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The School for Good Mothers

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THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS
BY: JESSAMIN CHAN

This is supposed to be the genre of literary fiction. Yet it felt more like Science Fiction. I felt like so extremely depressed after reading this and during reading this. I don't know what possessed me to request this and wish that my request had beeen denied. I felt overwhelmed reading this and maybe that I should be more charitable towards the Author, Jessamin Chan and change my three star rating up to a four star rating, since she was able to evoke such powerful feelings from me.

This didn't feel realistic to me at all. Frida is being punished for having a very bad day. She is a well educated mother of an eighteen month old daughter named Harriet who leaves Harriet all by herself for two to three hours. Frida decides to go out and get herself a coffee and then proceeds to go by her job to retrieve a forgotten file. Frida, like I suspect this Author to be is Chinese. Her parents were Chinese immigrants and I think and Frida grew up in America. Her parents seem very supportive of Frida, but they live in Chicago and Frida lives in Philadelphia. So an overwhelmed, isolated, culterally raised by immigrant parents put her only child life in grave danger. I get that.

Her husband Geust is American who has cheated on Frida with a much younger woman named Susanna share joint custody of Harriet. Why couldn't Frida call her ex-husband to take Harriet and give Frida a break? I don't know why Frida never considered that as an option and the book doesn't consider this solution either.

What follows is Child Protective Services removing Harriet from Frida and giving sole custody to her ex husband Gust and his live in girlfriend by a judge in Family court. This is when the story moves into excruciating heartbreaking territory for me. Frida, is placed into a residential program with other "Bad mothers." They are each given silicone children of which are supposedly life like and if they pass the re-parenting year long program they will be granted some monitored unification of seeing their children. If they fail their parental rights will be permanently terminated forever and their names will be placed on the registry like some common pedophile.

They will never see their children again unless the child turns eighteen and willingly seeks them out. I have so many issues with this book. Why is the cheating father and ex spouse seen to be perfectly suited to raise Harriet? Yes. I Get it that Frida put her young daughter's life in jeopardy by leaving her home alone! But what these mothers were forced to endure was like a horror novel or movie and just seemed so excruciating. That most of the book was written with realistically doomed to fail parenting tests seem like something out of pure fantasy and science fiction. It is hard to believe that the Author is a woman and I don't remember ever feeling so depressed after finishing a novel. And yes, maybe angry, also. There isn't a perfect parent out there. I decided that even though this should be Science Fiction or Fantasy and in my humble opinion because I can't see how Literary Fiction can be the correct genre. Seeing as these silicone human dolls made up such a big part of this story and so much contributed on their level of cooperation whether the punished parent failed or passed the re-parenting lessons. I think that it was mind boggling how the "Bad mothers" went several months without being allowed a Skype call with their child was extremely cruel and unrealistic. I hope that I never read anything so unrealistic or soul death provoking as this dystopian novel again. I am changing my rating to a solid 4 star because this was able to affect me in such a negative way. That doesn't mean that I liked it because I think the re-education lessons bogged down too much of this book. Heartbreaking but not realistic!

Publication Date: January 4, 2022

Thank you to Net Galley, Jessamin Chan and Simon & Schuster for providing me with my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

#TheSchoolForGoodMothers #JessaminChan #Simon&Schuster #NetGalley
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Female dystopian that doesn’t hold up against the competition

Frida Liu has a very bad parenting day resulting in The State sentencing her to a one-year school to become a better mother.  What will the school be like and will Frida be reunited with her daughter?

The School for Good Mothers is Jessamine Chan’s debut novel, and it was a solid first draft in a very competitive subgenre.  This book is intended to be an updated The Handmaid’s Tale; however, The Handmaid’s Tale it is not.  Most important:  the storytelling was off in The School for Good Mothers.  The program was one-year long, and it felt like I was reading this book for one year.  What happened to chapters with cliff-hanger endings?  The prose was like reading a newspaper article, fact-driven, flat, unemotional.  However, facts alone don’t usually make great books.  The emotions need to be stirred, and there needs to be some excitement/action, but this book wasn’t written that way.  If I was the editor, I would start with the last two chapters and write something like, “If only Gust could have kept it in his pants…” then shifted to a flashback.  Then, I would flash back to the end of the book with “Ms. Liu.  Ms. Liu.  Your case is being called.”  Each character’s testimony should have been presented with more flashbacks.    

Ms. Chan, this book review brings to mind a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”  In this instance, I am the critic in the cheap seats, but I hope that this review isn’t seen as a mean barb but an encouragement, an encouragement to shake off the dust and sweat and blood, to pick up your lance and shield once again and continue your journey, because there is a story worthy of telling in this book.  

Overall, The School for Good Mothers had good content and messaging buried within the text, but the format didn’t work and is in need of some heavy editing and rewrites.  

