Thursday, January 23, 2014

When We Wake by Karen Healey

Sixteen year old Tegan Oglietti wakes up one hundred years into her future. She discovers she has been frozen for all that time. It had been 2027 and she along with her new boyfriend, Dalmar, and her best friend Alex, had been on their way to a protest. Tegan did not survive the protest. She was mistakenly shot by a sniper intent upon attacking the Prime Minister and died. But because she had signed her body over to science upon death, she was taken to an experimental cryonics unit run by Dr. Tessa Kalin. There she was injected with a solution derived from tardigrades, which are segmented micro-animals that can survive under extreme conditions (from extreme cold to very high temperatures) and then frozen. Dr. Kalin and her team did not know how to reverse the cryonics procedure in 2027 and Tegan was kept frozen until a future time when scientists would have developed that ability. That time has now arrived in the year 2128. Under the direction of Dr. Marie Carmen, who is working in conjunction with the Australian military.

Tegan's first reaction was to flee. In her previous life, Tegan was involved in parkour and so she uses that skill to try to escape the building she is being kept in. She ends up at a talk in progress by Dr. Carmen who rescues her and takes her back to the research compound. When Tegan realizes that she is not going to be allowed to leave, she goes on a hunger strike for five days. Eventually Dr. Carmen (Marie) and Colonel Trevor Dawson who is in charge of the program agree to allow Tegan to attend school and live on the outside with Dr. Carmen. They arrange for Tegan to attend the Elizabeth Murdoch Academy and after she is accosted by a journalist,  to have two body guards, Master Sergeant Gregor Petrov and Sergeant Zaniesha Washington.

To help her assimilate into school, a fellow student, Bethari Miyahputri, is assigned to Tegan. Her first day at school sees Tegan meet a fellow "immigrant" to Australia, Abdi Taalib, who is in the country on a "Talented Alien visa". Abdi is a "Thirdie", someone who is from a Third World country. After a brief misunderstanding, when Tegan attends music class, Abdi breaks his silence and sings with her as she plays guitar.

When an Inheritor of the Earth protester confronts Tegan in a Catholic church where she has stopped to say some prayers, he tells her that she is being used by the military and to research "Ark Pro...". The protester is killed by Tegan's bodyguard before he can finish but Tegan decides that she needs to know more about this future society and who the protesters are.

Certain that her own computer is not secure, Tegan uses Bethari's computer to research life in the 22nd century and to find out what the Inheritor was trying to tell her. She discovers that there is some kind of top secret military project called Ark Project and is given a list of addresses, one of which is in Victoria and close to the army base. Tegan sets up a "sleepover" Bethari and Joph, who is a classmate at Elizabeth Murdoch Academy. While Bethari and Tegan check out the location near the army base, Joph stays at Bethari's house to help the other two avoid detection. Tegan and Bethari discover that the abandoned warehouse is a cover for some kind of top secret military operation but are unable to discover exactly what that is.

Meanwhile Dawson sets up an interview with journalist Carl Hurfest to try to get some positive press for Tegan who has been labeled the "Living Dead Girl". However, the interview goes badly when Tegan criticizes the Australian government over its treatment of immigrants and not being willing to share its resources with "thirdies"  as people from the Third World are known. This PR disaster causes Dawson to order her to be handcuffed and taken back to the concrete army bunker. But Dr. Cameron intervenes, knocking Dawson unconscious and helping Tegan to escape.

Tegan meets up with Bethari, Abdi, and Joph. They decide that they need to find the truth about the mysterious warehouse. But what Tegan uncovers changes everything and reveals the truth about her existence and the life she is leading in the 22nd century.

In When We Wake, author Karen Healey has crafted a sort of science fiction version of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. However, instead of a helpless young woman who is rescued by a dashing knight as we've come to know through Disney, we have a heroine who is both capable and strong. Revived after 100 years, Tegan is determined to forge her own life in a world that is very different from the one she lived in a century ago and yet has many of the same problems. To accomplish this she stands up for herself from the very beginning, taking on Colonel Dawson so that she can start her second life essentially where she left off. But it turns out that the motives behind Tegan's revival are more sinister than she ever imagined.

Religious themes permeate this novel. Healey asks her readers to consider the question of what happens after the body dies because this is a question that 22nd century society is now struggling with after the revival of Tegan. The heroine of the novel, Tegan is a Roman Catholic - though not a particularly well-informed one. There's mention of a Fourth Vatican Council which reformed  women's equality, likely a euphemism for women priests.Tegan prays to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but mostly she seems to have a superficial understanding of her faith and certainly no theological understanding of the deeper questions that her revival brings about. And that's fine - she is after all a sixteen year old girl struggling to come to terms with what has happened with her.

The author asks her readers to consider the question of whether or not a human being having been declared dead, subsequently frozen and then revived a century later has a soul. It is integral to her story because those against the research being done, the cult known as the Inheritors of the Earth, consider such a thing a moral abomination and an affront to the will of God. They believe Tegan does not have a soul but is only a body, a shell of what she was. They therefore believe she should end her life and return to God. When captured and confronted by the leader of the cult, a bizarre man who calls himself The Father, Tegan doesn't have an answer which is also understandable since it's a question . Mainly because her situation is implausible.

From a Catholic perspective, metaphysically what has happened to Tegan is likely impossible, although there are precedents in scripture; Lazarus was brought back to life after three days in the tomb, and the apostles were also given the power to raise people from the dead. But miracles aside, Catholics believe that all persons upon death, will face an immediate judgement by God - called the Particular Judgement. When the physical body is dead, the soul separates from the body and goes before God. Once judged, the soul either goes to heaven, hell or to purgatory for purification. A soul cannot return to its body after judgement unless by the will of God.

Despite the metaphysical impossibility that this story is based on, I was interested to see what Healey would do with the interesting scenario she had created for this novel. Unfortunately, the reason behind Tegan's revival is not unique (humanity wants to flee the planet) and nor is the constant message throughout the book about widespread ecological disaster that has befallen most of the planet and fundamentalist war in America. It all felt somewhat unimaginative despite the novel's great cover. However, there is the promise of a blossoming romance between Tegan and Abdi and as well as more conflict between Tegan and the agency that revived her.

Tegan's story is told as a narrative video which she broadcasts to make her story and the government conspiracy known to the world at large. The ending is the perfect setup for the next installment in this series.

The novel has a great book trailer - one of the better ones lately:

Book Details:

When We Wake by Karen Healey
New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2013
304 pp.

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