01 June 2011

Book (P)review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

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!


  1. I finished this over the weekend and you've said everything that I have been thinking. It's a surprising departure from Mudbound, and a risky one, but I think she pulled it off beautifully. Thanks for giving words to my thoughts!

  2. I only heard about this today on another blog, but it sounds really, rally good!

  3. Whoa, great blurb!! Fully interested now, hope I find it in my Indie book store here in Bangalore.

    The cover looks sharp and exotic here, wonder how much better the real book would be :)

  4. This sounds intriguing and unique, I'll be keeping an eye out for it come October.

  5. Hm. Having trouble making comments under google account.


    This sounds like a fantastic book, and I'm anxious to find and read it.

  6. This goes on my list. This book could not be more timely or relevant, but it simply sounds like a great read.

  7. Gotta say that this isn't normally the kind of book I read, yet your review backed by the fact that it is published by Algonquin (THE BEST?) makes me feel like I should tuck away with it. Also, I've never been "gobsmacked" and I really wonder what that feels like. Should I be forewarned??

    Book joy!


  8. Thanks Emily! Looking forward to visiting Odyssey in October.

  9. Thanks for visiting my blog, Hillary, and I'll see you in the fall!

  10. Either you're getting more and more famous by the day, or I'm just reading way more book industry stuff than I did before. Today I saw your review of this in Shelf Awareness!

  11. Pretty sure I'm not getting more famous by the day! I haven't seen a Shelf Awarness that mentions my review--maybe you could share a link? Thanks!

  12. I came across an excerpt of your review through Shelf Awareness through clicking here:


    and then I saw the cover of When She Woke and clicked on there, which brought me here:


    I didn't realize it was an Algonquin link until I backtracked to get you the url.

    But it's all the same to me. You're practically a book celebrity!


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)