Title: The School for Good Mothers
Author: Jessamine Chan
Genre: Literary Fiction
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: January 4, 2022
You can find it here: Bookshop.org
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.
My feelings on this one are maddeningly all over the place. Because, on the one hand, it was an incredibly thought provoking, haunting novel exploring the unrealistic expectations we put upon mothers in our society – through the exaggerated lens of a dystopian (only slightly) world. Layers upon layers build in this novel surrounding the hot button topic of parenting – stigmas in cultural parenting styles (ie anything not white and North American equals wrong), parenting double standards, racism and incarceration, the systematic problem of blanketed standardized punishment/corrections for wide scale infractions, stigmas of mental health, medication, and suicide. I mean, this novel goes for it.
But, on that other hand, would I ever want to read this again? Would I ever recommend this to a friend? No and not likely. Because this novel is going to make you so damn angry on every damn page and for that damn reason it is so damn hard to finish. Readers are going to be split down the middle as to where your sympathies lie for our main character regarding the events surrounding her “bad day” and whether it is in fact a forgivable offence. It’s the whole crux of the storyline … is leaving an 18-month-old alone for over two hours okay? Is that maybe the point? Jessamine is instantly making you judge in a novel that explores how much we judge mothers …?
It’s a doozy of a novel, one I can’t stop thinking about, one that has stirred up a whole gauntlet of emotions, which is typically my benchmark for a good novel. But I hated reading it at the same time? If you’re ready for some literary self masochism, buckle up.
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