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When She Woke

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  26,475 ratings  ·  4,417 reviews
When She Woke is a fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, who 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.

Bellwether Prize Winner Hillary Jordan's provocative new novel is the fiercely imagined story of a woman
Hardcover, 344 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Algonquin Books
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Yes, for high-school-aged readers. However, many public schools may not permit the content in a classroom setting.…more

Yes, for high-school-aged readers. However, many public schools may not permit the content in a classroom setting.(less)

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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  26,475 ratings  ·  4,417 reviews

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Emily May
Feb 20, 2012 rated it liked it

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 c
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
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
Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
"If you must read one book this year, make it WHEN SHE WOKE." —Hillary's mom ...more
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dystopian
Warning: Due to the heavy religious tone of the book, this review is going to be religious in nature and will in large part be a discussion of my faith. If you’re offended by this, please feel free to skip reading this particular review.

Some books disturb you psychologically. For authors like King and Koontz and Barker, that psychological fear is their bread and butter, and many of us will pay good money to be frightened. But then there are the books that disturb you on a moral level. A spir
Nov 03, 2018 rated it liked it
A quite good sci-fi novel, When She Woke tells the story of a future United States in which crimes are punished by chroming. According to what the offense is your skin is dyed that color. Hannah Payne (the Scarlet Letter is paid homage to throughout) refuses to divulge the name of her lover or her abortionist, so she receives the maximum sentence, 16 years with her skin dyed red and she must survive somehow out on the streets as a pariah in the ultra religious society that the U.S. has become. A ...more
Jan 18, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: overrated, dystopian
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
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed, 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
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
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kara by: Jessica
Shelves: owned, big-issues
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.
"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
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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)
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
reading is my hustle
Cautionary tale about separation of church and state. As is KEEP THEM SEPARATE. Much like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale this book is set in a future where a super STD has rendered most women sterile & Roe vs. Wade has been appealed. Except When She Woke is actually a retelling of the The Scarlet Letter. Instead of a big, red "A" Hannah Payne (ahem, Hester Pryne) is tinted red for having had an abortion after her famous + married boyfriend, Pastor Aiden Dale (ahem, Reverand Dimmesdale), gets her p ...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
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
I feel like I was tricked into reading a book that was really religious... as I got to the end and I started getting preached at I was like oh...

I don't really appreciate a modern book telling me that life is an empty void without God. Whether or not she's echoing Nathanial Hawthorne I'm not sure (it's been about a decade since I read the Scarlet Letter), but I was pretty sure this was all the author's opinions too.


Also (view spoiler)
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jenny Watson
Sep 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
”When she woke, she was red.”

Forget The Handmaid’s Tale and even Stephen King’s books, this was one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

This should in of itself be hilarious, because I don’t usually get scared by dystopian books. So why should this be any different? Because the world the author created was so freakishly realistic in where America is headed in terms of politics, especially with the arrival of the new president (that shall not be named). It’s basically what would happen if th
Lisa Reads & Reviews
Jul 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Lisa 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
Sonja Arlow
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-read, dystopian
I read a lot of dystopian, so I was quite excited to start on a book by a new author in one of my favourite genres.

This alternative Texas is a patriarchal Big Brotherish society where church and state is indistinguishable. Abortion, homosexuality, the theory of evolution, even colourful clothes are forbidden by the church and executed by the law. But for all their pious preaching, forgiveness and compassion are two things completely out of reach for these Christian fundamentalists.

Hanna is a 26
Mar 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it
A nice, slightly young adult-ish novel. Are adult writers becoming more juvenile or young adult writers becoming more sophisticated? I guess it doesn't matter either way; this book is still interesting despite its slight superficiality. The concept of people being turned different colors based on the crimes they're convicted of is fascinating, but strangely it isn't as much of a big deal as you'd expect. While I appreciate that Jordan doesn't ram her heroine's redness down your throat, I would'v ...more
Oct 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, buddy-reads
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
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
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, dystopia, ya
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
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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

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