When She Woke’ is a new take on a classic novel
“When She Woke” by Hillary Jordan is a modern reimagining of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s celebrated novel “The Scarlet Letter.” While it brings a few frightening new elements into the mix, such as the use of technological advances in committing social injustices, the book borrows too many elements from “The Scarlet Letter” to be considered original.
Jordan is anything but subtle in introducing these borrowed elements. The names of the main characters hardly change at all: Hester Prynne becomes Hanna Payne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale becomes Reverend Dale, and even Pearl comes into the storyline at one point. The plot is also very similar: a young woman is made into an example for committing an act that should have been her own business and the only man who knows her secret is the one man she cannot expose.
The difference between the two stories is the crime, and if there is one thing that Jordan does well, it is this—unlike Hester Prynne, who was jailed for adultery, Hanna Payne is sentenced for taking the life of her unborn baby. Her punishment, too, is far worse. Rather than having to wear a scarlet letter, her entire body is turned bright red using a new medical process called melachroming.
Despite the near lack of originality and generally bland writing style, “When She Woke” successfully engages the reader by drawing them into a deeper discussion of politically and socially relevant issues like abortion, discrimination, separation of church and state and the criminal justice system. Though Hanna Payne is not a particularly interesting or relatable character, some readers will find that the loss and rediscovery of her faith hits home, and that the questions that her predicament inspires are ones we find ourselves asking every day.
Though the story is not artfully unraveled, it is powerful enough to drive the reader through to the end. The issues that the novel explores are undeniably provocative and the answers to the questions that they inspire are profound. Ultimately, “When She Woke” is worth the read and highly recommended for fans of the dystopian genre.
Andrea Aguirre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.