I wanted this book to be better than it is. When I first heard about this feminist science-fiction novel, I knew immediately that I had to read it. And, yes, I actually read the book instead of listening to the audiobook. This was my winter vacation read.
This book is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, although I haven't actually read The Scarlet Letter so I can't get too detailed about the similarities between the tale.
In the world of When She Woke, most criminals are not kept in prisons, but instead go through a skin-dying process called chroming. Different crimes get different colors, misdemeanors get yellow, murderers get red, etc. The chroming isn't permanent, it depends on the length of the sentence. Hannah Payne is sentenced to 16 years as a red for having an abortion and refusing to name either the father or the doctor who performed the procedure. Roe v. Wade was overturned after a STI epidemic left a huge portion of the population infertile and extreme right-wing Christians had taken over the government. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that the "Sanctity of Life" laws in the book are constantly referred to as the SOL laws, an acronym that more commonly means "Shit Outta Luck." Pregnant with a married pastor's child? Sorry, you don't have any options because of the SOL laws. It's actually a quite believable plot, and except for a few incidents late in the book, I can totally see this type of future unfolding.
We follow Hannah from the time she first wakes up as a red in the Chrome ward, through her time at a rehabilitation center, then we see her try to reconnect with her family. After that, the plot starts to go off the rails a bit. There is a definite difference in tone between the early chapters and the latter. The first chapters are slowly paced, drawing you in to this story and this world. The last few chapters are really quick, and the characters start acting in ways contrary to their previous actions. I don't want to spoil much, because I would still recommend checking this book out, but I'll just say that there's a sexual relationship in the second half of the book that I have trouble believing. And the ending seems to be resolved a little too quickly and neatly. Those are my biggest complaints about this book.
If you like feminist literature and are looking for a short, quick read, I recommend picking up When She Woke at your local library. It's only 240 pages (according to my Nook), and I read it in under three weeks. And those three weeks encompassed Christmas and New Years, so that's pretty impressive. Had it been a real vacation, where I didn't have work or anything, I probably could have finished this in a day or two.