Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dystopian . . . say what?

From time to time, Book Blather will feature reviews from the staff of Inklings Bookshop, a fabulous independent bookstore in Yakima, Washington. No matter where I go in the Pacific Northwest, when I mention Inklings, the response is always, the same. "Oh, I love that store!" So, if you're ever in the vicinity, drop by and say hello to owner, Susan Richmond, and her knowledgable staff of book sellers. 
Here are Susan's thoughts on dystopian fiction as well as a review of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. Welcome to Book Blather, Susan.
Dystopian novels are everywhere. They aren't new. Most of us were required to read at least one in high school, but we probably didn't hear the word "dystopian." Webster defines dystopian as "having to do with an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives."
Ah, yes, now some of those English class novels come to mind, right? Titles such as "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, "1984" by George Orwell and "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury all used fiction to tell the tale of another world and had the common theme of being somewhat disturbing.
In the past few years, there has been a significant rise in the number of new dystopian novels, especially in young-adult fiction. These books, such as "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis and "Divergent" by Veronica Roth, have certainly struck a chord with teens. They are devouring these books that tell of another world -- one of hardship, but one that also calls for strength of character, quick wits and teamwork. Books like these are crossing over into adult interest and many parents are waiting anxiously for their teen to finish and pass the book along to them.
Now there is a new dystopian novel for adults. "When She Woke" by Hillary Jordan caught my eye because I loved her first book, "Mudbound." That book was decidedly not dystopian and it won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.
"When She Woke" is a futuristic "Scarlet Letter" with numerous parallels to Nathaniel Hawthorne's book. The world that Hannah Payne, the protagonist, inhabits is one in which people are "chromed" in a specific color that depicts their crime or sin. Hannah has been chromed red: "When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign."
How Hannah becomes a "chrome" is, of course, the story I don't want to spoil for you. What I will say, however, is that this book will provide interesting discussions for book groups. Though it is set in a strange future, the topics covered include very current issues such as abortion, women's rights, religion, politics and cruel and unusual punishment.
* "When She Woke" by Hillary Jordan is from Algonquin Books. It retails for $24.95.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wonderful! I've just discovered that I love dystopian novels. I never knew what they were until now yet I've been reading and enjoying them for such a long time. "When She Woke" sounds a perfect read. By the way, dystopian doesn't have to be futuristic, does it? Any more than it borders on science fiction?
    Thank you from one Susan R to another :) (and to Marilee of course)