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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 12/100: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke - Hillary Jordan The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

When I mentioned here that I had begun this book, I compared it to a cross between "The Scarlet Letter" (which it clearly takes as its inspiration) and "The Handmaid's Tale." Those comparisons held as I went deeper into the book as it examines many of the same themes: the shaming and repression of women's sexuality, women's reproductive freedom, and the constraints of fundamentalist religious fervor. Still, the book was not quite as bleak as "The Handmaid's Tale" and was infinitely more readable than "The Scarlet Letter."

The story actually interested me most in the beginning -- I suppose I was morbidly drawn to the psychological sickness present in a society that literally "colors" its criminals for easy identification and all the stigma that goes with that. The worldbuilding possessed enough diversity and nuance for me to believe in it, and enough remnants of our culture's current preoccupations to feel both "at home" in it and simultaneously discomfited. Although it's clear what side of the issues the author falls on, I thought she did a good job of creating complex, multi-faceted characters all along the religious and political spectrums. Still, it's probably a book that would have angered me when my own views about the pro-life/pro-choice debate were more black and white than they are now.

I listened to most of this book in one day while I completed a big project, so taken as a whole, it struck me how it follows the structure of a feminist fairy tale. It is the story of Hannah's feminist awakening, complete with a roll call of feminist issues -- not just abortion, but lesbianism, rape, abuse, and manipulation (especially religious manipulation.) I felt a little irritated by Hannah's unceasing devotion to her lover, who I didn't totally fall for. I also felt that not every single feminist awakening possible needed to be covered by this one story, which made the story arc feel formulaic rather than organic at times. Still, it was a fairly light read despite some heavy subject matter, which is not an easy balance to achieve. It may not be quite on par with "The Handmaid's Tale" and other achievements of feminist science fiction, but if you threw "The Scarlet Letter" across the room out of sheer frustration and boredom, you might give this a try instead.


[Note: this book was read as part of my March challenge to read a book I heard about through a blog on A Year in Reading Suggestions.]