*Thanks, NetGalley, for a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

2022 Reading Schedule
Jan Animal Farm
Feb Lord of the Flies
Mar The Da Vinci Code
Apr Of Mice and Men
May Memoirs of a Geisha
Jun Little Women
Jul The Lovely Bones
Aug Charlotte's Web
Sep Life of Pi
Oct Dracula
Nov Gone with the Wind
Dec The Secret Garden

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Frida was in love with her handsome husband Gust, pregnant with their first child, anxious but excited, comfortably middle class. And then Frida's world fell apart when Gust left her for Susanna - younger, richer, white, an Instagram Influencer. Frida's baby Harriet was a difficult birth, and not an easy baby, and Frida's new job was a lot to deal with too, but the over-riding issue was the trauma of losing her love, her marriage, her future, her stability, her roadmap, her reality, her seemingly everything. And in all that there came a very bad day, in which Frida made a very bad decision, and left 18-month old Harriet alone, and got caught, and all of a sudden this story turned sci-fi!  Frida gets sent to a nightmare AI school for good mothers run by creepy crazies who indoctrinate with "A mother shouldn't have to ask questions. She should know." "A mother must never look away." "A mother who is in harmony with her child, who understands her place in her child's life and her role in society, is never lonely. Through caring for her child, all her needs are fulfilled."

I love everything about Frida's Chinese-American upbringing and psyche, how Jessamine Chan subtly brings up the patriarchy when Frida remembers "the way that men she dated used to insult her until she hated herself enough to put out" or when a little girl is injured by a mean boy and is counseled, "He's not mean. He just likes you very much. That's how boys show their feelings."
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It is not until one embarks on the journey of motherhood that it becomes clear how impossibly difficult it can be. Contradicting expectations of being both a constant parent, as well as leading a professionally fulfilling life, can be incredibly draining. Oh, and don’t forget to be a perfect wife/romantic partner as well. Jessamine Chan puts all this under a dystopian microscope in School for Good Mothers.

The central character in School for Good Mothers, Frida, finds herself in an all-too-familiar situation; she has a young child, a career, and a husband who is out the door and into the arms of another woman. One day she snaps, and makes the misguided decision to leave her infant daughter home alone. What was supposed to be a quick trip, turns into hours, and the nightmare begins. Frida’s daughter is taken away, and Frida is shipped off to a school where she will “learn” how to be a good mother, or face losing custody of her daughter.

The school’s program is a grueling barrage of tests, complete with AI children. I felt this could have been the most exciting part of the novel, but it dragged. The tests seemed needlessly cruel. Also, I lost track of Frida’s inmates; I felt none of them were developed enough for me to care about them. 

Frida is a flawed, and sometimes believable character. The position she finds herself in is deeply harrowing. It is clear the character has mental health issues, but in the world the author has created, there is zero sympathy for depressed mothers. 

While I found this novel mostly compelling, I feel like it was a missed opportunity. There were so many opportunities to address motherhood and mental health, but it barely skimmed the surface. Lots of interesting ideas, but lacking in execution. 

Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale (TV series), and Orange is the New Black may enjoy this.
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This was a complex read and one that I have a feeling will stick with me.  It's one I may have to rethink my assessment of as time goes by!

Frida is sleep deprived, overworked, and stressed out, so when her eighteen month old daughter will not be placated after another night of sleeplessness, Frida decides she needs a coffee...from the gourmet shop down the street...and she needs to grab something from her office...and she needs to answer some emails...and she decided to leave her daughter Harriet at home while she was doing it all.

When she finally checks her phone a few hours later, she's shocked to see many missed calls and to learn that her daughter is in the custody of the police.  After hearing her daughter screaming inconsolably, a neighbor called for a wellness check and the police found Harriet alone in an exersaucer she had outgrown, in a dirty home environment.  

Suddenly, Frida's impulsive decision to flee and her "very bad day" has gone from bad to unimaginable when she learns the state no longer deems her fit to be Harriet's guardian.  Under new CPS protocols, Frida is enrolled in a pilot program - The School for Good Mothers - where she will spend one year away from her family, in a prison-esque environment, learning to be a better mother.  

This book was terrifying.  As a mother, I know that making mistakes is par for the course and most of the time, those mistakes are harmless and we learn and get better.  I also understand the very real effects of sleep deprivation, the headache that comes from hours of inconsolable crying, but also the overwhelming amount of love and utter selflessness that comes from having a child.  So much of Frida's plight was relatable and the realness of it is what is so terrifying.

When Frida enters the school, the book takes on a bit of a sci fi feel and it becomes evident that this novel does not take place in present day.  I liked that the book felt modern but also had a bit of a dystopian feel.  Everything was just a few shades from "normal" but not so off that it didn't feel realistic. Even though it was arguably far fetched, it felt very real and very possible in a not so distant future.

