Chilling, Disturbing And Brilliant Modern Day Retelling Of The Scarlet Letter

Every so often I come across a book that grips me so tightly that I don’t want it to end.  When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is extraordinary!  This is technically not a teen book; however it is an appropriate read for a more mature teen, especially one who has read The Scarlet Letter.  In fact, I highly recommend teaching them as a paired text.  This book explores faith, the dangers of mixing church and state, human rights, and love.  Hannah’s story begins as she wakes up from a procedure called chroming which changes her skin to bright red.  Criminals now become Chromes; you can see their crime by the color of their skin.  She must spend 30 days in a room of mirrors so she can contemplate her fate.  Her 30 day confinement is also broadcast as a type of reality show, a modern day stockade if you will.  Once she is released the color of her skin will make her a target for discrimination, violence and likely death before her sentence is up.  Her crime is the murder.  She had an abortion rather than bring shame on the father, a powerful and famous man.  Conservative Christian views are the law of this dystopian version of the United States.  Scorned by her mother,  Hannah can only go to a half way house of sorts where a minister and his wife will rehabilitate her.  From there her journey runs the gamut of sheer terror, unexpected kindness and self discovery.  My favorite moment in the book is Hannah’s encounter with Reverend Easter.  I found that section deeply moving.  This book is riveting and will keep the reading thinking long after the last page is finished.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Compare the Hester’s stockade of The Scarlet Letter to the reality show confinement of Hannah.

If that was a reality show they had access to, would they watch it?

Talk about how government changed once religion took a large role.  Discuss church and state.  How do they feel about separation of church and state or should they be together?

Do they feel chroming is a just punishment?

Talk about how Hannah protected her lover.  What would you have done?

Discuss this passage: “Punishment was meted out in other ways; in increments of solitude, monotony and, harshest of all, self-reflection, both figurative and literal.  She hadn’t yet seen the mirrors, but she could feel them shimmering at the edges of her awareness, waiting to show her what she’d become.”

Talk about her encounter with Reverend Easter. 

Discuss her last meeting with Aidan.  How do you feel about his announcement after they met?

Discuss the Novemberists?  Do you consider them terrorists or freedom fighters? 

What do you think will happen to Hannah now?


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