liked the idea of her receiving red skin for the 'murder' of her unborn child. I thought, "hmm, how will she fit into this dystopian society?" "What will this book say about the world in which we live?" Then the message is sent to the reader -- and it's sent pretty loudly.

Quickly, it became apparent to me that this wa...more
Cautionary tale about separation of church and state. As is KEEP THEM SEPARATE. Much like Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" this book is set in a future where a super STD has rendered most women sterile (and so) Roe vs. Wade has been appealed. Except, "When She Woke," is actually a retelling of the "Scarlet Letter." Instead of a big, red "A" Hannah Payne (Hester Pryne) is tinted red for having had an abortion after her famous (and married) BF Pastor Aiden Dale (Reverand Dimmesdale) gets he...more
Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle. A book club read.

This is a modern reworking of The Scarlet Letter, which is a book I started but didn't finish. I think I need to get an audiobook version, as Hawthorne is one of those writers I find much more acceptable in narration (Thackeray is another). But I digress.

This dystopian is set in a future Texas where the religious right have absolute control, women are forced to be good little wifies and abortion = murder in the legal arena. Hannah, up t...more
Chance Maree
Jul 15, 2011 Chance Maree rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chance by: Goodreads Giveaway
This is an important book for the political and spiritual questions it effectively addresses. I was intrigued by the very first page and found it difficult to put the book down at night. The characters, plot and writing were all well done. There is logic in the premise, and the outcome is easily imagined as possible. Certainly the repression of thought is contemporary and troubling.

Although I had quibbles at the end where I found myself skimming travel log type descriptions which added nothing...more
Jenny Watson
This book is lazy. The most prominent blurb on the back of the book offers this insight "Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood […]." Jordan manages to directly lift the major plot points of The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid's Tale without doing any intellectual heavy lifting. Reflection on the issues raised is mostly replaced with yet another attempted rape. I'm surprised this isn't shelved in young adult based on the reading level.

Melachroming had great potenti...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

When She Woke, according to the jacket copy, is "a powerful re-imagining of The Scarlet Letter." I would agree with this statement. Granted, I disliked The Scarlet Letter, so almost any re-imagining of that might qualify as "powerful" to me, but When She Woke really is captivating, with vivid characters and a meaningful message. I was hooked from page one.

Supposedly, this is a dystopian. The story takes place in a future America with advanced technolog...more
When She Woke is in essence a modern version of The Scarlet Letter, but instead of the letter A, her skin is turned bright red. The book is set in the not so distant future, where religion is in control, and everyone is a religious fanatic; that’s right, its set in Texas. Imagine a world where the Westboro church is in charge and you pretty much have an idea of this dystopian society. This is a rather good modernisation of the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne story; it has taken all the key elements...more
Ruth Turner

I found this to be well written, and an easy, fast read. But at the same time I was a little disappointed. I read this on the back of Mudbound, thinking it would be similar. Was I ever wrong!

Nevertheless, it was an interesting read for the most part, although there was a little too much religious content for me.

And, as Tricia, a GR reader so delicately put it, the *cough, Simone scene, cough* came out of left field. I really couldn't see the purpose of it, and I found it unbelievable and a littl...more
Someone told me that my (second unpublished) novel reminded me of this one, so I thought I'd give it a try. The premise caught my attention and the writing was smooth and believable. The problem I had with it was that it felt like a political propaganda pamphlet. I wanted to enjoy the story but I kept getting hit over the head with Jordan's pro-choice agenda. She presents all religious figures as wildly fanatic or absurdly hypocritical, while she turns the back-alley abortionist into some kind o...more
The protagonist awakes dyed red for her crime...abortion. In this dystopian tale there is no separation of church and state, and even less separation between the author's personal political views and her story. This book is engaging, initially (until the last 1/3) well written, and explores some controversial subjects. It is not for the sensitive, faint of heart, or easily offended. Or even not easily offended, there were many parts i had to skip/skim. To me, it felt like 2 separate novels, with...more
JoAnne Pulcino
By Hillary Jordan
If THE HANDMAIDS TALE and THE SCARLET LETTER were to have a child it most certainly would be this wonderful book, WHEN SHE WOKE. This well written book captures you with the opening scene of a young woman lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown while being televised to millions of homes.

Hannah Payne’s life had been devoted to church and family all her life until she shared a fierce and forbidden love with a very public figure. When she became...more
Pam Vlieg
I just finished and a review will come later but for now I have very few coherent thoughts as I process everything that I have read in this fabulous and amazing novel.
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...more
Donna  Happy Booker
Sep 26, 2011 Donna Happy Booker rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of dystopian, fans of The Scarlet Letter or The Handmaids Tale
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 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, Hanna...more
A Modern day, dystopian Scarlet Letter.

I devoured this novel like it was a chocolate covered caramel. When She Woke follows Hannah Payne, as she had an affair with a prestigious man involved in the church. She becomes pregnant and decides to abort the fetus.

This book takes place in a society where the church rules most of the law and the government is overally involved in people's lives. Abortion is considered murder and is handled underground. You have revolutionaries that are feminists and ar...more
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Hillary Jordan is the author of two novels: MUDBOUND and WHEN SHE WOKE, as well as the digital short "Aftermirth," all published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

MUDBOUND won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for fiction, founded by Barbara Kingsolver to recognize debut novels of social justice, and an Alex Award from the American Library Association. PASTE Magazine named it one of the Top 10 Debut Novel...more
More about Hillary Jordan...
Mudbound Aftermirth

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“You don't have to stop thinking and asking questions to believe in God, child. If He'd wanted a flock of eight billion sheep, He wouldn't have given us opposable thumbs, much less free will.” 24 likes
“If God is the Creator, if God englobes every single thing in the universe, then God is everything, and everything is God. God is the earth and the sky, and the tree planted in the earth under the sky, and the bird in the tree, and the worm in the beak of the bird, and the dirt in the stomach of the worm. God is He and She, straight and gay, black and white and red - yes even that...and green and blue and all the rest. And so, to despise me for loving women or you for being a Red who made love with a woman, would be to despise not only His own creations but also to hate Himself. My God is not so stupid as that.” 14 likes
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