This novel also has a lot of layers to it and would be great for a discussion.  Frida, being Chinese American, suffers from discrimination and isolation because of her gender and her race.  There are prison-like racial tensions and segregations in the school and racist and classist undertones permeate throughout the text.  It's very evident mothers (and fathers) are targeted as bad parents because of things like poverty and the color of their skin.  

It took me a while to read this novel and I think part of that may have been the heavy subject matter.  It was emotional and stressful thinking of losing your child because you turned your back and he burned his hand on the stove or fell off the swings at the playground.  The pressure on parents is overwhelming and this hyperbolic view on society's reactions to parents' failings and mistakes was eye opening and hauntingly horrifying.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a copy of this novel.

Blog post scheduled for January 5, 2022.
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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
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who leaves a baby alone?! this was supposed garner sympathy from me as a reader? the beginning of the book already pushed me away from the story, though the concept intrigued me (the overreach of government, especially to non-white families, the idea that mothering can be taught and controlled, negligent fathers getting lighter punishments) and kept me reading. unfortunately once we were at 'the school' the story dragged on, becoming repetitive and tedious to read.
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Thank you to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with a digital copy for review. 

The School for Good Mothers certainly packed a punch. It's been a while since I've read a dystopian novel, and now I remember why I enjoy them. Set in a world that felt more like an alternative to our own, we follow our main character Frida, who had one very bad day while watching her eighteen-month-old daughter Harriet, and as a result she left her home alone for a couple hours just to get a break. Unfortunately, it was reported to CPS, and what follows next is her desperate struggle to regain custody. She is sent to a school for a year to relearn parenting skills, but it certainly is no walk in the park, Cut off from the outside world for an entire year, Frida and other mothers who lost custody of their children for even the smallest of infractions fight to please the instructors so that their chances of being reunited with their children can go up. 

I felt so many emotions while reading this book. I was angry, confused, sad, and found myself rooting for Frida and hoped she would get the best possible ending. I did drop a star because of two things. The first being characterization. I felt like Frida could have been fleshed out a bit more, but there was next to know characterization for any of the secondary characters. I did not connect with any of them and did not care what happened to them. The second being world building. While this felt like an alternative America, it was almost too much that way. In a way it felt more futuristic and less dystopian. Some small changes or even some more detail would have easily helped this problem. 

Other than that, this was an emotional read that readers of literary fiction, dystopians, and even parents should read because in some ways it feels as though we are not too far removed from this world. It is definitely an important read.
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I’m not a parent but hope to be someday. This book angered and terrified me in a way that I couldn’t put it down! A wonderful immersive read that had me rooting for all the mothers that are held in this dystopian parenting school.
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Wowie! This book was not what I was expecting at all. Tense, bleak, dystopian, and a real page-turner. I don't think a book has tackled this subject matter so successfully since the Handmaid's Tale (imo, this novel is actually better -- plus, it tackles far many more 'issues' than Atwood's novel does). And, it's truly heartbreaking. The prose, if somewhat straightforward, compliments the pacing of the novel -- Chan is incredible at handling action and pacing.  

I expect this novel will garner a lot more buzz. Thanks to the publisher for the e-galley!
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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this title. I could not get into this book and gave up after the first couple chapters. I found it depressing.
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This hasn't been Frida's day, week, month, or even year. After accidentally on purpose leaving her toddler daughter unattended for a brief period of time in a moment of overwhelm she's removed from her care and Frida is sentenced to a lengthy state sponsored rehabilitation program for bad mothers. If she endures her punishment and learns to be a good mother Frida may be granted the opportunity to reunite with her daughter. But when exactly is a mother ever good enough?

The School for Good Mothers is a tale of the unreasonable standards and relentless judgment mothers face with a speculative twist of government surveillance and overreach with hints of The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, andA Clockwork Orange about it. This alt-reality feels entirely plausible as the government already wields child custody as a form of control for some (non-white) populations. There's a lot that can be unpacked here. After a strong start the story begins to feel a bit repetitive after a time, though it's very readable throughout and would make for good discussion.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for an eARC provided for honest review.
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Frida Liu had one bad day. She hasn't been sleeping that well, she needed a coffee and that one file from work. Harriet wouldn't stop screaming. She put Harriet in her chair and was just going to be gone for a few minutes. 2.5 hours later, she returns home and Harriet has been taken by the police and Frida has entered a new nightmare.

A few months later, Frida is taken by bus to a large campus with 200 other 'bad' mothers. They will learn how to become good mothers again. They will learn how to take care of their children again, they will learn how to prepare for anything, they will learn how to love. What actually happens is a mix of The Handmaid's Tale + Orange is the New Black. There are uniforms, relationships, bullying, racism, violence, and non-stop surveillance.

