The Farm

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 May 2019

Member Reviews

Thank you for allowing me to read the ARC, I really appreciate it :) I liked the concept and the first half of the book, but the abrupt end to the story and the epilogue felt like the author couldn’t be bothered finishing the story, so I was a bit let down by the ending.
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A disturbing and utterly believable read! Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advanced reading copy.
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In Joanne Ramos’s unspecified but wholly believable near-future, capitalism has taken the surrogacy industry to its natural conclusion, to places where the outsourcing of gestation and childbirth occurs in luxurious facilities funded by the super-rich. For the surrogates, the fees and bonuses earned can be life-changing. To Golden Oaks, one such “gestational retreat” in upstate New York come Jane, a Filipino single mother, and Reagan, a white college student whose motives are more altruistic than financial. 
The gilded cage of the Farm is well depicted .The women, while cossetted and fussed over, are constantly monitored and spied upon, by a panopticon system redolent of a Victorian prison. There are some brilliantly chilling moments, such as when Regan, undergoing a routine scan, hears the technician talking to her “client” but can neither see nor hear her for herself. 
There are some odd elisions – the impregnation of the Hosts is not depicted at all, miscarriages are alluded to but not described, there are no birth scenes. The ending is problematic: Mae Yu, the machiavellian manager of Golden Oaks, is hurriedly rehabiliated in a manner that I found unconvincing. But there’s much to admire in this dystopian debut.
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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The central question here is the concept of value, and the author does a fantastic job of approaching this topic from a variety of angles. Told through the eyes of 3 strong female characters, "The Farm" asks us to consider what we're willing to sell and sacrifice to unlock our dream lives. For each of these women, the answer is exceptionally different, while their dependencies on the capitalist system cause their stories to dovetail in very unexpected ways. 

I've been in a bit of a reading drought in 2019 but "The Farm" pulled me back to the other side (aka reading incessantly at every available free moment!).
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Not the kind of story I enjoy. I am very against exploitation  in an form and this book takes it to the peak. A luxury farm for surrogate mothers is the worst kind of exploitation. I know it is fiction but even the thought of it is abhorrent.
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When I read the blurb for this I was instantly excited: love a good dystopia a la handmaidens tale. Unfortunately the writing style kept bumping me out of the story. No complex sentences meant it read like a Janet and John Book.. many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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The face of Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman was all over the internet in Spring 2019, mixed up in a college admissions bribery scandal. Huffman’s part was small - an SAT exam - but the wider case was a rabbit’s warren. It’s alleged bribes were paid to entrance administrators. That psychologists intentionally misdiagnosed rich kids with learning disabilities, so they got longer to do exams. It’s even claimed the faces of hopeful students were photoshopped onto athletes’ bodies to get them the top college places reserved for sports stars. 

It was a great story, but the headlines expressed shock. How could these people use their wealth and privilege to cheat their way into a superior education? How could they so blithely skew the system without realising the effect their selfish actions had on the poorer people, the people of colour, the working class whites? Those with better SAT scores, with genuine athletic ability? Those kids who had earned their Ivy League places, but were now pushed out as these privileged brats were nudged to the top of the queue through brazen cheating?

Was it the brazen-ness that was shocking? Because surely the fact of it was not shocking at all? Surely everyone knew that was how the system worked? And in the days that followed the breaking news, inevitable editorials expanded to include the bigger picture, the wider context of how these privileged groups exploited the system in countless other ways; not just at the point of application, but all the way through the college years and beyond. Because of course they do.

Around the same time this scandal hit the headlines, Joanne Ramos’ The Farm was released. It describes a world where the wealthy, privileged few delegate the mess and risk of childbearing onto mainly immigrant women. This isn’t pitched as surrogacy for medical necessity, although that possibility is touched upon, and the line is pleasantly blurred; but more for convenience. It all happens at Golden Oaks, which is run like a luxury health spa. There, the carefully vetted “Hosts” see out their pregnancy in a closely monitored environment; with a controlled diet, exercise regime, health checks etc. Their personal freedom is exchanged for an easy life and the promise of a big pay check on safe delivery of the baby. While Filipinos, like the main character, Jane, are preferred for their “service-oriented” attitude, the most wealthy of clients can opt for “Premium Hosts” like Jane’s roommate Reagan — white, and Ivy League educated.

