Review: When We Wake by Karen Healey

When We Wake by Karen Healey. Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopia

11544476Face Value: Oh. Another giant girl’s face looking creepily and vacantly out at the readers. Sure. I mean, the protagonis was cryogenically frozen after she died and was then brought back to life, so I suppose a frozen dead-eyed girl is not an inaccurate cover image. But it’s not a particularly exciting or interesting or unique one either.

Does it Break the Slate? Yes, absolutely. Karen Healey is a writer who makes very specific, conscientiously Slatebreaking choices in her writing. Tegan is a tough, smart protagonist who has to actively confront her privilege at multiple points in the narrative and, as in all of Healey’s books, the supporting characters represent a wide range of diversity in terms of race, class, religion and sexuality.

Who would we give it to? This is a totally solid addition to the recent Dystopian canon, and if you know readers who are looking to continue reading once they’ve exhausted the more well known books out there, this one is solidly worth recommending. It’s also to be commended for the commitment to a diverse cast of characters, which will certainly lend some reader appeal.

Review: Tegan Oglietti is a teenager in 2027 Australia. 2027 is a not-too-far-off future that we, as readers in 2013 can recognize. But then Tegan is accidentally shot by a sniper at a political rally and when she wakes up she is in Australia but in 2128. She died, and a hundred years later, scientists have brought her back to life. As Tegan begins to make sense of her new reality she starts to learn insidious truths about the seemingly wonderful future she has woken up into, and finds hersef forced into difficult choices about what her new status means.

There are so many different dystopian narratives out there in the world these days, so many different and frightening visions for what our future might look like. The distant future represented here is unique for its recognizability, how plausible it seems in some ways. And frightening because even though so many things seem to be so much better in this imagined future – same sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples, Tegan’s new friend worries that she will be prejudiced towards Muslims because of the racial attitudes of 100 years ago that aren’t an issue anymore. There are environmental regulations that are accepted and celebrated. Things seem ideal. But even within this idealized future, there are some seriously sinister downsides. There’s a “No Migrant” policy meant to keep Australia’s resources protected that has led to devastating camps of refugees at the edge of the country. And Tegan herself finds out that the amazing technology that led to her resurrection has some horrifying implications.  All of this leads to some really thoguhtful political dialogue that is profoundly relevant on a contemporary scale.

There are a lot of Slatebreaking characters in the book. While Tegan’s wide-eyed naivety wore on my nerves a little, I appreciated the fact that we needed her ongoing questioning to get outsider insight into the future world we were living in. And ultimately she makes some really brave and Slatebreaking choices, using her position of notoriety and power to affect change. But it was the supporting characters I really loved, who were dynamic and interesting and take some huge risks for her. They are also incredibly diverse in terms of race and religion and sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, the supporting cast is so great that there were moments when I wished that we didn’t have a straight white protagonist. But on the flip side, Tegan gets called out on her white privilege a couple of times, in ways that read as part of the narrative and not as a moral aside. I wish we saw more of this going on in YA.

Reviewed from library copy

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