Minda’s drunk review of The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. We received a physical ARC in the mail and it went to me as our resident blog mama.
TW: Child neglect, parent-child separation, depression
What I drank prior: I went to a wine tasting room in Old Town Albuquerque. I was very impressed! The wines were locally grown in New Mexico with a large variety and all that I tried were delicious l.
An alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781982156121 can be found here.
In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. What’s worse is she can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with their angelic daughter Harriet does Frida finally feel she’s attained the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she’s just enough.
Until Frida has a horrible day.
The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida — ones who check their phones while their kids are on the playground; who let their children walk home alone; in other words, mothers who only have one lapse of judgement. Now, a host of government officials will 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 she can live up to the standards set for mothers — that she can learn to be good.
This propulsive, witty page-turner explores the perils of “perfect” upper-middle-class parenting, the violence enacted upon women by the state and each other, and the boundless love a mother has for her daughter.
My Summary: After being arrested by CPS for leaving her toddler at home for two hours, Frida has her child ripped away from her and is forced to attend a school for motherhood for the next year. A whole year away from her baby girl. At the School, she must prove her devotion to her daughter with the help of AI and constant surveillance. The book brings to the forefront a prevalent question: How far is too far to go to strive for motherhood perfection and ultimately protect children?
Spoiler-free Thoughts: TBH this book was very disturbing which I’m sure is the point. As the fellow mother of a toddler, her plight was very relatable at points—who hasn’t faced the uncontrollable emotions of a toddler?—but aggressively not in others—her “mistake” was a big one compared to many of the other mothers at the School. Overall I appreciate what the author was going for, but it wasn’t for me. I really had to push myself to finish it, though I couldn’t not know what happened. Every time I put down the book, I just wanted to hug my LO and never let him go (too long of a hug btw in their rule book).
Characters: Frida is the mother in question. I honestly can’t think of any specific traits of her right now except for low self-awareness. I personally didn’t relate to her much as a person, but there was some sympathizing for her parenting struggle. I think most parents, but mothers especially would sympathize with many of the challenges she faced. Unfortunately her personality is lacking outside of that, though my heart goes out to her for her clear depression as well.. I’m not sure we really got to know many others—Frida is a little just focusing on her own little world. IMO the fellow inmates could have been fleshed out more. I think her coparent and ex husband Gust kind of sucks, but he’s really not given much of a personality either, beyond making questionable decisions and not being there more for Frida. Susanna is about the same. Harriet is also underwritten but I get that it’s harder because she’s a toddler. And poor Emmanuelle!
Plot: The book starts off with Frida’s “very bad day” where she leaves Harriet, her toddler, home alone for two hours. Eventually she is sentenced to the School, but there is a lot time spent getting the story going. Even once we get to the School, the pacing felt very off to me. I did have to put this book down a lot though too just from the heavy, heavy themes. As a mother, this book was very chilling.
World Building: The world building was lacking for me a bit. We were clearly in some sort of dystopian society, either slightly in the future or a parallel universe, but this was never really explained. What steps were taken that allowed CPS to set up this terrible program? What is the background behind the why? Because we only have Frida’s slightly unreliable narrative, the world wasn’t really explored. I will say, the School environment was very well built out, at least from the perspective of Frida.
Writing Style: Only from Frida’s POV
Drink Pairing: Sour Lemondrop
Rating: 3/5 shots — I just can’t rate it an higher based on my lack of enjoyment for the book