I was expecting The Farm to be a deeper, darker dystopia. It was pitched as a modern version of The Handmaid’s Tale, so I was braced for it to open a rift in my imagination where a horrific vision of what could be would flood in. Instead, The Farm felt comparatively light. Quite believable. As though it were something we might scroll past on Twitter next week and wonder why the headlines were quite so scandalised, because of course it exists. Of course there’s a baby farm where rich couples exploit desperate immigrant women’s bodies for their convenience. Horrendous, yes, but shocking? 

In the college admissions scandal, some families are accused of paying “a really smart guy” to just sit the entrance exams for their kids completely, so they can carry on their charmed lives uninterrupted. It’s been suggested this pattern continues throughout the education system; that it’s widespread for students to pay others to write their essays for them. As they get those lucrative jobs there will be someone else to prepare their speeches, coach them in phone calls…all the inconvenience of accruing success outsourced. So the fictional characters in The Farm want a different kind of success - the perfect family - but they too want to outsource the inconvenience and continue their lives of luxury uninterrupted.

And that’s where Ramos’ skill lies with The Farm; not by presenting a drastic dystopia, but by sticking so close to our current reality. The world she portrays is uncannily believable, which is all the more unsettling.
She also succeeds in shining light into the many morally grey areas. The owners of Golden Oaks are not the clear-cut antagonists of Atwood’s Gilead. Many chapters are narrated from the centre manager, Mae’s, perspective, which shows her in a slightly sympathetic, if deluded, light. The seeds of the scheme come from the same place that modern surrogacy comes from; a place of medical or social need, and Ramos shows how the managers have let it evolve past that in a way they’ve convinced themselves is acceptable. It is utterly convincing that they almost believe they’re offering the hosts a great deal. And the good guys are not so clear-cut either, as becomes clear as the novel develops.

Even in minor details, Ramos offsets the multiple narrative perspectives to great effect. In one example, Filipino host Jane warns her roommate Reagan not to leave jewellery lying around when the cleaners come. Her try-hard liberal friend is confused, while fellow “Premium Host” Lisa instantly brands Jane a racist. Ramos then revisits the incident from Jane’s perspective: she knows that when rich people carelessly lose valuable things, the cleaners are accused of stealing them.

The downside to Ramos’ painstaking consideration of everyone’s perspective is that she seems unwilling to draw a conclusion, and the end of the book is a let down. On the one hand, lots of loose threads don’t seem to be tied up - promises and threats, both from the characters and the narrative, aren’t followed through. On the other hand, some threads are tied up too neatly. If the point was moral ambiguity, then an ending was inevitably going to be hard to pull off. But there are always multiple sides to every story. Parents who just want to see their kids have the best start in life they can. Teenagers who do as they’re told, are trying to enjoy the summer and are oblivious to the scheming around them. Maybe a man with a family to feed, or a sick dog, or…who knows. At some point though, good intentions aren’t enough: you’ve got to give the story a proper ending.
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The ending to this novel might be one of the most frustratingly perfect endings I've read this year. 

Without spoiling too much, Joanne Ramos has managed to crack my usual dislike for ambiguous endings in The Farm. 

The characters and their interactions always felt real, the story flowed well and kept me interested, when it got going. The scathing social commentary poking at so many aspects of women's lives in society is so timely and hits hard. This is a story about women, for women, that should be read by everyone.

The only mark down I have for this novel is that it did take a while for me to get invested. I definitely put this one down 2 or 3 times before it finally clicked with me and I got hooked.

Thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.
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I thought the premise of this book was excellent. Focusing on the options class and wealth can bring you. I felt that this under delivered slightly but was still a good read. Thank you netgalley and random house for the book in exchange for a review
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As soon as I saw the synopsis for The Farm many months ago, I had to get my hands on it. I was approved for it on NetGalley back in March but sadly only just got around to reading it. Given that the book has now been out for a couple of months, I’ll keep this brief.

This is one of those books where you tell people you loved it, and when they ask why, you find yourself going “Well, I… er, it was… JUST READ IT!”. It’s so mind-blowingly complex and profound that it has been quite difficult to explain why it resonated with me on such a deep level.

It’s a fascinating commentary on so many crucial aspects of life – race, gender, socioeconomics to name a few. What it’s not is a thriller. There are a few twists and turns but it’s not a narrative depending on the shock factor or some unexpected development at the end of the story.

The Farm follows two women from very different backgrounds and experiences in life. One holds a lot of power and the other does not. When they come together, the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ widens – but the question is, will they be strong enough to stand up for what is morally and ethically right?

I would urge some caution when reading The Farm: I have seen comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, and whereas that is a very flattering statement, it can also lead to certain expectations. Go into this book with an open mind, and give it the respect it deserves as a monumental work all of its own.

Highly recommended for book groups as there is so much to discuss and debate.
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This was a complicated read and I felt it did not delve deeply enough in to the subject. It could have been so much more but left me feeling dissatisfied.  I expected a lot more darkness, exploitation and evil. Reminds me a lot of the hand maids tale and I don't know just something about it put me off, still finished it though and has some good points in the book.
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I was expecting a dystopian novel similar to the handmaids tale. My preconception was entirely wrong. Whilst both are dystopian novels and there are elements such as control of women, lack of freewill and surrogacy, which could be said to be similar to the handmaids tale but there is where I feel the similarities end. I would however describe it as a scary, altered reality very different from the handmaids tale. What is alarming is that it seems plausible that a place like this might realistically exist and if it doesn’t already, that it may in the not so distant future. 

The story explores the darker side of life where people who can, will pay those who need the money. It covers subjects such as surrogacy, greed, infertility and surrogacy, exploitation of immigrants and struggling with poverty. It highlights the disparities and inequalities between the rich and poor, between the upper classes and the poverty stricken immigrant working classes. It also shows what people will do when they are in dire need. 

Golden Oaks better known as the farm is a spa like environment, where  surrogates (hosts) stay for the duration of their pregnancies. Mae is career driven, she runs Golden Oaks and works hard at attracting ‘hosts’. The story focuses largely on Jane an immigrant from the Philippines with a young child and Reagan who is an educated white girl who wants to be a surrogate for altruistic reasons. 

 All the women at the farm sign away there families and lives to act as surrogates for the duration of their stay. Except things are not what they seem, There is always an underlying theme that something is going to happen. Everything from what they do, say or eat is monitored and controlled.

I wasn’t sure about the end of the story as I felt that nothing had changed and Jane will always be subservient to authority. But perhaps it was a nice ending, and a better life for her and her daughter. 

Overall this book was a thought provoking novel which highlights the differences in socio-economic class and the decisions and sacrifices people make for a better future.
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This wasn't quite what I expected; from the comparisons to The Handmaid's Tale I thought it might be a dystopian novel or even, based on the blurb, a thriller but in fact it is more of a character drama set more or less in the current day.

At a time when reproductive rights are so often under discussion this was a really interesting exploration of many related themes, including how much control over her own body a woman might be surrendering when choosing to become pregnant.

The writing is brilliant and the characters are complex, conflicted and convincing. If this is Ramos' debut novel I very much look forward to what she comes up with in the future.
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I found the story line confused  I was very tempted to stop reading, but it did improve and had promise, I enjoyed the characters  as they went on there journeys,  I found the epilogue  did not explain enough for me
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Golden Oaks, or “The Farm” as it is known by residents, is a home for pregnant women designed to look after their every need. A nutritionally balanced menu, exercise planned out, and regular scans and checkups are available for all the guests. The women are all surrogates, carrying babies to term for a regular wage and huge delivery bonus at the end. With five star facilities and more money than ever within their earning potential, the job of a surrogate is attractive to many low paid workers.

