Stop right here and just go read "The Handmaid's Tale"

When She Woke - Hillary Jordan

Bullet Review:


You know, up until the last, what, hour of this audiobook, I was fully intending to give it 3 stars. It has its faults, but you know, it tries. It's no "The Handmaid's Tale", but it tries.

And then we have to go and have that *censored* scene! And gorrammit, that ruined the message of the book for me. RUINED.

Message: 4 stars
Characters: 2 stars
Book up until last hour: 3 stars
Book after THAT SCENE: 1 star
Final Rating: 1 star

Maybe if you haven't read 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale or any better dystopian fiction out there, this would be OK. And sure, it's better than the sh!tstorm of dystopian fiction now flooding the market after The Hunger Games. But this is no story about a woman's journey. It's a story about a woman whining after a man.

And I think because Jordan is a half-decent writer with a half-decent world is what makes this story even more infuriating. Because it COULD be good with some minor tweaking. It COULD have a fabulous message, empowering to women and men and everyone. But noooooooo...let's just destroy that in the last few pages because why not!

Not recommended.

Full Review:

Hannah Payne has now been chromed - a process to punish people while alleviating the pressure on the jail system - for the abortion of a child she conceived while sleeping with her minister. She must struggle through a world that tells her at every opportunity that what she did was wrong while also learning more and more about herself.

I should love this book. In many ways, Hannah's journey is not all that different from mine. I lived similarly secluded in my evangelical right-wing movement, thinking that homosexuals were going to hell, that abortion was murder, and that anyone who didn't go to my denomination of church was ending up in hell. (You will be glad to know that I no longer believe all those things.) The book is also more fact than fiction, particularly if you are familiar with the Wendy Davis filibuster that occurred in Texas just this past summer. Reading about the shunning of women, how few options they have, how they are vilified for trying to make a good life - that's enough to make you rage at the system. And for that, the book is great.

That said, I ended up not liking the book very, very much - mostly in part to one final key scene that seemed to ruin the entire message of the book. But there were plenty of other key points that drove the rating down, not just the ending.

But first, the positives:

+ Jordan has a very easy-going, readable writing style.

+ Jordan's dystopian world made sense. I could easily see us reaching the point where abortions were outlawed and the religious right rose up and abolished the separation of church vs state.

+ There were a few characters that weren't too bad, namely Kayla and Simone.

+ I didn't mind Hannah's development - up until about the last hour of the audiobook, of course. I could see her slowly open up, to take the people she meets and realize, yes, they aren't so bad, that maybe her previous way of thinking wasn't the only way.

But I have far more negatives:

+ Hannah is an awful character. I really, really can't get over how selfish and using she is, nor how blindly passive she is (all the while claiming how she "chose" to do this or that). Nearly every person she comes in contact with, she finds some way to soak something out of - her father, Kayla, Simone, even Aiden (and I do NOT like Aiden). And then, Hannah claims to be so active, to make all these choices, but when you boil it down, she mostly just bounces between crazy events.

+ The rest of the cast is lackluster. The women are incredibly evil or weak, from Hannah's shrewish, domineering hateful mother to Mrs. Henley (a hateful, beastly woman) to the cold, infertile Alyssa to the weak, desperate Becca. Not to mention, Hannah makes sure to cast judgment on every one, from how pretty they aren't or how desparate they are.

"She saw a perky blonde news anchor, the annoying type still trying at 40 to be adorable."

The men are mostly passive and inept (Hannah's father and Aiden) or, in a couple of cases (such as Cole), evil. And then you have Aiden, our "Love Interest", who is second only to Hannah in selfishness. For a man who supposedly loves this woman, why did he never speak out sooner? Sacrifice his career, his fame, his reputation to speak on her behalf? Oh, no, couldn't do that! We must protect the man, the privileged man in this patriarchal society!

+ The lesbian experience. Really, this was merely tossed in there to be edgy. I can't say it enough - Hannah never once came across as wanting to be a lesbian or even bisexual, until suddenly, boom, it happened. It's VERY insulting, and not to mention, once again Hannah uses someone for her own selfish purposes. And then tosses that person aside for Aiden.

This is not to say this scene couldn't have worked. It could have - if Hannah hadn't bothered to go back to Aiden. Or if when she did, she realized how she really didn't love him anymore. THEN I would have been OK with this scene. But as it is written, it makes me despise Hannah even more.

+ Aiden is the most selfish, useless, pathetic, cowardly Love Interest I've ever read. I despise the man. Time and again, we are led to believe he loves Hannah - but what has the man ever done to prove it? He said outright in the beginning he'd never leave his wife for Hannah - strike one. When Hannah was arrested, he never spoke out on her behalf - strike two. Hannah has to drive across country to meet up with him - strike three, and you're out!

+ The final scene. Given the book we're reading, it comes out of nowhere and, for me, completely ruins the message of the book. In fact, that ending makes as much sense to me as having the the power of lurve remove the chroming with Aiden and Hannah miraculously changing the government and farting out three babies.

+ The book's message feels undermined. If this book were really about Hannah's development as a woman, she would grow up and realize how selfish a prick Aiden was. How little he sacrificed and how much power he would have to help her. Instead, she protects him, the fly protecting the swatter, the subjugated holding up the ones in power. You know, what's been going on for the last hundred years.

What does Aiden have to lose? Nothing. He's a male in a patriarchal society. Everyone will side with him - "Poor preacher, being seduced by that vile woman!" Even today, we see that ALL THE TIME. Teenaged girls being blamed for their sexual abuse. Adulterers getting off the hook because those vile women in short, tight skirts.

Aiden commits adultery, has little regard for his wife, doesn't bother to help Hannah - but somehow, he's worth Hannah sacrificing her freedom to see him. Even in the end, he doesn't abandon his job to seek her out; no, that would be much too much to sacrifice. Instead, Hannah has to brave the streets, arrest, incarceration, further abuse, to seek HIM out. And after she uses him (has sex), she decides that she's outgrown him and needs to leave him.

No, Hannah, you don't. You have become just as selfish and despicable as Aiden.

You know how this book should have ended? Hannah goes back to find that Aiden has hopped into bed with some other woman that isn't his wife. Aiden isn't there waiting and begging for her; he just wants to find a playmate to keep him busy. Then Hannah should grow some ovaries and help find Kayla, maybe even get back with Simone and have a real relationship instead of some half-assed "Lemme pretend to be a lesbian because ooooh, it's edgy and cool but don't worry I'm still straight!"

+ Ultimately, this book is just The Handmaid's Tale (and apparently The Scarlet Letter, though I haven't read that one) lite. It's a very, very weak diluted version of THT, with nowhere near the strength of character or the powerful message - or the decency to give us a good, gritty ending.

Personally, I don't recommend this for anyone. I'd rather see people read The Handmaid's Tale. But I suppose if you haven't read THT, this has a somewhat OK message (with a grain of salt). If it hadn't been for that final scene, I would definitely have rated it higher and been a bit more generous with my recommendation.