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Must-read: Hillary Jordan’s stunning homage to The Scarlet Letter

Hillary Jordan’s novel is a page-turning futuristic homage to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Instead of wearing a letter A for adultery, main character Hannah Payne (Hester Prynne, anyone?) has her whole body “chromed” — as described in the first line of the novel: “When she woke, she was red.”

When she woke

The crime isn’t adultery either — it’s abortion. And it’s in the future. From the publisher, a stunning bit about his can’t-put-down novel:

I am a 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’s convicted of murder, she awakens in a new body 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; her crime is 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 and rehabilitated, 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.


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