Mae runs the whole operation and spends a lot of time making sure the clients are happy, and the hosts are developing healthy babies. It sounds like a 9 month spa break with all inclusive meals and a wage to boot. On the surface Golden Oaks is the perfect solution. Women who can’t, or don’t want to, carry babies to term paying healthy young women to do it for them.

The truth hiding behind the too good to be true sales pitch soon starts to reveal itself.  Other hosts aren’t always true to their word, and some are more valuable to the company than others. Golden Oaks is a business at the end of the day and Mae has to do what is right to keep it profitable.

Joanne Ramos has done a lot of research into how this would work in real life. Contracts, clauses, scandals and the everyday interactions are planned out perfectly to make Golden Oaks seems realistic. As the story is told from a few of the main characters it is easy to feel you know all sides of the farm by the end of the book. My only downside was character development. I felt the back stories of many of the women were too detailed. They helped me understand the character motivations but could have been packaged up better to fit in with the Golden Oaks story. It is certainly not a huge criticism though, as the opposite would have been much worse!

The comparisons with The Handmaid’s Tale mixed with the knowledge of surrogacy made me wonder if it was the right book for me. I loved June and her story in The Handmaid’s Tale and I very much doubted this would stand up to comparison. I was pleased to enjoy it in a different way, being genuinely curious as the where the darker parts of The Farm might lead me. There is no graphic pregnancy imagery, but do expect a few sad moments dotted throughout the book.
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This was a really good debut novel. Reading the synopsis I thought this was a dystopian novel, but turns out this could be our near future.

The story is told from different points of view, something I really enjoy in books, and was really interesting in this one. It showed the differences in race and class. 

I finished it a few days ago, but this one is going to stay with me a while.
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This was a compelling read. I loved the premise, and it touched on so many relevant themes - childbirth, surrogacy, race, class etc. I would've appreciated a bit more insight into the characters themselves, particularly their motivations for joining The Farm and how it impacted their lives afterwards. I'm not sure it necessarily needed so many perspectives, but I do struggle with multi-viewpoint books sometimes so that might just be me. 

Overall I really enjoyed it, and it would sit amongst my top reads for 2019, but the ending did fall a little flat as it seemed like Jane's story finished exactly where she started, despite her journey throughout the book.
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Powerful novel, almost scary in how possible it is for this to happen. Believable characters on the whole, and well paced. Didn't quite believe the ending, but that's a personal opinion. I have happily recommended this to customers looking for strong female characters.
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Golden Oaks farm doesn’t grow tomatoes, wheat or potatoes. It grows babies. The surrogate mothers (Hosts) are paid to incubate their rich clients’ embryos. While at Golden Oaks, they have to adhere to strict rules, from giving up their phones to following a diet. The Farm is told from the viewpoint of four women: Jane and Reagan are two of the hosts, while Mae is the brains behind the lucrative business. Ate is Jane’s cousin. The Farm is thought-provoking and topical, but above all it’s a fantastic page-tuner of a story.
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Set in a barely dystopian version of now (barely, as in it feels completely plausible), the farm of the title is a high end surrogacy centre for the super rich where mainly black and Filipina “hosts” nurture foetuses in a luxury environment. The luxury is entirely for the foetus’ benefit: the hosts’ diet, interactions with the outside world, movement and even conversation with each other ( “English only” at Golden Oaks) is strictly monitored. The hosts are there because (in the main) they need the money and the element of choice becomes moot in the face of socio-economic deprivation.  Out of what is a fairly depressing premise,  Joanne Ramos has succeeded in creating a thought provoking page-turner.
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