Tegan, I think, is a very strong protagonist, especially when you consider the issues she’s forced to face. Known internationally as The Living Dead Girl, she a huge celebrity, and several activist groups want to use her face to further their campaign. Even the Australian government, it turns out, has plans to use Tegan for its own gain. It soon becomes apparent that Tegan can’t trust anyone, except her new friends, including a handsome young man who oh-so-conveniently looks just like her now-dead boyfriend. But throughout this, as Tegan learns more about the world she’s been reborn into, she never lost her personality, capitulated to unfair demands, or compromised herself. She was, I found, a very vocal and opinionated young woman, who wasn’t afraid to upset people to make her point.
“I am so tired of being used. The army tried to do it, Tatia tried to do it, and now you’re trying to do it. I’m a person, not a symbol, not property, and not a prop. If you want me dead, I can’t stop you, but I won’t make it easier for you, either. Dirty your own fucking hands” (pg. 273, ARC).
Yet while Tegan’s character was undoubtedly a strong contribution to this novel’s success, Karen Healey’s biggest platform, I think, was the ethical and moral dilemmas introduced in When We Wakee. Before her death, Tegan was a registered organ donor, which apparently meant that her body could be used for science and then revived. That seems, honestly, like a bit of a jump to me. To go from “yes, I’ll sign up to give my kidney to a dying child” to “yes, I’ll sign up to be resurrected”. Except Tegan never knew she would be resurrected, so is it okay that the government did so? I don’t know; I’m not saying this to insert my own opinion (I don’t actually have one anyway). But that question is a good one, first posed by the author in the first few chapters, but then abandoned. I would have liked to see more being done with that, honestly, since I find it so fascinating.
Going back to Tegan. When We Wake is narrated first person, addressing an unseen “you”, i.e. breaking the fourth wall. Typically, I’m not a fan of that. It’s just a pet peeve of mine and I know it doesn’t bother a lot of readers. For once, though, I didn’t mind that the character was directly addressing me, pulling me into the story. In many respects, the news-broadcast style reminded me a lot of the Newsflesh Trilogy (amazing books about zombies, bloggers, and government cover-ups). But then the last chapter happened, and Tegan did a really great Ponyboy impersonation. If you haven’t read The Outsiders, just know it’s a gimmicky thing authors do sometimes that annoys me a lot, and I always say something about Ponyboy when I see it.
I’m also a bit miffed by the fact that there’s a sequel in the works. Those last few lines would have been so perfect had When We Wake been a standalone. I’m honestly not even sure I want to read the second book, since this was fine as is.
But altogether, When We Wake is a smart, intelligent book that portrays a very plausible futuristic society, toys around with interesting medical possibilities, and is narrated by an admirable young woman. In some places I wish Karen Healey had delved a bit deeper into her subject matter, but overall this was a very interesting book.