I actually left work a bit early to make sure I could to the library before it closed when I got the notice that When She Woke was waiting for me on the hold shelf. I’d been waiting for this book for what felt like forever. It had been described as The Scarlet Letter meets The Handmaid’s Tale, and I was very interested in what that story had to say.
The story takes us into a near future in which the line between religion and politics has been lost. It is a world where criminals are “chromed” and released to survive with their crime obvious to anyone who looks their way. Hannah was once part of a religious family and active in her church. Now she has been convicted of the murder of her unborn child. She is a Red.
I could hardly put the book down from the very first page. Some of the story is kind of expected. As the Washington Post review puts it, Hannah “has many adventures, of course, and learns to be a strong, independent person, instead of the compliant little church girl she was raised to be. ” But there is much to discuss (religion, politics, women’s rights) and compare (Hawthorne, Atwood, etc.) that will draw readers in despite some weaknesses. I was reminded, as I read, of a book that was set in a similar future from a different perspective. The Misconceiver by Lucy Feriss looks at what happens after Roe v. Wade is overturned in 2011 (yikes!) to a woman who performs abortions despite the dangerous nature of her work. One of the reasons these books are so suspenseful is that they don’t feel very far from the truth. No, we are not to the point of marking criminals’ misdeeds on their skin, but the Personhood Movement would have us move in the direction of these fictional futures.
In the midst of reading When She Woke, I happened to listen to a radio documentary on the role of religion in government: The Politics of Faith. It was a fascinating look at the struggle to draw the line between religion and government in various countries around the world, including parts of the world where they are transitioning to democracy. It is well worth listening to for those interested in exploring this complex issue.
For those of you who want to stick to fiction, here are some more dystopian novels you might enjoy.
See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.
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