Hillary Jordan’s novel When She Woke is often described as a new dystopian take on The Scarlet Letter. It is set in a future where an epidemic has left the majority of women sterile and abortion has been made illegal to prevent a declining population. Prisons are also wildly overcrowded, so to remedy this, criminals who aren’t considered dangerous to society are not locked up but are instead “melachromed”: their skin is dyed so that their crime is instantly recognizable to the population.
The novel’s main character, Hannah Payne, is a very religious young woman who broke the law by having an abortion in order to protect the baby’s father, world-famous Reverend Aidan Dale. Hannah is caught and tried, and she wakes up a the beginning of the novel with scarlet red skin. The book flashes back to how she ended up in this position and how she deals with entering society as a an outcast due to the color of her skin and the nature of her crime.
This book was very compelling, so much so that I found it a little painful to have to put it down at times. It’s a very interesting take on a futuristic society; it’s unique, but not so out-there that you can never imagine it happening. This might even be a fun pick for a book club because its controversial nature could bring up some very lively discussion!