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I saw it promoted as a "reimagining" of The Scarlet Letter - which, let's face it, is quite a tall order - but it seems to me as if Hillary Jordan used The Scarlet Letter only as a fruitful springboard and inspiration. She isn't slavishly devoted to the text, although she certainly paid tribute to some of the Hawthorne's key insights into the human condition. This is all to the good.
Although the novel wasn't marketed as a "young adult dystopia," it easily fits into that category, as twenty-something Hannah Payne experiences a true coming of age as she grows into and accepts herself.
Set in a not-too-distant future United States that suffers from excessive surveillance, moral superiority, and inhumane "justice" (creating the dyed "Chromes" whose bodies telegraph their crimes), the novel manages to achieve a number of impressive objectives. Hannah is a deeply sympathetic character who gradually becomes aware of how small her world has been, and how many "boxes" she's willingly confined herself in (mentally, spiritually, and physically) over her young life. We experience the unfairness and brutality of her sentencing and ostracism, and yet the horror of what she chose to do -- abort the baby of a famous married minister -- is never underplayed. Despite the fact Hannah rejects the unquestioning fundamentalism of her upbringing, she fully embraces the central importance of religious faith in her life.
Every time I expected Jordan to descend into stereotypes -- about Southerners, Christians, straight or gay people, men or women, those who are made victims or those who refuse to become so -- she instead offered layered and complex characterizations and thought-provoking twists. The father who is loyal to his traditional church and nuclear family is painted with sensitivity, as is the lesbian revolutionary and her dedication to the underground movement that opposes the status quo. Even the weak-willed minister, the father to Hannah's unborn baby, is poignant in his shame, self-loathing, and lack of moral courage.
There are some true villains, but all of them are opportunists who exploit the system(s) for their own perverse and personal enjoyment of control over those who have no recourse or self-defense. In the end, this dystopia challenges us to examine our assumptions and to accept responsibility for our lives, souls, and decisions. I appreciate Jordan's ability to critique the deeply flawed institutions humans have created without casually dismissing the reasons they came to exist in the first place.
This novel is challenging in the questions it raises and unflinching in its warnings, as any quality dystopia should be. I'm very glad that I listened to it.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
I really liked this author and she captivated me with this awful world she created in the near future. However the middle turned into a young adult romance adventure complete with obligatory lesbian sex, which was nice, however the end was way too saccharine sweet for this old sailor. I prefer my dystopia to either be the truth which is WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE or at least more realistic where the Christians all die and the lesbians take over and bring peace and harmony to our poisoned prison planet.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful