When We Wake (When We Wake #1)Featured
Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027--she's happiest when playing the guitar, she's falling in love for the first time, and she's joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.
But on what should have been the best day of Tegan's life, she dies--and wakes up a hundred years in the future, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened.
Tegan is the first government guinea pig to be cryonically frozen and successfully revived, which makes her an instant celebrity--even though all she wants to do is try to rebuild some semblance of a normal life. But the future isn't all she hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better future?
Award-winning author Karen Healey has created a haunting, cautionary tale of an inspiring protagonist living in a not-so-distant future that could easily be our own.
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.
I really liked the way the story was told. At first I thought it was simply in first person present, but eventually it comes out that Tegan is actually doing a live webcast about everything that's happened to her. I liked when she'd break from strictly story-telling to give insight on the situation that she's since learned. I'm curious to see how this will go in book 2, though considering her cast ended at the end of When We Wake.
Tegan's kind of an angry character, understandably. This doesn't make it hard to relate to her, though. While I was reading the first few chapters I kept thinking “no, I don't want to know about her past life, because I already know she loses everybody and everything,” but it's kind of important to get a feel for her life before in order to sympathize. I liked that instead of despairing she used her anger and hurt to stand up for herself and fight, despite the many people wanting to use her.
Bethari is a fantastic character. She stands by Tegan and backs her up no matter what. She's sensible, fun, and an awesome computer hacker. I love the first scene in which her and Tegan are introduced. It's all awkward and weird for the first few minutes, but then they discover mutual interests and become more comfortable which each other. I don't know about you, but that describes pretty much all of my friend experiences.
I really liked that because Tegan wasn't up-to-date on the times I got to learn about all the future stuff right along with her; it felt more natural. I don't hate being dropped into a story and figuring things out for myself, but it can hinder my enjoyment some. Healey doesn't go overboard on the future slang either. I do think it's important for a book set in the future to have some of it's own words because language is a thing that evolves, but too much of it can weigh a book down. I think Healey added in just enough for it to feel real, but not pull me out of the story. Plus, kooshy is a really funny word.
The Nutshell: When We Wake is a well-rounded story with a little bit of action, mystery, and a main focus on Tegan's integration into future society. The characters are all pretty fleshed out and it's easy to sympathize with Tegan and her situation. If you want a book with good characters, an engaging story, and well-developed futuristic world then When We Wake is your book.
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.