Author: Jessamine Chan
Genre: Literary Fiction/Dystopian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: January 4, 2022
Book Description: A terrifying novel about mass surveillance, loneliness, and the impossible measurements of motherhood—The School for Good Mothers is a timely and remarkable debut.” — Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.
Rating: 5 Stars
Review: Set in what felt like present time, Frida is a struggling single mother after her husband had an affair and chooses to move on with the other woman. One morning Frida makes a very big mistake and leaves her daughter alone, to grab coffee and pick something up at her office. When she returns, the worst occurs and her beloved daughter is taken away and given to her father. After a series of unfortunate events, the courts decide to give her a choice, attend a brand new school where she will train for 1 year on how to be a good mother and have the chance to get her daughter back or lose permanent custody of Harriet forever. Of course, she makes the sacrifice to leave her job, home and daughter, at the chance to return to her family.
I personally stopped reading this book several times, thinking I would abandon this story. However, each time I thought that, I kept thinking this is exactly what the author wanted to evoke from the reader. In this world you are expected to be a perfect parent, there is zero tolerance for making mistakes or being human. The courts and the people running this school are completely out of control and will cause you to feel such anger at time. Frida is a woman, just trying to do the best she can, and unfortunately that is not enough. Frida is not perfect by any means, and can use a little help, but one thing is true, she loves her daughter fiercely.
In the end, I loved the book for all the emotions I had reading. This is not a joyful read by any means, but such a powerful story that does not feel so far fetched. If you love The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Vox by Christina Dalcher or Red Clocks by Leni Zumas this might be the book for you. This will be a great book for book clubs as there is a ton to unpack and debate throughout.
Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.