…but I don’t think that’s possible. I lovedlovedlovedlovedloved When We Wake by Karen Healey. It completely entranced me for the few hours it took to devour it.
The premise of When We Wake was interesting enough: Sixteen year old Tegan Oglietti is at a climate change protest when shot and killed by a badly-aimed sniper who was trying for the Prime Minister instead. Tegan doesn’t remember dying, but she remembers waking up 100 years later after being cryonically frozen and thawed. She’s the first person ever to be successfully revived, making her an instant celebrity. This doesn’t so much thrill her – she’d rather get on with the business of being a normal teenager and grieving for the family and life she left behind. School, friends, boys and the political issues that defined her in her ‘first life’ are still foremost in her mind. For Tegan, being the puppet of ‘Operation New Beginning’, the army and the scientists who raised her from the dead isn’t her idea of a fun time.
The thing is, Tegan wasn’t exactly your pliable, cookie-cutter teenager the first time around. When she died in 2027, she was not only obsessed with social issues, but music as well. And not just any old music; she loved the ancient band The Beatles. Karen Healey uses this in a novel way – each chapter is headlined by a well-known Beatles song and Tegan uses her knowledge to sing their songs in times of stress. As the first-person narrator of the story, I was sucked in by Tegan’s voice from the first paragraph. She’s strong, funny, loyal, clever and fiercely independent with a sense of empathy and compassion for others that makes her impossible not to like and cheer for.
But Tegan and her likability isn’t the big issue with When We Wake. It’s consequences. Underneath the main character’s (and secondary characters – did I mention how well formed each and every one was?) amusing and self-deprecating voice is a whole world of consequences. Literally. Things change over a hundred year period, and while I wouldn’t label When We Wake as dystopian, it comes close. Some things are better. Marriage is no longer the domain of just a man and woman. Meat and animal products are no not eaten by (most!) humans. Technology has reached the point where computers can be scrunched into a tiny ball and stuffed inside your pocket. But there’s also major climate issues; Australia has a zero immigration policy and there are new diseases to replace the old ones. ‘Illegal’ immigrants are kept in prisons up north and religious fanatics have split the church. Sounds unbelievable, huh. Oh… wait…
The majority of When We Wake is set in Melbourne, Australia, and the surrounding suburbs – which happens to be my home city. It’s obvious the author has spent time living here too. Even the college Tegan is allowed to attend is named for one of our most real and beloved philanthropists (side note – there is actually a college in the area by this name). As a science fiction novel, I possibly would have like to see a bit more science, mainly in the explanation of the revival process which is glossed over a little. But the truth is it doesn’t matter to the Tegan, so it doesn’t really matter to us either.
When We Wake is Karen Healey’s third novel, and the second one I’ve read. While the last one didn’t grab me the way this one did, I can’t wait for the sequel. This is an important book. Not just for Young Adult readers, but everyone. It will make you question your morals, your everyday decision making and your government. I think we’ll be hearing much more about When We Wake when award season rolls around.
Oh, and you neeeed to read it. Right now.