Working at a library doesn’t help with a book addiction because I’m constantly coming across more books that I want to read than I actually can. My to-read list is usually pretty long and always growing, so it takes a good description to hook me and move a book to the top of the list. “When She Woke” by Hillary Jordan is one of those books that caught my eye and had me almost instantly engrossed.

Hannah Payne awakens on a hospital table in a slightly futuristic Texas with her skin colored a bright red. She has been sentenced to be a Chrome for sixteen years, for the crime of having an abortion and refusing to name either the father or the doctor who performed her procedure.

As a means of dealing with overcrowded prisons, all but the most dangerous criminals are now sentenced by melachroming, a means of dyeing the skin different colors to reflect the different crimes, and released into the general population. Yellow serves for misdemeanors, blue for child molesters, and red for murder.

After a rampant sexual disease scourges the world, infecting men as carriers, but turning women infertile, abortion is completely outlawed in many countries, including most states in America. China and India even turned to forced fertilizations for all women of childbearing age until a cure for the disease was found. But in Texas abortion is still a crime.

Hannah, raised by fundamentalist parents, has never questioned their beliefs in politics or religion, which has become intertwined. That is, not until she finds herself seeking help after becoming pregnant — not because of the impact it would have on her life, but because it would destroy the famous, married, religious man she loves. Found out, Hannah is sentenced to try to survive in a world that judges one by the color of their skin, literally.

After a vigilant group called The Fist, dedicated to “punishing” Chromes, comes close to killing her, Hannah is taken in by an underground terrorist group that fights against the draconian abortion laws. Hannah’s only hope for survival and any type of life is making it to Canada in a way that seems reminiscent of the Underground Railroad. But doing so means walking away from ever seeing her family and the man she loves ever again.

During this ordeal, Hannah finds herself questioning the beliefs she was raised with. At one point, Hannah is asked what she thinks about something and her reply is that she doesn’t because she was raised not to. That seems to be symbolic of how women are treated in many fundamentalist religious extremes, be they Christian, Islamic or other religion, with regulations about what they’re allowed to wear, read, learn, and even think.

This book, well meant as an updated retelling of “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, reminds me more of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. Both show a future that is all-too-frightening in how easily it could come true. The author has done an outstanding job of showcasing an alarming look into a world where religion and politics combine, threatening a woman’s right to a safe and educated life.

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