I had a plan. And it was a good one. I was going to read Brave New World for Banned Books Week. But this is what happened…
I bought the book. And I started to read it. Then I drove HB down to LA last Monday, and because we just happened to be driving through Santa Barbara, I had to console myself (trust me…a four hour drive (one way) deserves consolation) with a stop at Chaucer’s, which I adore because 1) they have an awesome amount of stock and 2) they pile books on the floor and while I was looking at all of those lovely piles of books I saw this:
For some reason I had it in my head that this book wasn’t available for another few weeks. So I was practically giddy with excitement. Do I need to tell you that I bought it? Well, I did. And I proceeded to spend the next few evenings reading it when I meant to be reading Brave New World (which I did manage to finish at the very end of Banned Books Week, just not in time to actually write a post about it).
But I don’t feel all that bad about tossing Brave New World over for a non-banned book, because in a way When She Woke pays homage to a couple of books that have been banned: The Scarlet Letter (for being pornographic and obscene) and The Handmaid’s Tale (sexually explicit and offensive to Christians). And I’m sure there are people who would advocate banning this book for the same reasons and a few more.
So while I didn’t get my banned book post up in time, I was there in spirit (plus, I did this).
Let’s move on to the book itself, shall we? (And if you plan to read the book, this is where you need to stop reading, because I’m going to spoil the hell out of it.)
When She Woke
Published by Algonquin
I knew going into the book that it was a dystopian version of The Scarlet Letter (and OMG, call me dense, but I just realized that Hannah named her daughter-doll Pearl…just like Hester), and also slightly reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, which made me a bit leery, as I’m not fond of authors revisiting the work of others (and yes, I’m a hypocrite, since I do it all the time with those silly songs). But about the time Hannah (our modern Hester) walks through the door of The Straight Path Center (and OMG again…the Henley’s were real pieces of work, weren’t they?), I started to 1) not see this as a retelling while weirdly and simultaneously feeling that 2) it sort of picked up where The Handmaid’s Tale left off, what with the underground railroad action, and Canada as savior. It was like reading an Atwood story, but not in Atwood’s voice, but still in a really good way.
Just the other day I mentioned that The Night Circus might just be my favorite book fo the year. This is its competition. Although not really, since they are totally different books that I loved in totally different ways. When She Woke surprised the hell out of me in a variety of ways. First, there was the aforementioned Atwood-but-not similarities. And the many ways that it is like The Scarlet Letter and yet so different (just like that Atwood voice thing). And there were the twists and turns that the book took. The Henley’s were genius, in a “holy fuck they’re crazy” way, and I certainly wasn’t expecting that level of evil so early in the book. And then the Novembrists appeared and I wasn’t expecting them, either, nor the admiration/disgust that they simultaneously evoked because while they were a pro-abortion group, they were also a bit narrow minded and screw the casualties in attitude.
And then there was the end. Jordan had me worried there for awhile, when Hannah was hell-bent on meeting Aidan (even after her Simone fling that may or may not have even been a fling). I was seriously wondering what the hell was going on! And despite the heavy religious introspection and goodness at the end, I ended up being a happy camper and very pleased with the path that Hannah took.
And also the path that Jordan took. I thought Mudbound was a great story, and with When She Woke Jordan has landed on my favorite authors list (this is a mythical list, so please don’t ask who else is on it, although Atwood is a sure bet).