Welcome to a not-so-distant future where felons, rather than wasting federal resources in prisons, are instead "melachromed:" a process where their very skin is dyed to represent the crime that they committed. These "Chromes" are patronized by society and treated brutally, often banned or segregated in many areas of cities.
The story's protagonist is the young woman Hannah Payne, a skilled Texas dressmaker who lives with her parents and sister in a fundamentalist Christian town. She has committed the worst crime of all- murder. For she has had an illegal abortion, the product of an affair with a man whose identity she is determined to keep secret. Hannah's skin is dyed scarlet to forever remind herself and warn others of her crime, and she is imprisoned in a Chrome ward where the struggles of millions of Chromes are televised to the nation. When she is released, she finds that nothing will be the same.
Hannah must face danger, steel herself, and question everything she believed in to survive as a Chrome in the world she once loved. "When She Woke" is a brilliant new take on the classic "The Scarlet Letter," in addition to a thorough examination of religion, ethics, government, and what relation they should share.