Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: "When She Woke"

Imagine a world where abortion is illegal and women who have an abortion are arrested, convicted and their skin dyed red so that everyone knows the crime they committed.  This is the story in "When She Woke" by Hillary Jordan.  Roe v. Wade is overturned and Sanctity of Life laws are passed by the Trinity Party to criminalize abortion.  People who commit crimes are "melachromed" -- their skin is dyed a color that corresponds with their crime: red - abortion; yellow and green - misdemeanor; blue - child sex abuse; and purple - violent crime.  Melachroming is the government's response to decreasing federal and state revenues and increasing budgets that must pay for feeding the hungry, educating students, fixing crumbling roads and bridges and rebuilding cities destroyed by disasters. Tax payers no longer want to waste money on housing criminals in prisons so instead they are melachromed and released back into society, but the government monitors them similar to present day "home arrest." Criminals become a new group referred to as "Chromes."

The book's protagonist is Hannah who is a young woman who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home in Texas.  Hannah is seduced by her pastor and has an affair with him, which leads to her becoming pregnant.  She decides she cannot have the baby and destroy her pastor's life so instead she has an abortion, but is arrested. At her trial she refused to name the man who got her pregnant, or the doctor who performed the illegal abortion.  She is convicted and chromed "red."  After serving 30 days in jail she is released back into society to live out her 16 year sentence as a Chrome.  Jordan's book is a futuristic "Scarlet Letter."

It's a fascinating story because it explores what could happen in light of today's political, social and economic climate that is becoming increasing intolerant and severly biased against anyone who it considers to be "different" from the mainstream dominate culture.  The line between separation of church and state is becoming blurred as evidenced by the Tea Party's influence in politics and its far right views, and the acceptance of society to force candidates for president to proclaim whether they are Christian (even though that is not a qualification criteria outlined by the Constitution).  In addition, many states are passing laws seeking to limit the reproductive rights of women and their right to choose to have an abortion, defunding clinics that perform abortions, and challenging the legitimacy to Roe v. Wade.

There is also the ridiculous notion asserted by some that to be educated is to be an "elitist."  In the book, Hannah could not engage in a simple conversation about literature because she was forbidden to go to the library for fear that she would read something "corrupt."  Hannah thought about her upbringing and mused  "why had they [her parents] kept her life so small? Why had they never asked her what she wanted? At every possible turn, she saw, they'd chosen the path that would keep her weak and dependent."

This is an enlightening passage from the book which all of us should ask ourselves.  For if we do not start challenging and speaking out against things that we know are wrong, unjust or unequal, then we will give our voice to a select few to make decisions for the many.  And when we "wake," it may be a world which we no longer recognize, but should have forseen coming and could have taken action to stop the disastrous transformation.

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