There are a few people in publishing whose opinions I respect so well that when they ask me to read a manuscript for them the response is an instant and unwavering "yes." Such was the case with Hillary Jordan's new book, When She Woke (formerly called Red), forthcoming from Algonquin Books this October. Craig Popelars, the best damned marketing director in the business, shot me an email a few months ago asking me to read Jordan's new manuscript, and it was one of those "Jump! How high?" scenarios turned into "Read!/How fast?" Forty eight hours later, this is the blurb that I sent back to him:
"In a nation ruled with a theocratic iron fist, where criminals’ very skin is dyed bright colors in lieu of incarceration, Hannah has committed the worst crime of all—she has had an abortion and refuses to name either the abortionist or the father. With her skin dyed a brilliant crimson, she must make her way from Texas to the Canadian border, never knowing whom she can trust. This book left me gobsmacked, riveting me to my seat from page one, onward. This novel is the perfect amalgamation of The Scarlet Letter, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Fugitive that feels eerily close to being realized—there are some seriously scary political parallels that reverberated with me as I read. A bold follow-up to Jordan’s auspicious literary debut, Mudbound."
One of the catch phrases of this novel is "it's personal." After finishing the manuscript, all I can say is you bet your ass it's personal! During time I was reading this book back in March, there was talk in the South Dakota legislature to eliminate the charge of murder for people convicted of killing doctors who perform abortions.
Jordan is a very good writer and in When She Woke, she takes her pacing to the next level, but I never really thought of her as a particularly funny writer. However, my favorite line from the book made me snort coffee. Quoting it out of context won't make as much sense here, but it's too good not to share: "Ruthless vigilantes don't make pesto."
This novel is not perfect (there are precious few that would earn that kind of praise from me), but it IS riveting. You'll be left wanting to know a lot more about a lot of things, but sometimes that's a smart way for the author to play it, leaving the reader wanting more. There's only one more thing for me to add, and that's a comment on the very provocative cover art. You cannot tell it here in cyberspace, but it has an almost otherworldly glow when you see it in person, a slight sheen with a satiny finish that makes it feel alive in your hands. If that's not a reason for buying the physical book instead of the e-book, I don't know what is!