Frida's motivation to survive until the end, to reunite with Harriet, is her only way to survive. After the 'school', what can be worse than this? ...

Jessamine Chan has written a nightmare of a novel about a AI-Big Brother-esque future. Some reviewers have called it over the top, but honestly, it's not over the top - it's scarily almost realistic.

This is a terrifying look at the power of government and motherhood. It's fabulous and powerful and speaks volumes about being a woman and trying to have a voice. I love every single word.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this book.
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The concept—an overwhelmed mother’s mistake lands her in an experimental reform program that could be called dystopian if the majority of its technology-assisted surveillance methods weren’t functionally things we (“we”) already have/use to “help” (punish) non-wealthy, non-white parents in the present day—intrigued me. While engaging, paced like a sick thriller, and skillfully written in a manner that makes it very easy to imagine it adapted as a prestige miniseries, this book isn’t really “escapist.” (To be clear, I don’t get the impression that Chan intended for it to be escapist). But there is a sort of tension in vibes, between the subject matter and the generic vehicle within which the themes are explored, that made it kind of a weird read—I am not sure if that's how a lot of contemporary fiction for a certain market is these days or whether Chan is pushing against the generic limits of the "thoughtful beach read" with the important and difficult questions she raises! If you read and liked Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, (also set in Philadelphia and exploring themes of class, race, and maternity), then you would like this one.
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I really wanted to like this book but I had a hard time getting into it.  I finished it hoping that it would engage me more but it was not for me.  I did think that the writing was well done.
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Lovely book...definitely worth picking up. Well-developed characters, engaging plot, and unique experience.
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The School for Good Mothers is a terrifying look into a future - nearer than one might think - in which its main character, Frida, a woman born in the U.S. of Chines parents, is separated from her infant daughter for more than a year and sent to a resident "school" where she is to be taught how to be a good mother.  There, human-like dolls are substituted for real children, normal relationships are punished, and barely-human instructors are placed in charge of the mothers' rehabilitation.  Debut author Chan takes on a myriad of interrelated themes and issues as she brings us into this frightening milieu. Ten years ago I would have scoffed at the situations she presents us, but today it almost seems possible.  As terrifying the world into which The School for Good Mothers brings its readers, it also brings them an emerging author of inestimable talents.  This novel is so well written that this reader could not put it down. I eagerly await Chan's next novel.
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I was lucky to receive an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and opinion.  This is the first book I've read by this author and I can honestly say this book will stay with me for a long time.  I was pulled in from the first page and couldn't put it down until late into the night.  I seriously can't wait for this to be published so I can talk to everyone about it.  Seriously - read it as soon as you are able to get your hands on a copy!
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I’m not okay with the topic: thinking that motherhood can be dictated and taught in schools, that mothers have to be more responsible than fathers, that their mistakes are so unforgivable that even their children were calling out for their name they should be removed from those kids’ lives. I’m not a mother, but I’m sure the process is trial and error and mothers don’t simply get a software update with perfect solution to every problem they might face after giving birth to their kids. 

Frida had a bad day and she stepped away for a bit leaving Harriet behind. Of course Harriet missed mummy and started screaming and crying only to get mummy into trouble. I’m not saying what Frida did was correct (which could have ended in tragedy),, but it sounded like she was doing her best to be good mum. With police and social services involved, Frida found herself in front of judge trying to prove that she was a good mother and capable of taking care of her daughter. Yet judge didn’t think so. System sent her to a school for “narcissistic mothers who are danger to their children but trying to be better”.

This story suffocated me. Kudos to author for making me feel that way. Creating a dystopian environment where mothers were kept away from their kids as if they are prisoners only to “practice” being good mothers on AI babies, Chan possibly turned all mothers’ biggest fears into reality. If any new mother who thinks they are not “perfect” can easily be traumatized by this story.
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This book is meant to be dystopian, but is disturbing in its accuracy:  how one bad day can make you seem like a bad mother, how normal parenting can be pathologized by society, and how all the 'expert' advice about parenting can be warped into something that doesn't resemble the natural mother-child bond at all.  What happens when observers interpret maternal actions/reactions outside of their context?  In a book that takes societal judgement about mothering to the next level, the protagonist (overwhelmed, over worked, and under supported) has "one very bad day" and finds herself forced to attend a school to become a better mother.  There, normal parenting mishaps are conflated with genuine abuse  (her own actions probably falling on the moral spectrum somewhere between the two)  while she learns to mother better over the next year or risk losing custody of her daughter altogether.  There are no real villains in this book (although there are plenty of people to dislike), except the Program's unrelenting attempts to measure and quantify being a 'good mother'.  Any woman who has had a child, raised a child, or judged another's mothering will see someone in this book they resonate with.  It looks sideways at, without asking directly, what is a good parent?  And why is that burden disproportionately rested on the shoulders of mothers.
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