When We Wake by Karen Healey

when we wake karen healey“You are not the future I wanted. I can’t believe the same stupid shit is still happening. I wanted you to be better!  Be better!”

I wait for it, you know.  I wait for that minute, that second, when I will become tired of dystopias.  And sometimes it comes to me in a flash.  Sometimes I am in the middle of a book or am scanning the summaries of that month’s new releases and I am stuck in the middle of the same old thing for the thousandth time – it’s the end of the world and it’s all so obvious yet the science has no explanation and look there’s some middling, predictable love triangle and one of the guys SEEMS like the “bad” boy but PROBABLY he’s not and OH SURPRISE everyone’s corrupt and somehow this totalitarian government with complete control over everything has just been easily overthrown by a 15 year old, sure! I just can’t read another word.  I am bored and, worse, I am worn out of the entire genre beyond belief. “NO MORE DYSTOPIAS!” I say to myself.  “I’ll read summaries and reviews and skim so I can be up-to-date for booktalking to teens, but no more!” (because, and this part is SO important for me to always keep in mind, my teens still clamor for dystopias.  They are easy sells, they fly off the shelves, they are constantly requested.  I’ve got to buy them and I’ve got to know them. My HIGH-FALUTIN’ ~FEELS do not enter into the reader’s advisory part of my job.) And I mean it!

But then … then there’s one I have to give a shot.  Someone I trust promises me this one is worth it.  It’s a summary I can’t resist.  So, I give just this one a shot and … I am reminded all over again why I love this genre – these dystopias, the post-apocalyptic worlds where teenagers are fighting for survival and figuring out their identities all at the same time. I picked up When We Wake by Karen Healey for a simple reason: she’s one of my Morris authors.  Karen’s debut Guardian of the Dead was one of the five finalists for the 2011 Morris, the year I was a member of the committee.  So, her books are always meaningful to me and, of course, always instant-reads. But still!  Even loving Karen Healey, I was not prepared for the wonderfulness of When We Wake.

When We Wake begins in 2027 on the last day of Tegan Oglietti’s life.  It begins again when Tegan awakes 100 years in the future, the first person to be successfully revived from cryogenic freezing.  Now Tegan must find out who she is 100 years later, the entirety of her world swept away from her in the blink of an eye, and she must also figure out what kind of world she’s now living in and what her part in it all is.

What I Love About This Book

Where to begin with all I love about When We Wake?  How about here: what a loving, wonderful portrayal of teen activists.  What a glorious thing to find in a YA book, a YA fantasy book at that: teenagers who aren’t just in a story to fall in love, who don’t just topple governments with a single flashy action, but who are there, on the streets, doing the every day work of protesting and organizing for change.  That is true both in 2027 and 2127, the teens we meet are interested in the world, in politics, in issues like immigration reform and justice.  These are teenagers I know and have known, smart and passionate and curious.  And this is a real strength of the book – a future world, yes, but with grounding in the here and now, with sympathetic and realistic characters.

I love that when Tegan awakes she finds herself, yes, in a totally foreign world.  It is, after all, 100 years in the future.  And yet.  And yet it’s still a recognizable world.  That’s another thing that wears me out about round after round of dystopias – it’s 150 years in the future but we’ve lost all previous human language and all live in a complete totalitarian  regime in a landscape almost ruined by plagues and natural disasters but, really, everything’s mostly recovered, well the grass is longer.  Uhhh … well that time table seems slightly off to me. The world Tegan finds in 2127 is different, of course, it has different technology and slang and great strides have been made in a lot of social issues. Yet in many ways, the world is still recognizable to Tegan.  People still play guitar and love music, there are still cliques at high schools, there’s still a voracious media and online world to sink into and be wary of.  Because this is a world where things seem real and familiar it’s a world where it’s much easier to feel the stakes, the real costs and risks of Tegan’s choices.  Again, this is a frankly brilliant take on the futuristic novel and the dystopia.

In fact, note my use of the word dystopia.  There’s plenty right in the world of 2127 – and Tegan, from a time when the world seemed to be tearing apart, can’t help but see all that.  What’s amazing and rich and nuanced about Healey’s work is that, within all of this, within Tegan knowing all of this – there’s still things wrong, very wrong,  in the world Tegan finds herself in.  A lot of what makes the novel IMPOSSIBLE to put down (I ripped through it) is how Healey ratchets up the stakes and the suspense to reveal just how deep this wrongness goes.  Usually in a typical dystopia the bad is so bad and the good is so good that very rarely do readers have a chance to look around at the world the author has built for them and, without having to side with a genocidal lunatic, think  “But, really, is it all bad?” But that’s a real choice Tegan faces, a real puzzle she must untangle.  How bad is the bad and what exactly will I, Tegan Ogiletti, do about it?  What a question!  And, thanks to Healey’s amazing prose, what an answer we are given!

When We Wake is available to purchase now. If you can’t purchase one, go check out a copy from your local library and if they don’t have one, request they add it to their collection!  It is highly recommended for readers aged 13-18 and as a first purchase for public libraries, especially if you have a crowd who eats up end of the world books but also hungers for something new.

I return to the title – this isn’t just a story of When I Wake.  The WE is there for a reason.  This is a story of awakening, coming of age, and, most moving to me, of choosing to pick up the fight when something is unjust.  We are called awake and into this world with great passion and clarity thanks to Healey’s writing.  In a crowded field of books I thought I was all burned out on, When We Wake is special indeed.  It helped reignite my passion for dystopias and, best of all, it gave me something to think about.

(Here’s a Tor review of When We Wake that I absolutely loved and a fantastic Twitterview with Healey by Kim at Stacked.)

One thought on “When We Wake by Karen Healey

  1. Sold! Great review—I’ve felt the same fatigue regarding dystopian titles, but you really hit the nail on the head with your analysis of WHY so many of these stories are frustrating. Is there really no dystopian future that doesn’t involve a return to a semi-agrarian totalitarian state? That isn’t just waiting for a teenage hero figure to lead a revolution? Apparently not, 99% of the time.

    In any case, I’ll be checking this title out as soon as I can find a copy.

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