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Discussion: The big bad world awaits in Part 2 of When She Woke

Hannah is released from prison, but she quickly realizes the outside world is just as dangerous. Your readers discuss her uncertain future, shades of grey and knowing who to trust.

In Hillary Jordan’s dystopian novel, When She Woke, heroine Hannah Payne faces more trials and even more danger when she’s released from prison. Her future and very safety relies on the kindness of strangers— but who can she really trust? Alex, Stacy and I find out in Part 2 of our chat.

Laurie:  Hello!

Alex:  Hello! I did not want to stop reading, FYI.

Stacy:  Excellent… lol!

Alex:  So much has happened… where do we start?

Laurie:  I found this section so bleak, with the supposed “sanctuary” Hannah went to.

Stacy:  I’m glad we’re all in agreement to the awesomeness of this book! But it was a tough part.

Alex:  Bleak, but she makes it through to a certain extent. I am glad she escaped that awful religious place.

Laurie:  Why do some religious people want to be righteous? Why is that good? Those horrible prideful people, who can’t see their own sins.

Alex:  It is so bizarre. They spend all their time pointing out other peoples’ faults to hide their own weaknesses. I’m only now realizing how isolated her life was before — it’s ironic that she’s almost less alone now.

Stacy:  But I agree with you — that “type” is a) awful and b) DANGEROUS.

Alex: It’s a distraction tactic.

Laurie:  It is, just like Cole.

Alex:  Disgusting human.

Stacy:  We met lots of those types this section. Every time that awful Mrs. Henley showed up I cringed.

Alex:  She was reminiscent of Aidan’s wife, only worse.

Laurie:  It’s interesting that Jordan doesn’t discriminate along gender lines in terms of bad and good.

Alex:  Oh absolutely.

Laurie:  But Mrs. Henley was just pure evil disguised as good. What she put those women through…

Alex:  There are some really frightening women in this book — Simone?!

Stacy:  I think that’s the overarching point: people are good, and people are bad. But I agree, Alex—this book showcases the really awful ways that women can hurt one another. I think the most awful part for me, was that so often there’s the sickly saccharine veneer, so sweet that you know it’s hiding something rotten.

Laurie:  And people are complicated. The way people can hurt each other, I think — it’s not just women. Think Bob! Such an innocuous name, such evil.

Alex:  I was fascinated by the description of the people who run that “safe house” she’s in right now. The carefully put together looks, the tracksuits. The idea that these people are very visually constructing their identities to give an impression that’s just as fake as the veil the religious ones are hiding behind.

Stacy:  I find the thought that went into that construction really interesting. That kind of thing happens all the time, even now. Totally weird to think about how conscious those actions are, and how effortless they seem.

Alex: It’s all deception— of themselves, each other, emotional and physical.

Laurie:  Everything is deception in a society like that.

Alex:  It shows how fragile that world is.

Laurie:  It forces honesty and truth into hiding, particularly for Hannah and her world. I think Kayla experienced something a bit different, less radical.

Stacy:  True—she seemed to be quite a bit less sheltered.

Alex:  I like their friendship — it makes me hopeful. And what about Paul?

Stacy:  The part where Hannah realizes that the society isn’t as post-racial as she’d always thought was really effective, I thought.

Laurie:  What is disturbing to me is that there are places like that in the world now.

Alex:  There was a compound in the north of England that was busted recently for SLAVERY!!!!

Laurie:  I know!!!!!!

Stacy:  WHAT?! I didn’t hear about this at all!

Laurie:  Slave men!!!!

Alex:  People held against their will in caravans and forced to work.

Laurie:  For like 15 years!!

Alex:  And given barely any food – atrocious. So yeah. That stuff still happens.

Laurie:  And some didn’t want to leave. Stockholm syndrome. So bizarre.

Alex:  Exactly. I’m glad Hannah isn’t suffering from that. Even though saying goodbye to all she knows is intimidating. I think she’s figuring out that there’s more to the world. And then on a personal level to see Paul and Kayla flirting.

Stacy:  But she almost suffered from something Stockholm-ish for the first part of her life, no? Not necessarily with her parents, but maybe to their beliefs? So I feel like she’s gained strength from suddenly seeing those shades of grey.

Laurie:  And to remember that scene when she went to the university and saw everyone reading books, and thought about how constrained her life was, how small.

Alex:  That was so vividly described.

Stacy:  I love that those tiny things were included, because otherwise the whole book would have been too big, too much about The Issues.

Alex:  Jordan grounds the book with the most tiny, perfect motifs, like when Hannah looks in the mirror and starts to see her mother — she’s looking past the red.

Laurie:  Jordan keeps it all quite personal to Hannah.

Stacy:  Like in the safe house was it, where she saw the quote about Helen and Menalaus, and didn’t know who they were? How tragic to realize that she’s missed out on all that beauty. Broke my heart.

