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When She Woke
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Monthly Book Discussions > November 2011: When She Woke" discussion

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Newteacherwife | 32 comments This book is fantastic so far. I love the story behind it, and even though it is based off of "The Scarlet Letter", it's still unique and intriguing and I just can't put it down.

Anyone have any guesses as to what's ahead? I really want to know what's going on with Kayla. Trying not to spoil things... Also, the Henley's?!


Newteacherwife | 32 comments I think it could be used as propaganda. Even though there are aspects that are obviously not in play today (at least I hope there aren't American terrorists planning to take out the president...) but there were so many times that I would forget this is set sometime in the future. Some of the things going on in American politics today was eerily similar to that happening in the book. And like all potential pieces of propoganda, some people will like it, some won't. I, personally, thought it gave a very realistic and honest look at someone that had an abortion. They are by no means monsters or heartless- she had real reasons, and unfortunately, I think people forget that we're all human. No matter which side of the argument you stand on, Hannah is not a cruel evil woman. She's a girl whose world got turned upside down, as well as all of her beliefs.

As for age appropriateness, that will depend entirely on the kid. I know I read at far more advanced levels than my age group, so I could have been okay with this book in mid-high school. I used to read books that had some similar themes to them, so I know I could have handled it. However, if the kid is fairly immature or very unaware of things happening around them, then they may need to wait. Or as a parent, I would want to talk with them about this- sort of a debriefing session. I think boys should read this as well because unfortunately, they rarely see or experience what happens to the girl. Even in the book, Aiden is invisible. I think boys also need to know the potential consequences. (Not that anyone will be locked in a cell and chromed, but there are still consequences even if the girl doesn't have an abortion.)

Okay. That was the longest Goodreads comment ever. I have one little section left to finish and I can't even imagine how this is going to end!


JudgyK I don't think I'd call it propaganda. I think of propaganda as trying to convince people that a certain view of the world is correct. When She Woke seemed to inhabit the gray areas - was it an abomination, a murder? Or was it strictly a medical procedure? It asks questions, finds that there are no easy answers. If anything, I thought it read as a moderate's manifesto- belief in a Christian deity but not the angry Old Testament God, understanding that different people make different decisions for different reasons and that they aren't necessarily bad, seeing both sides and realizing that the answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes.

I'd personally call it age-appropriate for kids in middle school. By that point they've started sex ed, and have probably started sneaking peeks at Playboys and internet porn and have certainly spoken with their friends about how babies are made and what happens. Odds are they've noticed the abortion debate as it plays out in the news and even in some Sunday schools. I tend to give kids more credit than most people do. When She Woke wasn't smutty or indecent. It looked at a person who grew up following all the rules, or at least trying to, who then made a bad decision (the affair) and dealt with the consequences. Sure the consequences are a bit extreme, but would the impact be as great if they weren't? It shows every side of it.

It also provides a bunch of great discussion topics - is it better to wait until marriage for sex, even if you ended up with someone like Cole? Does guilt keep a relationship together, or does it encourage cheating? If you committed a crime and the people who helped you get to that point were good people doing their best to be good, would you keep their confidences, or sell them out? Even if you think abortion is murder, does that justify condemning a woman to life as an outcast, where it's okay to harass and discriminate against her, and rape her or do whatever the hell else you want to her? Should any murderer be treated like that? I mean, this society has theoretically ended the death penalty in most cases, but a very strong argument could be made that chroming sentences a person to death as well, just not death by the state. More like death by lynchmob after the state washes its hands of you.

By middle school, kids know about the underground railroad. Is this any different? It's more discrimination against people by the color of their skin, but the skin is colored that way because they committed a crime, not just because they were born. Should people like Hannah be helped? Or should you just look the other way while others treat her like crap?

I absolutely 100% agree with NTW that boys need to read this book. They need to know what it's like for a woman to be held against her will by a bigger stronger person. But everyone should read it- they need to know that there are no easy decisions, and that people should not be condemned for whatever they choose. They need to consider what it's like to be branded a criminal for the rest of your life, and how that effects everything else you do forever. They need to compare chroming to sex offender registries and to three strike laws and to not hiring felons.

