Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary JordanWhen I first heard about this book, I just couldn’t wait to read it. It sounded a bit like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a book that is a favorite of mine.

Dystopia? I love it! When it’s a good story. This one’s good. It missed a little something for me, but overall it was a very good and original read.

When She Woke: What it is about

Hannah Payne wakes up in a detention center, her skin colored red all-over. A virus had been injected as a punishment for having an abortion. Abortions are not allowed in the very religious society she lives in, a post-scourge USA that left many dead with the survivors trying to build up a community again.

Being red she is recognizable as a criminal and anyone in the streets can attack her, kidnap or rape her without others stepping up to help her. Luckily, once she’s out of the detention center her father arranges a place for her in a rehabilitation center for chromes (criminal girls that have been dyed red, yellow or another color, depending on their crime).

It turns out that the rehabiliation center is even more strictly religious than the outside world but Hannah is lucky enough to make a friend, making her stay more bearable.

After many challenging events Hannah has to decide how she will survive in the big bad world.

When She Woke: What I thought

This book indeed reminded me a lot of The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is very different but it had the same suffocating, religious, atmosphere.

The story was quite bleak, with lots of unpleasant things happening, and I didn’t feel totally attached to Hannah. However, it wasn’t all bad: there was also love, friendship and altruism.

I thought the story was too focused on Hannah and the Chrome system, with the rest of the new, changed world (compared to ours) not explained quite so well. I like dystopian novels especially for the way the author presents a new world to the reader, and it was a pity that wasn’t further though through.

The events around Hannah were very interesting and original. The book was well-written and because of the events and a certain suspense in the story I found it hard not to skip sentences to find out what would happen next.

Compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, When She Woke seems less likely to happen in the future and was therefore less unnerving.

Because 26-year old Hannah had been brought up by very strict parents, allowing her very little freedom, she seemed more like a young adult with very little experience with the real world. However, the book is not particularly aimed at young adults and makes a good read for older adults, too.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I got this book: from Algonquin books for review

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 352

First published: 2011 (October 11th)

Genre: science fiction, dystopia

Do not confuse this book with: Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, a thriller about memory loss. Very different from When She Woke.

I enjoyed this book a lot. If you read it and absolutely loved it, consider nominating this book for the Independent Literary Awards under Speculative Fiction. Any reader can nominate titles! 


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

20 Responses to Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

  1. Pam says:

    I loved this book so much. I really think it is a great crossover for YA readers.

  2. Yes, you did it again, Judith. Another one for the list. And I definitely have to reread The Handmaid’s Tale.

  3. Suzanne says:

    You might find this hard to believe, but I had this book in my hands at the bookstore last night, but did not purchase it. The restraint is temporary, though, because I do want to read this. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books of all time, and I loved Hillary Jordan’s last (first?) book Mudbound (which is completely different from this one).

    • Leeswammes says:

      Suzanne, I think you’ll like this book. I have a copy of Mudbound (which I got because I enjoyed When She Woke) but haven’t read it yet. I think that was her first book.

  4. Trisha says:

    I will definitely have to check this one out! I hope someone nominates it to give me a reason to buy it!

  5. This sounds sooo good! Have added it to my wishlist!

    Great reveiw too 🙂

  6. Amy says:

    I recently won this book and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m glad you liked it for the most part. I’ve read probably too many reviews at this point and might wait a little while before I read it. I gathered from some of the reviews that the world created here isn’t as realistically possible as The Handmaid’s Tale but wasstll very interesting. But I won’t know what I think for sure until I read it@

    • Leeswammes says:

      Amy, how lucky you won this book. Yes, sometimes it’s best to let the hype die down a bit. Although the book isn’t even published yet!

      The world in the book is not as complete and realistic as in The Handmaid’s Tale, but the story about Hannah is pretty good.

  7. Uniflame says:

    Wow! I recently started to read in the genre and it speaks to me, but I am not sure if I can bear all the horrible things that are happening in this book. I will give it a try though, I can always put it away if it is too much 😉

  8. This does sound like an original premise, but I think I’ll agree with you about the lack of realism meaning it won’t have that big an impact. I am still keen to read it one day as I loved her first book.

  9. Tiina says:

    This surely sounds a bit like The Handmaid’s Tale, a book, which I absolutely love, so have to keep this one in mind for later.

    I, too , love dystopian novels for the same reason you stated in your post. 🙂

  10. I heard about this book a few months ago and though it would be one I would enjoy (I also love dystopia) so I must keep an eye out for it. Glad you enjoyed 🙂

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