When We Wake by Karen Healey

It’s 2027, and Tegan Oglietti is a happy, relatively angst-free teenager. She’s just made her crush her boyfriend, and she and her group of friends spend their time doing parkour, playing guitar, and protesting the various ills of the world: environmental degradation, social injustice, and more. Her world is a little different from our own in 2013, but not so much to be unbelievable. 
Then, on the way to a protest, Tegan dies. But it’s not the end of her life. She wakes up 100 years in the future, having agreed to donate her body to science and therefore unwittingly also agreed to be a part of the government’s experimental cryonics program. She’s the first to be successfully frozen and revived, and she’s told that this procedure will be used to help other people living in the year 2127.
Anyone who has read a futuristic story like this will know that Tegan is being lied to. There’s clearly something else going on with the cryonics experiment. Tegan herself is kept on a very short leash, given just enough freedom to keep her from outright rebellion. As Tegan makes her way in this new world, learning how its changed for the better and how its changed for the worse, making a few friends along the way, she starts to unravel the truth.
Tegan is a terrific character. She’s a budding activist in her “home” time, but a bit unsure about it. She wants so desperately to make things better, and when she wakes up in the future to discover that yes, some things are better, but some are much, much worse, it’s a little heartbreaking. One of the most moving moments for me was when Tegan finally breaks down and shouts at those around her who have helped make this world the way it is, telling them to “Be better!” Her disappointment is palpable and devastating.
When We Wake is, in some ways, a bit of a throwback for a dystopia, and I mean that in a good way. It seems most of the dystopias churned out recently envision future worlds full of the most lurid, shocking, and frankly ridiculous social systems the author could think up. Healey brings us back to Earth – her future is very different from our present, but it’s also believable. For example, there’s less racial prejudice but a good deal more environmental crisis. She extrapolates a set of realistic issues for her future society to deal with from the same issues that we tackle today. More importantly, though, When We Wake brings back some actual commentary – social, political, environmental. She shows that the actions we – as humans – are taking now matter, that they impact the future, our children and grandchildren and beyond. What we do now makes a difference – both good and bad. Healey doesn’t hit you over the head with it, but it’s there, and thank goodness.
The writing is excellent, which is what I’ve come to expect from a Karen Healey book. Tegan has a great voice, and the first person perspective is completely warranted: by the end of the book, it’s clear she’s telling her story to a specific audience for a specific reason. It is, perhaps, not as emotionally resonant as The Shattering, but not much is. It packs a punch nonetheless.
Next week, we’ll be sharing a Twitterview with Healey, who gives us a little more insight into Tegan and her future world(s). We’ll also be giving away a finished copy of the book, courtesy of Little, Brown, and this is a giveaway you’ll want to enter.
Review copy provided by the publisher. When We Wake is available now.
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  1. says

    I've been wanting to read this book for a while now, so it's good to know it was well written! I'm particularly interested in the aspects you mentioned about it being a throwback to dystopia. I like that it explores actual issues we are facing today. Great review!

  2. says

    I agree that one of the more frustrating aspects of recent dystopians is definitely the lackluster world-building and unbelievable premises. From what you've stated here, When We Wake definitely seems to do a better job at that. Thanks for the thoughtful review. This sounds like a really interesting book – I'll have to check it out.

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