Rating: 3 stars

Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of murder. The victim, says the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love.

A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated, and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned but chromed and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love. 

When She Woke is a really powerful story. A story that makes me question the world Hannah lives in as well as my own society.

Chroming people depending on their crime is an interesting idea to think about. Especially because in this book, I feel like each color choosing for a crime is symbolic. Red for murder is obvious in the sense that murdering someone involves blood being shed while blue for rape represents a sense of innocence being lost. I think the idea of chroming people in general is interesting because it would make it easier for us as a society to know who’s committed a crime. We’d be better able to protect ourselves from people we don’t know who could hurt us. But at the same time, I see it has serious issues too. It would be another form of racism where people who’ve been chromed will have to deal with people trying to hurt them because of their past actions. It would create another society for people to continue hating each other. But at the same time, society would be safer because we’d know whose committed crimes and justice would be served. Either way, it’s an issue you ponder as a reader when reading this book.

This book also makes me question faith. I’m not a highly religious person to begin with because I believe everyone should be able to believe in whatever they want without someone judging them. Not everyone has the same faith and I think everyone has a right to practice their religion without fear from others perceiving them in a negative light. In When She Woke, Hannah had her own doubts about what she believed in whenever she became a chrome. Life changed for her and she found she couldn’t feel God’s presence anymore. She also realized that she missed out on so much in life because of her faith and how it perceives women. While I enjoyed reading this aspect of the book, it definitely makes me question religious institutions and the way people act towards others in the name of their faith. While I believe religion is important, I don’t think it should be considered so important that you completely disregard another person and treat them ill because of their actions. If anything, that’s when a person needs religion the most. It’s because of the way people act towards others in the name of their faith that I don’t care as much about religion as others. And this book brought that to the surface to me in ways I didn’t expect.

I enjoyed reading this book because like the two issues I’ve mentioned above, it brings a lot of interesting conversation to the table. Conversations about issues like crime, abortions, faith and racism that while uncomfortable to talk about need to be discussed. I enjoyed reading this book because these issues were included in the story and made me think.

However, there were also some aspects of When She Woke I wasn’t pleased to see. I wasn’t happy that they made faith such a huge part of this story. While I understand that Hannah was once a very religious girl, I feel like they really enforced it too much sometimes. Especially because it seemed like almost everyone in this society was religious in some way even though that’s not at all how everyone in our world acts. I felt like reverends in the story like Hannah’s lover were given celebrity status in the story for being so indoctrined in their faith. While it gave me hope that things with chroming wouldn’t be too bad, I also felt like it was trying to force a message about faith on people too.

Another aspect of this story I wasn’t happy about was the way in which Hannah becomes saved. I found so many plot holes with the whole thing, especially near the end of the story when Hannah is left to travel to Canada on her own. Especially because so much could’ve gone wrong with her traveling alone. I also just didn’t understand why this organization was only helping women who’d gotten abortions instead of helping every chrome who wanted to repent their crime. I guess I just expected more from this besides Hannah going to Canada to reverse the change. Maybe something along the lines of her and the organization stopping chroming from being legal. I guess I feel like the story isn’t finished being told and that more should’ve been written.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading When She Woke. It was a very powerful story with a lot of things for the reader to talk about. It just didn’t necessarily have enough explained in the plot for me to give it a higher rating. But I did enjoy the book as a whole and recommend it to anyone interested in reading something like this.