I think pretty much everyone had to read The Scarlet Letter in high school. I did and I remember liking it for the most part (although my memory is hazy) but I also remember wondering why the hell the preacher man wouldn't come forward and claim his and Hester Prynne's love child as his own. And why were we supposed to still pity and revere this holy man when he was standing idly by while Hester and their daughter were outcast from society and treated like lepers? I knew he (Arthur Dimmesdale) was torturing himself internally and developing a heart condition from the stress of not coming forward, but still, how could he just watch as the woman he "loved" was called a whore and adulteress and his daughter labeled an abomination?
Similar thoughts went through my head in this dystopian retelling of that classic novel when Aiden Dale (the most famous preacher around who later becomes the Secretary of Faith - church and government become one in this possible future society) sits on his hands and writhes in pain as he holds his tongue and refuses to admit that he had an affair with Hannah Payne. Hannah goes to trial for the abortion of her and Aiden's unborn child and ends up becoming melachromed ("chromed" for short) as her punishment. As I said before, religion and government merge into an unholy beast of a system in this book where abortion is considered murder, for which Hannah is sentenced 16 years as a Red. She is injected with a virus that pigments her skin a blood red color so that citizens can know her as a killer and treat her as such - this cuts prison costs for the government and actually ends up helping them out by allowing vigilante citizens to target those who have been caught for their crimes, thereby leaving the police force with less criminals to worry about. Sounds like a beautiful world, right? And on top of that, within these strict religious parameters, women are expected to behave as helpers to their husbands and remain forever in their rightful place, i.e. the kitchen (and church of course). They're expected to be subservient to men and never question them or the word of God. Hannah doesn't fit into this way of life so easily. While not overtly rebellious, she asks her parents relentless questions about the Bible and wonders why their answers never stack up - she secretly designs and sews luxurious and sensuous dresses that are not part of the strictly modest dress code - and she also accidentally develops an intense crush and desire for her preacher, Aiden Dale.
I really enjoyed the world that Hillary Jordan created in this book. There is so much about this society that could actually come true if the right (well, wrong) people were given the power. Take for instance Mitt Romney and the Republican Party members trying to ban women's rights to birth control. Clinics like Planned Parenthood which offer abortion services are constantly under fire with tremulous financial supporters, depending on who's currently holding the checkbook (see the Race for the Cure funding scandal). There's a clinic somewhat close to my house and there are picketers there almost every single day with signs about how you're going to hell if you kill one of God's precious creations and how abortion is murder. Sound familiar? I loved the topics that Jordan discusses and makes you think about - women's rights, religion, government, integrity...it gives readers (especially young adults) something to think about and discuss. One of the things I was disappointed in though was that Hannah never completely abandons her religion. She loses her faith for a bit but ultimately decides that it was just God's test or something and the end of the book ends up being kind of a big shiny beacon for religion and what it can do for you. So that left a bad taste in my mouth, but that could just be because of my own views and hatred of religious propaganda. The only other thing that bothered me in the book was that Hannah got really street-smart really fast once she was released from prison and that was just completely unbelievable for me. She grew up super sheltered and then all of a sudden she can tell when she's going to have to shank a dude or not just by looking him in the eye? I don't think so. But I understand that the pace of the book had to be kept up so that she could grow into the person she becomes at the end of the book. Overall, a very good book with a scattered and somewhat confusing ending. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction or enjoyed The Scarlet Letter, but I think The Handmaid's Tale definitely did a better job in executing this horrifying yet very possible future.