When We Wake by Karen Healey

January 29, 2013 Reviews 2 ★★★★

When We Wake by Karen HealeyWhen We Wake (When We Wake #1) by Karen Healey
Published: 27th January 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback, 291 pages
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction
Source: Publisher
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4 Stars

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

Sixteen-year-old Tegan was loving life: she was joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world, she was playing the guitar, and she thought she might be falling in love for the first time. She didn't plan on the best day of her life being her last.

When Tegan wakes, a hundred years in the future, locked in a government facility, she has no idea what happened. The first person to be cryogenically frozen and successfully revived, she is an instant celebrity - but all she wants is to rebuild some semblance of a normal life in this strange new future.

When appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: should she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better future?

When We Wake is an entertaining novel, a great read, that explores humanity in an honest, chilling manner. There is a lot to like, especially the characters and the terrifying future that seems all too plausible, but I had a few issues with the world building.

Tegan’s plight in waking up in a century in the future makes her immediately accessible, and I love her voice – she’s a wonderful story-teller and I liked the spin she puts on things. The story is told through Tegan talking to us – she’s making a video statement – and she’s great to listen to because she talks in conversational style rather than narrating the story. I did think that she stagnated a little towards the end – I would have liked to see her continue to grow and learn and mature. I really enjoyed the supporting characters of this book – Bethari, the first friend that Tegan makes at her new school; Maria, the scientist who revived her and later became her legal guardian; and Tegan’s awesome body-guard, Zaneisha. Not only were they strong, relatable female characters,  they are of varied cultural backgrounds and have interesting histories, making them some of the more dimensional secondary characters I have had the pleasure to read.

Of course, another favourite is Abdi – a student taken into Australia under the Talented Alien visa despite the country’s strong No Migrant policy. I think he’s the most interesting, the most realistic character in the book, and I quickly found myself looking forward to when he appeared in the story.

I’m not sure about the Australia that Healey paints for us in When We Wake – it doesn’t feel familiar in any way. When comapred to the other YA books I have read that are set in Australia, like Shadows by Paula Weston, And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst, and Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar, there is very little distinguishes its setting from other YA dystopias. I feel like Melbourne could have easily been replaced with London or Los Angeles, and with the appropriate references to buildings, flora and fauna inserted, I wouldn’t have known the difference. Also interesting was the distinct lack of technology like hover cars and high-speed trains, but this sets When We Wake apart from other books in its genre, and it’s refreshing to read about a society that lives in a spartan manner because of the global climate crisis.

The other thing that I felt a little uncomfortable with is the emphasis on the sexual orientation of the secondary characters. I think it’s amazing that this book has characters that identify themselves as homosexual, heterosexual and one female character who was born male-bodied. They all feel accepted, and Australian human rights policies allow them to live and work without fear of judgement or prejudice. But I felt like these freedoms were highlighted too much, the differences between social policy in the present and the future brought up too frequently. Especially when I considered that of all the characters whose sexuality was explored in the book, only Tegan and Abdi identify as heterosexual, and they eventually get together. If the inclusion of these characters had seemed natural, like in Unspoken with Angela, I would feel differently, but I feel like the author included these characters because she had a point to make. In my opinion, it takes something away from the effect of including the characters in the first place.

There’s a lot to admire about When We Wake – the controversial premise, the unique way in which the story is presented, the plethora of great supporting characters and the spunky protagonist. I really enjoyed it and think it brings something fresh and exciting to YA dystopian stories. It will be enjoyed by those who are already fans of the genre, but will also appeal to other readers because of its thought-provoking subject material.

2 Responses to “When We Wake by Karen Healey”

  1. Tsana

    Hmm. I think I have to give this one a go. I suspect some of the same things that bothered you will bother me, but it still sounds good.

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