July 12, 2019

Karen Healey: "When We Wake"

Title: When We Wake [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: When We Wake (1st of 2 books)
Author: Karen Healey [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Afterlife
Year: 2013
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Strong characters with distinctive voices. Lots of (intersectional) diversity. On-point social/environmental commentary perfectly integrated into the story. Fast pace.
Cons: A few familiar tropes/premises.
WARNING! One brutal death. Mass murder of children.
Will appeal to: Readers who care about the state our world is in. Readers who like a thrilling yet romantic adventure. Beatles fans.

Blurb: 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. 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. Tegan is the first government guinea pig to be cryonically frozen and successfully revived. 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? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I'm ordinarily all for books without tropes, or employing as little of them as it's humanly possible - but sometimes an author can breath new life into an old concept, or make up for a familiar scenario with a great execution. Both things happen in When We Wake - hence my rating. (Also, for your information, this one is set in Australia, which is a nice change from your usual all-American scenario).


I was originally drawn to WWW because of its premise - a girl dying (well, almost), getting frozen and waking up a century later. Though I'm sure it's not a new concept, I've never seen it used in YA, and I was curious how it would pan out. But this book has a lot more to offer than a sci-fi/afterlife (or relife) crossover story. I was prepared for the huge SJW vibe, but got pleasantly surprised by the amount of diversity. The highest point of it is Bethari, a bisexual, hijabi teen hacker/aspiring journalist who befriends the main character Tegan. Oddly, while in 2128 Australia both Muslim and queer people seem to be perfectly integrated (and the government has gone to great lengths to minimise environmental problems, though a bit late), there's a cruel no-immigrant policy in place that struck too close to home, what with the current situation in Europe and the U.S. I loved how Tegan is not perfect - in her first life, she wasn't a true activist, but more like a follower of her friend Alex and her crush Dalmar - but she's inquisitive, and her heart is in the right place. She begins to question the real reason why she's been revived and its impact on society, while refusing to think of herself as an abomination, the way a certain religious cult does. She mourns her past life (that, for her, is only a day away), but embraces the perils that her new one hides under its facade if she doesn't stay down, and bravely fights for the right cause. [...]


Beatles' music is a strong undercurrent in WWW, to the point that each chapter is titled after one of their songs. In her first life, Tegan was a hardcore Beatles fan, and she still clings to their music in the new existence she's facing. She would sometimes tell her friends Beatles trivia - or would reminisce them by herself - that aren't necessarily flattering, and at least in one occasion, even disturbing (I didn't know that John Lennon abused his first wife, and struggled to become a better man later), but she's still able to objectively love them as musicians while keeping her eyes open to their failings (chapeau - I'm not that forgiving or open-minded), or to hold a special candle to Ringo Starr in her heart though she knows that he, as a whole, wasn't the most accomplished musician (I use the past because of course, all four are dead in 2128!). When she meets her new love interest Abdi, she discovers that he's a fan too, which might sound convenient...except I'm fairly sure that Beatles' music has a timeless quality, and even a century from now, it won't be forgotten.


If I have to point out a flaw in WWW, it's that it employs a few tropes (a bunch of teens uncovering a big conspiracy, a hardcore religious cult, a new love interest who's almost a dead-ringer for the old one...), or bestows some convenient abilities upon its characters (Bethari - whom I do love - is a super-accomplished hacker, Joph is a chemistry genius...all at 16/17). But since we, more often than not, read to escape (though in this case, we also get to learn a lesson or two, or to be reminded of a few things that make us better human beings), I can condone that, and I suppose most of you could, too 😉.  Also, as I said, I love how music is incorporated here (a bit differently from your average fan thing), and how a niche sport like free running/urban exploration used to be a huge part of the lead's first life (and it resurfaces - and comes in handy - both here and in the sequel, if briefly). So, basically, what we have here is a sci-fi concept, a conspiracy/adventure, a bit of romance, a great deal of friendship, a main character with a fresh voice, and a social/environmental conscience (which, contrary to some reviews I read, I didn't find to be too heavy-handed, not at once). Seriously, what more do you want from a story? 😉

For quotes from this book click here.
For my "While We Run" review (second installment in the series) click here.
For more Sci-Fi books click here.


  1. The cover makes me cold! Also, I LOVE the Beatles, so that alone makes me want to read this book. My kids spontaneously sing Yellow Submarine ALL the time! ;)

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. Haha, it's an awesome cover though, especially given the book's content (girl frozen and revived).

      They do? It's a great anthem LOL. Very kid-friendly. Still...they take after their mom, and that's so cool!

  2. I agree that tropes aren't inherently bad, and they can definitely be used well or twisted in a way that makes for a great story. The hacker, the chemistry genius, one of everything they need, how convenient lol. Sounds like it was still a great book though. The diversity sounds good, the immigration is super relevant to everything going right now, and the bits about the Beatles sounds interesting.

    1. Quote: "The hacker, the chemistry genius, one of everything they need, how convenient lol."
      Indeed LOL. But without all these little gimmicks, there probably would be very few books 😉. And I can be even more lenient about convenient things if there's a great story at their core, which this one is!

  3. I like the fact this has beatles vibes! And the premise sounds good too :D I can condone the occasional trope, when the book is done well too ;) Awesome review!

    1. Thank you! Tropes are pretty much unavoidable - at least in a minimal dose - but the trick is putting a spin on them that makes them feel fresh.


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