I'm obsessed with this book. I want to know what happened after the end. I want to know more about how it got to the end. I want to know what happened to different characters who weren't accounted for by the end. I'm pretty sure that's the mark of an awesome book though. One that makes me think of the characters as people who I'm concerned about and want to know more of.

And I hate Aidan. So there's that.


message 4: by Kayla (new)

Kayla Finley (kaylafinley) | 28 comments I read a lot of comments where people didn't like the end. However, I thought it wasn't bad, if you take the book for what it is. It's a good ending in that it stresses that she was herself again. Through her journey so far she's found that she is her most prized possession. That she could lose everything and still keep going as long as she had her safety and her identity intact - at least to herself. Despite her confusion over God and what is right and wrong, she seemed very sure of who she was (even if she wouldn't have said so herself).

The most satisfying thing about the ending to me was that her judgmental mother, her wishy-washy sister, her pathetic lover, and her conflicted father all lost. Hannah was the one that won in the end, and presumably is going to have a decent life, even with a best friend. Even though she "lost everything" she gained enough since the chroming to make up for it.

Have to run, more thoughts later!


JudgyK Kayla wrote: "The most satisfying thing about the ending to me was that her judgmental mother, her wishy-washy sister, her pathetic lover, and her conflicted father all lost."

I didn't view Hannah's family as antagonists. Hannah's struggle wasn't against them. It was against a state that has become so entrenched in its beliefs that it completely ruins the lives of people who have committed crimes. It was against a society that forced her lover to stay with his wife, even though he didn't love her. And, more than anything, her struggle was to learn who she is and accept herself as a flawed but still good person.

Her family - her highly religious mother who was utterly mortified at the (in her mind) unspeakable crime her daughter committed; her father who wants to support her but also has to live with his wife; her sister who tried so hard to get what she wanted out of life and discovered that what she got wasn't at all what she thought she was signing up for; even her lover whose job forced him to live a lie - made her who she is, and gave her a context and a background for it, but the real struggle was her accepting who she is and owning responsibility for her life and her decisions.

SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING: I liked the end, in general, though I found it awfully abrupt. I know why we saw Aidan's collapse and meltdown and then poof, it ended (thank you, Mr. Hawthorne) but I wanted more. I wanted to see Hannah show up in the town and find the sign and count days until she could go. I wanted to see what she did during that time. I wanted more about her travels to the border. I wanted to see Hannah and Kayla reunite, make sure Kayla was okay and escaped as relatively unscathed as Hannah did. I wanted to see if Kayla stuck with Vincent and if Becca left Cole and what she named the twins. I wanted to see Hannah turn into an activist and a vigilante and have her work to get it all overturned, with the help of her father and sister, and then when it all stopped and got better, have her mom finally realize that she'd had a change of heart and was sorry and big hugs all around. I want to punch Aidan for his stupid reveal and not using his goddamned position of power to talk more against chroming and the way chromes are treated and make change from his side to help Hannah and the cause and stuff. I want to know why the Novembrists didn't notice Hannah's sneaky meeting with Aidan and if they eventually did learn about it and what happened. I want to see the Henleys destroyed, and to see Cole either become a good person or get a dose of his medicine to become good or whatever.

To me, all that is the mark of a fantastic book with characters I care about. I liked them all enough to want more.


message 6: by Kayla (last edited Nov 21, 2011 03:08PM) (new)

Kayla Finley (kaylafinley) | 28 comments Amie, I didn't really see the family as antagonists either, I was just trying to figure a way to frame my point, that Hannah was the one that was the strongest and gained more than she'd lost when she was cut off from everyone she knew and loved. I totally agree that the society was the chief character. Also, what you wanted to see after the ending totally represents my only real issue with this book.

I think that most of this is due to the inexperience of the author, since this is just her second book (I believe). I don't want to sound like a jerk here, because really, what have I published? Also, I haven't read The Scarlet Letter so I don't know how closely she stuck to things there, but as Amie alluded to Hawthorne above I'm assuming TSL ends abruptly too.

