I know I’ve probably said this before a million times, but I am a sucker for a nice looking book. When I was walking around the Waterstones in Kendal (yes, I did drive all the way to the Lake District and end up in a book shop), this book jumped out at me straight away because of the red edges on the pages and the girl staring out at me from the front of the book.
A quick read of the back of the book convinced me that it would probably be pretty interesting, so I decided I might as well give it a try.
“Hannah Payne is a Red.
Her crime: Murder.
And her victim, says the state of Texas
Was her unborn child.”
The book is set in Texas, but a very different from the Texas that we know now. In this Texas, they had a problem with massive overcrowding of the prisons, and they realised that it would be much easier (and cheaper) to let the criminals back into society. With one catch: melachroming. This means that, depending on the severity of the crime that you committed, your skin is be turned a different colour for the length of your sentence – making you a ‘Chrome’. Among others, yellow is for misdemeanor crimes, blue is for paedophiles and red is for murderers. Hannah, being convicted of abortion (illegal in this version of Texas) is sentenced to 16 years living as a ‘Red’. We learn that the reason for Hannah’s abortion is an affair with her married Pastor, and she went ahead with the procedure without telling him. No matter how much he tries to help her avoid the sentence, there’s nothing he can do.
After her release from the 30 days in jail while she becomes accustomed to the melachroming, she is released back into society and during a non too successful stint in a rehab ‘church’, she ends up frightened and alone with only her new friend Kayla (also a Red) for company. Life for a chrome is not easy, especially for a Red. Everyone knows the crime that you commited, and not all places are as tolerant as others. Chromes are tracked by the government so they are not allowed to leave the state. Any attempt to run away would result in ‘fragging’, caused when the melachroming starts to run out and will lead to eventual death. The only way to stop the ‘fragging’ is to return to be re-melachromed.
Just as Hannah and Kayla are about to be attacked by an extreme Christian organisation called The Fist, she is hurried into the back of a van by 3 strangers. They call themselves The Novembrists and they are a ‘feminist’ group determined to help women who have had abortions escape from the life of chroming. They are reluctant to include Kayla in their plans, as she was convicted of attempted murder and not for abortion, but they are persuaded by Hannah to keep her alive. Shielded from the view of the government by the Novembrists, they are now highly wanted by police and their only option is to escape to Canada where they can have the melachroming reversed and live a life of seclusion away from the authorities, never to see their friends and family again.
It is on this journey to Canada via members of the Novembrists group that things go wrong and Hannah and Kayla find themselves separated. Hannah has to find hidden strengths within herself, and she becomes a lot more like the person she always thought she could be, rather than the uber-conservative dummy that her parents had raised her to be. It’s a hair raising experience for Hannah as she battles to make it north to Canada, healing her demons along the way.
There were a few surprises that I didn’t expect from this storyline, and a few times I found myself having to cover the opposite page to stop my eyes from inadvertently wandering across in advance to the next page because the plot was unravelling so thick and fast that I just couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.
The book was very well written, and certainly had a lot thought put into it about the sensitive issue of abortion, and also the more general issue of crime and punishment. Melachroming seems like a cruel and unusual punishment now, but then again the death penalty is still in place in many states in America, and which is really worse?