Review: When We Wake by Karen Healey

When We Wake
Karen Healey

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Releases March 5, 2013
304 pages
YA / Fantasy

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My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy. 

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.

This book didn’t take very long to zip through and it seems as though it is a standalone (yay!). Yet at the same time I can see how a sequel could be squeaked out of the almost closed doors left at the end of the story. When We Wake is pretty similar to Erasing Time, which I read a few months ago. Lead character Tegan starts out doing normal things on a normal day, excited about a new relationship that had been years in the making. Then something sudden occurs and she wakes up a century in the future, discombobulated and scared. But besides the basic plot and the ensuing need for the main character to rediscover language, habits and change in culture, When We Wake and Erasing Time diverge.

While Erasing Time was heavy on the science part of science fiction and had a lot of language talk that press my geeky English degree buttons, When We Wake involves cryogenics but focuses more on the emotional components of being displaced from one’s time. The novel focuses more on the effects of global warming and climate change than the science behind how Tegan got from 2027 to 2127 other than a few paragraphs about worms and freezing. I’m not entirely sure how worms – no matter how sturdy their metabolism in harsh environments – would allow someone who had been shot to be revived, but that’s the hand-wavy part about YA science fiction.

Healey is obviously very passionate about the climate and sometimes it feels like the whole reason behind this book was for her to be able to discuss potential outcomes of increasing climate change. Throw in a Luddite-like cult and the book seems like a fictional story on top of a more obvious political agenda. Most of the time it doesn’t have a huge effect on the flow of the story, but it still bothered me at times.

Though I have to say what bothered me the most about this book was the narration style was a bit odd. It’s obvious early on that Tegan is telling this story to someone, looking back on her past both in 2027 and of this new life in the future. Because she’s telling this story, the flow of the narrative is very conversational and regularly features asides from Tegan. While it doesn’t bother others, I find narrator statements like “I didn’t know then, but this was important” or “This would change soon” kind of annoying. It’s not really foreshadowing and it’s not really narration. It’s more of a space filler and I’ve never been a huge fan of space fillers.

Along with that Tegan regularly interrupts her own story to swerve into an aside that doesn’t have much to do with the story at hand. This lends itself to a very stop-and-start sort of pacing. By the time things pick up towards the last third of the book, I felt like Healey finally got on a role and the action took more of a front seat to the narrative style. Perhaps it was the talk of spaceships or because suddenly people were on the run instead of just passively discovering the world around them. Either way the last third flew by and at the end I found that – despite the stylistic choices I disagreed with – I did enjoy When We Wake.

I wouldn’t really put this under science fiction despite the cryogenics story plot point. It’s really just a vehicle to put the character into a world unfamiliar while still having a character with familiar motivations and thoughts. If you expect more of a relationship story (yes, there is a romance) with a bit of mystery and some scifi tropes thrown in every down and again, then I think When We Wake might make a satisfying read.

I received an ARC of this book via the Around the World Book Tours, so thanks to that outfit for adding me to the tour.