Anyway. I wish that the author had committed more to the setting. For example, take The Hunger Games. District 12 and the arena are as important characters as any - change more than a couple details about these settings and the whole premise falls apart. For this book, we don't have that - we have the world we live in with a few more complications and a different punitive system. Now, for those interested in the law, this brings about huge topics of discussion, but to have your book hinging totally on this point leaves the whole thing feeling a bit lazy. For example, most of the "extra" technology mentioned in the book could have easily been thrown out - it just didn't matter. Everything about the setting seemed to be a vehicle for carrying the plot forward rather than something extremely integral to the whole story. Pull a few threads of the setting and you could still have the entire story intact.

I would have LOVED for this book to have been expanded. Not just at the end, or a sequel, but for what we have to be the first half of the book with a lot more detailing thrown in. To have the story also told from more points of view, because if you're going to use third person, take advantage of that flexibility. I enjoyed that the writing was extremely crisp and clear, and not bogged down by too much blathering or insignificant details - but we just needed more significant details put in.

I know the whole "show vs. tell" dichotomy in critiquing fiction is run into the ground, but for me, this is the true downfall of the book. We're told too much, and it's all from Hannah's perspective, and she's not in a position to be the most reliable narrator. How would this world have been seen from another? That's why I think the book would be so much richer if there would have been another storyline thrown in that eventually intersects with Hannah's, or if we could have at least gotten more of Kayla's journey before Hannah meets her.

(It's really weird to keep seeing those two names together, because i have a really good friend named Hannah.)

Also, the plot is pretty linear. Hannah just goes from one place to another and is always rescued in the nick of time or even before the nick of time. Again, inexperience of the author - she clearly didn't want Hannah to get into TOO much peril. On one hand, hasn't she been through enough? But seasoned authors typically throw their characters into every terrible situation that can be reasonably imagined. I mean, how much more gripping would the story have been had Hannah and Kayla not been rescued after being sold out by Stanton and if Hannah then had to watch Kayla frag right out of her mind before drowning herself while they're on some boat hanging out in Cuban waters, then if Hannah had to try to escape and row herself to Miami in a lifeboat, and THEN, as mentioned above, turn into an activist and vigilante?

It seems, all in all, that the author made a distinct choice to keep this book pretty simplistic. That's not a wrong choice by any means, I just think that this story could have gone from good to really great had she decided to go for it. It almost seems like she had a personal reason for wanting to dive into this society with these types of beliefs, rather than completely flesh out the story. Sure, it's based on The Scarlet Letter, but that could definitely have been used as a jumping off point to something even better and greater in scope.


message 7: by Kayla (new)

Kayla Finley (kaylafinley) | 28 comments Also, should I read TSL? I remember trying in the library when I was about 12 and couldn't get past the 2nd page.


JudgyK Full of thoughts so here goes.

Kayla wrote: "Hannah was the one that was the strongest and gained more than she'd lost when she was cut off from everyone she knew and loved."

YES. Agreed.

Kayla wrote: "I haven't read The Scarlet Letter so I don't know how closely she stuck to things there, but as Amie alluded to Hawthorne above I'm assuming TSL ends abruptly too."

Honestly? I read it in 11th grade during the Year Of Symbolism with a teacher who ripped apart EVERY SINGLE BOOK that we read and pumped them all SO full of symbolism that I couldn't function. I liked the story of TSL, I think, but nowadays all I can remember is how he kept talking about duality and rose bushes and stuff? I don't really know. But I do believe that I remember thinking it ended rather abruptly as well.

Kayla wrote: "I wish that the author had committed more to the setting. For example, take The Hunger Games. District 12 and the arena are as important characters as any - change more than a couple details about these settings and the whole premise falls apart. For this book, we don't have that - we have the world we live in with a few more complications and a different punitive system."

