Plot: In 2027 Tegan Oglietti was 17 years old, in love and protesting for a better future. Then she was killed by a bullet intended for the Prime Minister. She awakens nearly 100 years later in a military facility. Everyone she has ever known and loved is dead and the future is a far different place. Some things have improved but she is disappointed to discover that prejudice, injustice and environmental disasters persist. And she quickly begins to suspect that the military’s reasons for reviving her may not be as innocent and altruistic as they claim. This story is her account of what really happened to her and what she discovered.
I’m a huge Karen Healey fan. She writes fascinating, complex and diverse YA fiction that really speaks to me. You can read my ravings about Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering. So naturally, I was very excited about her new novel and I started it as soon as I could get my hands on it. It’s the first book in the last two months that I read in a day.
When We Wake is quite different than Healey’s two first books. For one it is science fiction, not fantasy. While this allows her to explore some fascinating issues and technology, I do miss the mythology that infuses her other books. But it’s not fair to compare it to something that it’s not; it accomplishes its own goals quite well. Healey constructs a believable future with its own problems, social and environmental, and with characters that are the product of this environment. It also poses a difficult moral questions: what sacrifices are acceptable in order to preserve the human race? what does the revival of the dead imply about the immortal soul?
Tegan is an interesting character. She is not exceptional at anything (though she has a passion for music, the Beatles in particular, and urban exploring) but that doesn’t make her a poor hero, if anything it makes her a better one. One quote captures it perfectly: “Talent is great but persistence is totally underrated.” p 49. But what really pleases the academic in me is that her narrative is essentially a performance: she is telling the world her story, to win them over. Every time she says that she is going to tell the whole truth this time, doubts rose up within me. I like Tegan, but is her story really the truth? We’ll never know for sure. And she is not the only interesting one. As usual, Healey creates a racially, sexually and religiously diverse cast: there are muslims, christians, heterosexual, homosexual and transsexual characters from a variety of backgrounds. They have dreams, motivations and problems that sometimes mesh with Tegan’s and some times really don’t. I could list what I loved about each of them but that would take me all day.
But it is an idea novel. It didn’t work for me as a thriller; I was never biting my nails or truly concerned for Tegan’s safety. This is not necessarily a problem, there was more than enough to hold my interest in the characters, technologies and social issues. I was engaged throughout, I simply wasn’t afraid. My other mild dissatisfaction comes from the ending. Nothing is truly resolved at the end: we do not know the ultimate fate of Tegan and her friends and we do not know if her recording has the intended effect. And this is not because there will be a sequel. The ending is purposefully open, I assume to make us think. But I still would have liked a little closure.
For another interesting cryo-stasis story, check out A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan.