There’s an old Italian proverb about dying that roughly translates to “Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back to the same box.” But what if death was no longer the great equalizer that we know it to be, and instead, we could choose another path with the right amount of science and resources? This is the future that author and Atlanta native Katelyn Monroe Howes creates for her characters in her debut novel “The Awoken.” Her book portrays a world where cryogenics has advanced and recycling is possible, but with this second chance at life comes a bounty of complications. Howes’ novel tells a story of intrigue, corruption, prejudice, and fear — but it’s also one heck of a love story. The author joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to discuss her new release her.
“Alabine Rivers is 23 years old, and she gets a terminal cancer diagnosis. And so she’s in the throes of true love; she has the absolute love of her life, Max Green, by her side, and she tries to fight the cancer, but unfortunately, it’s unsuccessful, and she dies in 2020. But before she dies, she makes the radical decision to cryogenically preserve her body as a last chance for the hope of a life,” recounted Howes.
“A hundred years later, after science has figured out how to resurrect human bodies, she comes back to life … In this world, it is actually illegal to be a resurrected human, and she ‘s resurrected by this group, this underground militia who are trying to fight for the rights of people like her — people called ‘the awoken.’”
A fantastical premise with inspiration incorporated from Howes’ real life and death:
“I started writing this novel because I make documentaries, and I had just come off making this amazing documentary for MTV following this group of at-risk and homeless trans youth in Los Angeles,” Howes continued. “I was so angry about how, by getting to know these great kids and just an experience of walking down the street with them, I saw how my life, based on my perceived identity, was just more, unfortunately, valued by society. It was protected. People would say horrible things to these kids, who were great, and I didn’t have the same kind of bias against me.”
“But then, the first line of the novel is, ‘I was 23 years old when I died.’ And that line, or version of that line, I actually wrote in my diary when I was 17, and I wrote that right after I had a pretty drastic car accident,” said Howes. “I was dead. My heart stopped beating by the time the ambulance arrived. I had no signs of life. And that experience very much haunted me, as you can imagine it would. That trauma has haunted me for the last almost two decades. But what’s really interesting about this novel is I started writing it, not realizing that that’s … the place that I was writing it from.”
A sci-fi future extrapolated from the problems of today’s America:
“What you find out in the novel is that the country, as we know it today, America has split, and the Western states have formed their own country, and then the Eastern states have become ‘United America,’” explained Howes. “I lived both in Atlanta and Los Angeles, and seeing the divide in the country, seeing how people talk about the country in LA versus how people talk about the country on the East Coast, I found that dichotomy really fascinating. And I that’s what I explored in terms of inventing this civil war that ended up splitting the country.”
“We were having these questions in our country, these kinds of societal questions — ‘How do we value a life?’ But I think even more recently, with the recent overturn of Roe, I think we’re really questioning access to medical procedures, which is very much the question that’s driving ‘The Awoken,” Howes said. “Science can give us all these fantastic and great things, but then at some point, we are saying, ‘This is too far. We can’t do this. We shouldn’t. This shouldn’t be allowed.’ … At what point do we sacrifice our humanity in prohibiting and trying to limit access to these things? How does that reflect on us as humans?”
Katelyn Monroe Howes’ debut novel “The Awoken” is out now. The author will be at Little Shop of Stories on Sunday, Aug. 21, at 5 pm for a conversation with fellow author Sanjena Sathian.