I didn't have a problem with setting. I viewed WSW more like The Giver, the Handmaid's Tale, or Fahrenheit 451 than like THG. Sure, they're all dystopian futuristic stories, but with varying degrees of destruction of the planet due to war or climate change or nuclear explosions or horrible diseases. WSW to me was America, but America that dropped separation of church and state somewhere along the line and passed personhood amendments - and to me, that isn't SUCH a stretch of the imagination. (PS, Ninja - I've done some thinking and now I say it probably IS propaganda. It's a bit of a warning, but a moderate version of a warning, if that makes sense.) But I assumed that, other than government checkpoints and new tracking and chroming technologies, the setting was not much different than it would be today.

Kayla wrote: "We're told too much, and it's all from Hannah's perspective, and she's not in a position to be the most reliable narrator. How would this world have been seen from another?"

I freaking LOVE this idea. Though, now I'm kind of wondering if I was looking at it wrong - maybe setting and dystopianness and even characters aren't really what matters and what matters is Hannah learning to love and accept herself? And that central idea story is totally secondary to all the rest? I don't LIKE this idea, and I'm fairly certain I saw an interview where the author said the idea grew out of a discussion on dying criminals colors, but.. who knows?

Kayla wrote: "Hannah just goes from one place to another and is always rescued in the nick of time or even before the nick of time."

YES. That annoyed me too. Don't get me wrong - I didn't want to read about Hannah getting drugged out on thrall (btw, SCARIEST DRUG EVER) and then getting raped while begging for it, or Hannah getting beaten by the Fist while people pretended not to see it - but there's an awful lot of "danger" with very little payoff.

Kayla wrote: "[H]ow much more gripping would the story have been had Hannah and Kayla not been rescued after being sold out by Stanton and if Hannah then had to watch Kayla frag right out of her mind before drowning herself while they're on some boat hanging out in Cuban waters, then if Hannah had to try to escape and row herself to Miami in a lifeboat, and THEN, as mentioned above, turn into an activist and vigilante?"

DUDE. SO MUCH MORE. I'd like to see her save herself, rather than keep on getting saved. She was clearly a strong moral person with the ability and willingness to suffer great amounts in order to do what she perceives as the right thing - she totally could have handled a bit more danger and been able to get herself out of it more. And? I was REALLY annoyed that we heard Kayla was starting to frag but don't know what it means or how they saved her from it because it always sounded like IF someone starts fragging, it's too late to reverse the chroming and avoid further fragging. Did I get that wrong? And what exactly IS fragging?

___________________________________
I still really liked it, but yeah - I want more. I totally get why it was basic and why Hannah was almost passive about her punishment and escape (I'm sure a lot of it has to do with TSL and Hester quietly taking her punishment with dignity and not selling out the babydaddy) but I would have liked more. So there's that.


message 9: by Kayla (new)

Kayla Finley (kaylafinley) | 28 comments (I'm on my phone so i can't quote all fansee.)

See, I was under the same impression about the fragging- that once you started, you were screwed. The fragging is, I guess, fragmentation of your mind. I'm guessing it would mess with your frontal lobe, but it was a thing built in with the chroming that drove you crazy until you died, usually at your own hand.

On second thought I guess it makes sense that it would be reversible- that would actually give people incentive to go get rechromed so it would stop. But I don't see how your brain would repair itself if it started fragging. And it seemed like the Novembrists were so hell bent on getting rid of Kayla before she started or at the first hint of it, even though it seemed to be a relatively slow process (days or weeks instead of merely hours). They would have had time to get her in some treatment if she had symptoms on the road.

This issue with Kayla possibly fragging was the biggest hole in the novel. If she wasn't going to pursue it she could have taken out the line where Kayla thought she had started fragging out. I think that would have been much better. I wouldn't be surprised if her editor had suggested the same thing. The lack of info about Kayla makes me think she may have ran into deadline issues, or she wanted Hannah to remain the focus.

One thing that simultaneously fascinates and drives me nuts about fiction is the motivation of the author. It's something we'll never know in most instances but I just want to ask all of my questions!

What do you guys think about Aidan? Should she have gone to see him? I wish she had made him face her with the lights on, to see in person what she had gone through because of him. But I don't know, I think I would sell out the baby daddy in a heartbeat anyway, make someone else bear the brunt of the punishment too. It's hard to say.

