Before I get into the serious plot stuff, I have to talk about all of The Beatles love in this book. My parents raised me on music from the 60s and 70s, so, though I'm not a child of that age, I sure do know most of the music, and The Beatles have always been amongst my favorites, even if my favorite album changes through the years. Every chapter title is a Beatles song, but the references go much deeper than that, and you better believe I adore every single one. The songs do even serve a plot point, providing a link to her old life and a way to connect with the people of 2128 through music.
Tegan makes a wonderful heroine. Awakened over a hundred years after her last memory and informed of her death and revival, she is, understandably, freaked. However, after some time to mourn over her old life, she makes the best out of her new situation. She is helpful, hopeful, loving, determined, and sarcastic. Her voice thoughout When We Wake is a delight, and I connected to her immediately, not just because of her love of The Beatles.
Reviving Tegan a century later enables Healey to impart information to the reader in a logical way. Tegan really does not know anything about the world she's in and can ask questions and receive answers without it feeling like an infodump. Healey uses the device to the fullest and spaces out Tegan's education well. Healey does not feel the need to drop everything on the reader all at once, taking breaks for character development or to talk about less serious things like slang or toilets (in this future, people poo into compost buckets).
What makes this novel stand out from many others is that the society in which Tegan awakes really does seem to verge on utopian for quite a while. Sure, it's not completely perfect, but it seems largely better than the past. The world has warmed due to the depletion of the ozone layer, but mankind is now living in such a way as to diminish the negative effects on the environment. Homosexual love is now valued just as highly as heterosexual love, something our society really needs to learn to accept. The more Tegan learns, the more negatives appear in this future world, including continued racial tensions.
When We Wake, though not focused on romance, does have a couple of very sweet relationships. Tegan develops a crush on a Abdi, a musically-gifted, clever boy from Djibouti. Watching them slowly overcome the difficulties their situations (he's a thirdie - from the third world - and she's the Living Dead Girl) place on a relationship is adorable. I also really love Joph and Bethari, and I hope those girls can work out their issues and get back together.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The only thing missing from the novel for me were high enough stakes. There's some action and they are in danger, but, for whatever reason, they never felt especially imperilled. Perhaps this is due to the lack of death toll in the novel, or the narrative device whereby the entirety of the book is a broadcast being issued live by Tegan, since that means she survives to the end. In the sequel, I hope to see more from the dystopian government, so that I can really feel scared for Tegan and her friends.
The Final Verdict:
Karen Healey was unknown to me prior to When We Wake, but I will definitely be reading more of her books, including the sequel to this novel. When We Wake is a must-read for Beatles fans and for those who enjoy dystopian stories that don't focus entirely on romance.