My book club met this past Saturday at Novel Places to discuss the book Serena nominated, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (my review). I’m going to recap our discussion here, and if you’ve read the book, please feel free to weigh in. If you haven’t read the book, beware of spoilers!!
Most of us liked the book for the most part, having no problems with the writing and finding the story interesting enough to grab our attention. One member loved it, and one member hated it. Most of us found the main character infuriating at times, and one member mentioned how he thought all of the villains were really well done and how the book should have been broken into two parts, one book covering Hannah’s time in the Straight Path Center following her release from the Chrome center and the second book showing how she copes in society as a Chrome.
We spent a lot of time talking about blame when it was brought up that the author seems to want us to feel sorry for Hannah. One member thought Hannah’s married lover and pastor, Aidan Dale, shouldered most of the blame because he took advantage of his position of authority, but most believed Hannah was equally to blame because she knowingly took a job that put her in close contact with Aidan — even working alongside his wife! — and answered the knock on the door in the adjoining suite when they were on a business trip knowing that Aidan and a night of passion were on the other side.
While those of us who read The Scarlet Letter didn’t remember all the details, we discussed how the worlds created by Hawthorne and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale seemed more ominous and oppressive than the society in When She Woke. Hannah seemed held back only by her religious upbringing. However, we did appreciate the details Jordan provided about the Great Scourge, which made many women infertile and prompted the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We also liked the sci-fi aspect of the story, how a virus is used to chrome people and their minds become fragmented if they don’t receive regular injections over the course of their sentencing. We talked about how chroming is similar to or different from punishments currently in use, and one member mentioned that some people would probably think chroming is cool, i.e. chroming as the new body piercing.
The group also discussed what some of us perceived as the author’s agenda against religion, and one member noted how the book helped him look at the abortion debate differently and how it is more important for people to worry about their own sins than judge others for theirs. We also discussed how the latter half of the book, when Hannah is being moved through an Underground Railroad of sorts used to spirit Chromes to Canada to be changed back to their normal selves, greatly differed from the first half, with most of us expressing a dislike for the way Jordan forced Hannah’s character into the resistance movement and never gave readers a chance to see how she would have fared in the real world on her own.
Some members found it difficult to like Hannah because she could be so perceptive one moment and so blind the next, having what one member viewed as a super power in being able to get a handle on some people right away but having no clue that she and her friend were being sold into slavery even when there were plenty of red flags. Many of us also had a problem with the lesbian scene between Hannah and the leader of the Novembrists, mainly because it came out of nowhere right after Hannah emerges from the effects of a very sinister rape drug. And Hannah going to see Aidan again…grr. We all pretty much agreed that he was weak, especially when he told Hannah to expose him when he could easily have done that himself.
Overall, When She Woke made for an interesting discussion, but I’m really looking forward to August’s book, which my husband nominated: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Until then…
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.