Also, thoughts on the Henleys? I have no idea what could have motivated the Mrs. to make them get down in the exact position and relive what had happened.


JudgyK Kayla wrote: "What do you guys think about Aidan? Should she have gone to see him? I wish she had made him face her with the lights on, to see in person what she had gone through because of him. But I don't know, I think I would sell out the baby daddy in a heartbeat anyway, make someone else bear the brunt of the punishment too. It's hard to say. "

Ugh, that was the most annoying part of the book to me. She STILL wasn't ever mad at him. She didn't feel like any of it was his fault, or like she'd gone through the chroming because of him. So it didn't surprise me that she didn't turn on the lights and be like "HEY, FUCKER, CHECK THIS RED OUT." I'm also still annoyed that she even went to him, knowing that doing so endangered the lives of all the people who were trying so hard to help her out (who she doesn't seem to care about at all) or endangering her life (she doesn't seem to care) or even HIS life (the one person she might actually care about). Ugh.

Duuuuude, the Henleys. WHAT IS THAT ABOUT? Did the Mrs. have superclap so she wanted to especially torture people about stuff? But it sounded like she did it to EVERYONE who came through, not just the aborters.. she must be some sort of sadist who enjoys making people relive difficult moments in excruciating detail. And, honestly, her drinking tea while doing it made me think of Dolores Umbridge - being SO horrible while pretending to be nice and sipping tea. UGH.

I think I'm going to investigate whether the author has a blog or twitter or goodreads account or what- I'd like some answers! Maybe even interviews with her.


Jamie (ahealthyjd) Ok, just started this last night but I'm already half way through it. Hoping to finish before the end of the month. Cannot wait to read what you guys have been saying because this book is crazy nuts!


JudgyK I saw a couple interviews with the author where she talked about the first time she started writing the book (apparently years ago before she published her first book and came back to this one after and reworked it) and initially, Hannah was chromed red for murdering her sister's abusive husband. Hearing that sort of explained to me a bit more of why the Cole line was there- it's hard to get rid of the bit that you started with, even when the whole thing changes, I guess. Does that make sense? Am I crazy?

Also, in hilarious news, she drove to Canada through a super remote area and TOLD THE BORDER GUARDS THAT SHE WAS RESEARCHING WAYS TO ENTER ILLEGALLY. I about died. Mental note on what not to do when you write a book :)


Jamie (ahealthyjd) Finally finished this one...I agree with you guys on the whole abrupt ending/wanting to know more.

I was especially irked by Kayla's proclamation that she thought she was beginning to frag and then...nothing. Makes me wonder if the author couldn't pinpoint exactly what she envisioned fragging to be (and possibly ran out of time before the book published).

For some reason I kept picturing the crazy preacher's wife, Sarah Newlin, from True Blood when I read about Mrs. Henley...but Dolores Umbridge is GENIUS, her character always makes me cringe as did Mrs. Henley.

Did anyone else kinda want to see Simone at the border to possibly elaborate on that tricky relationship? I did, I wanted her to slap Hannah for visiting Aidan (half out of rage that she would endanger the lives of the Novembrists and half out of jealousy).

And on that note, I felt like seeing Aidan one last time was absolutely not necessary and I feel like Hannah's character should have been punished in some way for doing so.

Overall I thought this book was fantastic. Not sure if it was meant to be propoganda but I do see how it could be.


JudgyK Found this blog post on overused cliche plot twists - number 5 refers to When She Woke and I have to say, I agree: http://bookriot.com/2011/12/14/7-surp...

Note- there are some spoilers for a few books on there (also for The Empire Strikes Back, if you've missed the movie).


Jamie (ahealthyjd) Haha, I love this article....number 7 is an especially infuriating twist in both novels and movies for me and I love how she calls out M. Night Shymalan and Shutter Island (still not sure why ANYONE was shocked by the end of this movie).

As for the WSW call out I agree as well. I thought the lesbian experience was weakly approached and useless to the story hence my desire to see Simone at the end of the story to tie up the loose ends.


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