Laurie:  And she’s realizing that. And putting on the pair of jeans — something so simple yet representing so much.

Alex:  Exactly. I think clothing is such an interesting theme.

Stacy:  It’s very fraught with meaning.

Alex:  You know the tracksuit people who run the terrorist group I was talking about before? They’re described so perfectly. Like when she says they look like a teacher and a bank teller. The tracksuits had been replaced by business attire that managed to convey the identical impression of ever-so-slightly humorous bad taste.

Stacy:  It’s not really funny, and yet… it kind of is.

Alex:  And the second time Hannah reminisces about her sewing and goes further into the explanation and it becomes more sensual, like the idea of what you wear reflecting a self-image that wasn’t allowed, but behind closed doors the irony is she’s naked anyway. So the clothes that people are so afraid of mean nothing in the end — the silk gown lies crumpled on the floor.

Laurie:  And Aidan has his murder mysteries.

Alex:  I find it fascinating: the parts of themselves they have to explore through other means.

Laurie:  And keep hidden, from even the people they’re closest to, supposedly.

Alex:  Exactly.

Laurie:  But re “terrorists,” terrorists by whose definition? And what exactly have they done so far?

Stacy:  Well, terrorists to the state. Freedom fighters to them, no?

Laurie:  We’ve seen them save the two women from crazy Cole, who would have beaten them up, if not killed them…

Alex:  That for me was perfect!

Stacy:  I think it’s interesting that the terrorists/freedom fighters are flawed themselves. I like that they’re not the deus ex machina “good guys” swooping in to save the day.

Laurie:  Of course, because nobody is perfect.

Alex:  And Paul’s imperfection is that he’s too kind to them and has a crush on Kayla. I like that part because it hints that life can go on, that some people see past chroming.

Laurie:  That flawed character certainly makes things suspenseful. It’s not as if, oh now they’re in safe hands. There could still be danger from within.

Stacy:  Yes! I spent the whole time she was with them worried that they’d betray Hannah. Susan is so focused on the mission that she’s kind of ignoring her humanity — if it’ll help the cause, why not?

Laurie:  People too focused on a cause are dangerous.

Alex:  So many of them are motivated by their own pregnancies or lack thereof. It’s like they’ve become so polarized by their experiences.

Stacy:  The personal is political, right? What about the line where Simone tells Hannah that Hannah owes them? And Hannah, in her head, is like, “Yeah, I owe everyone.”

 Laurie:  It’s a bit dispiriting, in the sense that you can see the world  going in this direction quite easily. Did you feel that way?

Stacy:  YES! And I felt like Jordan’s world is not so impossible to believe.

Alex:  It’s so close in some ways it’s eerie.

Stacy:  Like we said last week, politics south of the border certainly hints at a more oppressive, conservative worldview. But even just in general: why is the abortion debate even a debate at all? It’s 2011.

Laurie: It feels like a warning to me of what could come if we’re not careful.

Stacy:  Yeah, Laurie, totally. I think that’s what added to my general sense of unease as I read. It’s really not so hard to see the jump from where we are now to that. I think the thing that’s kind of scary is that it seems like Jordan’s world just stems from where we are right now — like where we are politically now is precarious; we could go either way.

Laurie:  What do we feel about Aidan in the closing scene of this part? His letting go of her, it seems?

Stacy:  Oh, that was so sad.

Alex:  Oh I hate that. It was such a blow.

Stacy:  Seeing him happy and successful — thriving really — while Hannah’s reality is so full of fear and uncertainty.

Alex:  I liked seeing her get angry though. Angry is better than sad. It’s just so awful though to think of the sacrifice she made for him, and that he’s just moved on.

Stacy:  I agree: the anger (hopefully) will inspire action. Sadness would make it too easy to wallow and give up.

Laurie:  It was good seeing emotion from her. Her reality is so changed. And it was so touching to see her getting a message from him, from “Edward Ferrars” (!), and, in essence, keep losing him, over and over again.

Stacy:  Exactly! To both of you! That constantly losing him is the worst part.

Alex:  That’s the tragedy though: that it was never going to go anywhere. And do you sign up for a life of making the “right” decisions, or do you open yourself up to the wealth of experiences life has to offer and the learning that comes with that. Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?

Laurie:  That’s so hard when you’re in the midst of it. It’s such a book of loss, of both love and of rights.

Stacy:  It’s true. Because there’s no way that Hannah would have developed into the person she has without this experience. And arguably, it’s better to see the truth, even if it hurts, than to live in the dark.

Alex:  She doesn’t seem all that remorseful about it. She’s filled with anger but so far not regret.

Laurie:  We can only hope she’ll get to a much better place.

Alex:  Yes.

Laurie:  Canada!!!

Alex:  I cannot wait to see how it turns out, and if she sees Aidan again.

Stacy:  Yes. I’m excited to see how this whole story wraps up.

Laurie:  So next week, we find out where the road leads for Hannah and Kayla. Until then!