This was a four-star book until the last 80 or so pages, and then it lost its way. So 3.5 stars it is. The novel starts off strong with a tale of private shame made very public, and gleeful cruelty masquerading as religious piety. I saw some spooky parallels with the way Warren Jeffs was controlling the FLDS Church a few years ago. Jordan takes the basic themes from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and brings them into the future with the addition of abortion and extreme fundamentalist rule. Hannah Payne (Hester Prynne) and Aidan Dale (Arthur Dimmesdale) have had an affair. She's a young innocent parishioner. He's a married preacher with a huge following and a spotless reputation. Hannah has aborted their love child. Instead of a scarlet letter, she is punished with a scarlet body. In this version of America, most criminals serve out their sentences among the general populace rather than behind bars. Their skin is "melachromed" red, yellow, green or blue, depending on their crimes. Being marked in this way makes them outcasts, subject to derision, physical attacks, and even death threats. Prison would seem a more merciful punishment. After her initial chroming and public humiliation period, Hannah stays in a halfway house meant to prepare her for re-entering society as a "Red." She then makes a series of stops along a sort of futuristic underground railroad. Here is where the novel begins to go off the tracks, so to speak. It slowly collapses on itself with a tedious journey and a rushed ending that is too inconclusive to warrant the buildup. The quick foray into lesbianism is awkward and unrealistic, and thus feels obligatory rather than purposeful.I was disappointed that Hannah didn't emerge more strengthened by her ordeal. I think Jordan hoped to show a transformation from a mousy, obedient evangelical girl into a fearless, bold, and resourceful woman. Whatever transformation does occur is too fast to be plausible. Hannah never quite reaches the state of maturity and self-knowledge we might wish for her. She's left mired in that late-adolescent stage of defiance versus dependence. I do recommend the book, despite my middling rating. Just don't expect a strong finish to match the powerful beginning.