by Karen Healey
March 5, 2013
Little, Brown BYR
Source: Around the World ARC Tours
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.(Goodreads Summary.)
My Take On It
I love science fiction, you guys. My dad is a fan and he definitely spread the sci-fi genes on to me. There isn't a ton of science fiction in today's YA, but it's becoming more prevalent and that pleases me to no end. Karen Healey's latest, When We Wake, is straight up science fiction blended with a dystopian society on the edge of environmental disaster. So I would almost call it pre-apocalyptic in a way. Is that a real term? I'm not sure, but it works here, because the Earth that Healey creates in 2127, the Earth that teenager Tegan Oglietti finds herself thrust into after being cryonically frozen for a hundred years, is a failing world. It's a world where enormous environmental impacts are underway giving one the feeling that civilization is on the decline.
Scary stuff. But fascinating stuff too. And that's what's so great about science fiction. Wikipedia defines it as:
a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, parallel universes, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas"
The last sentence in that description is a strong theme found in When We Wake. The topic here is cryogenics, placing people in a suspended state until medical science makes enough advances to successfully resuscitate them. This is exactly the turn of events that occur when Tegan Oglietti is shot and killed 2027. What begins as just a normal day turns out to be the last day of Tegan's life. Until she wakes up one hundred years later and discovers that she is the world's first successfully revived cryonic human. Tegan is a test subject in the Australian government's "New Beginning" project, a project she had no idea she was a part of when she gave permission to have her body donated to science after her death. After waking up Tegan is first disbelieving, then frightened and finally resolute as she comes to terms with losing her family, her friends and her boyfriend in one blinding instant.
One of the most interesting things about When We Wake is the manner in which it is told. Tegan narrates and from the very start we know certain events have happened. Tegan tells her story in a very calculated way, sometimes sharing things, then opting to stop, only to revisit the subject again later in the book. Tegan speaks directly to the reader but we soon learn that she is actually speaking to an actual audience of people within the story. Who is that audience exactly? This is something that isn't clear in the beginning. And Tegan can be an unreliable narrator of sorts, omitting information and telling half truths. The result is a story that is pointedly paced and one that jumps backwards and forwards, revealing the story to the reader in small bits and pieces.
I really like the character of Tegan, and I think that is due in large part to Karen Healey's writing. The voice of Tegan is very authentic, she acts and sounds like an average teenage girl. And Healey's writing is very easy to read. Tegan's thoughts and actions felt real and true to life. It's hard for me to explain Healey's way of writing, having not read anything by her previously, but it flows very naturally. It's not flowery or poetic in tone, it's just very smooth and, for lack of a better word, readable. I thought of Lauren Oliver as I was reading (though Oliver's works are a bit more lyrical in tone) because both authors are, IMO, accessible and easy to understand.
I'll tell you the whole story. You might wonder why I bother; you already know the facts. But one thing I've learned over the past months--maybe even before--is that facts aren't enough. It's not enough to know; you have to believe. It has to be personal. So here I am, giving you my memories and my feelings and my words. My soul, if you like. It's the only thing that still belongs to me, and there were some times, bad times, that I doubted even that.
But I know the Father was wrong. I'm giving it to you. I hope you're listening.
Tegan and her friends back in 2027 (that felt weird to write) were an interesting bunch. Tegan, her best friend Alex, and her boyfriend Dalmar were social activists, always picketing and marching and striving to rid the world of injustice. Tegan is also a musician. In fact, music plays a very big role in When We Wake (YAY for music themes!) and Tegan's all time favorite band, The Beatles, are referenced again and again. The chapter titles are Beatles song titles and it's music that allows Tegan to connect with the kids she meets when she is able to return to school after her awakening.
The other characters in When We Wake, Bethari, Abdi, Col. Dawson, Zaneisha and especially Marie, the scientist who revives Tegan and eventually takes her in, are all interesting, individual, and fully fleshed. Watching Tegan forge new friendships and relationships after so much loss was one of the more hopeful aspects of the book.
But really it's the descriptions of the world in the 22nd century that Healey creates that made this book for me. In Healey's futuristic setting Tegan discovers that there have been great strides in humanity: most of the worlds population has gone "green"; religious intolerance is pretty much a non-issue; interracial, same sex marriages and relationships, and transgender individuals are supported, even recreational drug use has been legalized. But as the book progresses Tegan learns that with these achievements, there are still injustices found across the globe. Third world nations can't afford the expensive methods involved in going green and are in turn made the scapegoat for environmental problems still plaguing the planet. Since the collapse of the world's super powers, refugees are flooding Australia and are being detained in interment camps. Pandemics still plague the world while pharmaceutical companies turn a blind eye. For Tegan, who cares so passionately about social and political injustice, it's almost too much to bear. Adding to the stress of the entire situation is that Tegan, as the first successful test subject in the "New Beginnings Project" is seen as both a spokesperson for the government (and it's political agenda) as well as a target for extremist groups. And when she uncovers even more nefarious plots underway, her innate activism inspires her to do something about it.
Because this is science fiction there are some really cool aspects incorporated into this book, especially when Healey talks cryogenics and how it works. There are a lot of things mentioned that had me up late at night searching online to see if they were based on fact or fiction (For instance tardigrades really exist, who knew?? What's that? Look it up!) Since I'm a dork all of this stuff was awesome to read about and achieved the intended goal of well and truly freaking me out because it is all so plausible.
When We Wake is not only is a frightening look at what could be, it is also a thought provoking book that asks big questions. How much is too much when it comes to prolonging or extending life? Is it right or ethical to bring someone back who has died just because medical science can now do so? Is resurrecting a person that has been cryonically frozen playing God? Is a cryonically resuscitated person soulless? Many, many questions that are not only valid but completely relevant right now, in our own time. Guys, I LOVE books like this. I love when a book makes you think but also tells a great story. And while When We Wake is a dark book in many ways, it also has many shining moments of hope. From what I can surmise, there will be a sequel which is GOOD because the book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. I know. But this book is so smart you guys, and the characters are so well written that don't let that little thing put you off. Having enjoyed When We Wake and the writing style of Karen Healey, I will most definitely be checking out more of this author's works in the future:)
Find author Karen Healey here: website/ goodreads/ twitter
Check out more reviews of When We Wake:
Ashley Loves Books
Some Like It Paranormal
This Blonde Reads
Attack the Stacks