Frida Liu is struggling with her newly single motherhood. After some poor judgment on a very bad day, Frida’s custody of Harrier is at risk. But Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that that re-educates bad mothers and 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 and learn to be good.
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. 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.
The School for Good Mothers shines a light on what Western society expects of mothers and how parents, particularly mothers, harshly judge one another. At the same time, this book is a story about a mother’s love for her child. It is undoubtedly a book that will stick with and make you think.
The School for Good Mothers has an interesting and unique concept and plot. It did, however, become a bit monotonous. Despite being a bit slow and rather repetitive, I did not want to put it down as I wanted to know the next thing that would happen at the school. People who need a book with a strong plot that propels you through a book may want to forego this one. I also found the ending of The School for Bad Mothers to be incredibly unsatisfying. It took my opinion of the book down a notch. However, I can see where it may have been difficult for Chan to write a different ending or one that would satisfy readers.
Jessamine Chan’s writing in The School for Good Mothers was fact-driven and unemotional. There was an emotional flatness to the writing and the book. I think that this was likely intentional so that the reader makes up their own minds and opinions without being biased by the author. I can see this being problematic for those who think that the mothers’ and/or the school’s actions should be judged negatively. But I think it is part of what makes this book strong – the fact that The School for Good Mothers makes you examine your own expectations and judgments of mothers.
Chan highlights the expectations of modern-day parenting, the violence enacted upon mothers by the state and each other, and the double standards for mothers and fathers. She also touches on the fact that there are American expectations of mothers which do not conform with other cultures or encompass the multi-cultural aspect of the U.S. But for me, Chan did not take it quite far enough to actually make any kind of statement. The social commentary was buried deep but never fully addressed. If you are not already aware of these issues, the commentary may not be obvious, which I think is a missed opportunity on Chan’s part.
The School for Good Mothers is a book that will leave you reeling after finishing it and wanting to hug your children (fur or skin babies) tight. Chan manages to shock and disturb despite the absence of emotion in the writing. Overall, I enjoyed The School for Good Mothers and found it thought provoking, quietly intense, and impressively disturbing. It is a perfect book club pick, because you will desperately want to discuss it with someone else. However, I recommend skipping it if you need to the author to take a stance and include judgment of the characters within the text.
The School for Good Mothers
January 4, 2022
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Note: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher, Simon & Schuster. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.