Book Review: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

The School for Good Mothers  by Jessamine Chan Genre:  Literary fiction; Psychological; Realistic dystopian Synopsis:   Frida Liu is s...

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Genre: Literary fiction; Psychological; Realistic dystopian

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 eye 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 judgement, 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.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Neglect, Harm to children, Infidelity, Suicide, Trauma

Overall rating:  ★★★☆☆

Wow, what can I say about The School for Good Mothers? I was waiting for this book to come out. This is such a weird, interesting look at society, the relationship between mothers and children, and government power all wrapped in up a gross social horror bow.

The plot of this story is incredibly dystopian, like an updated 1984. In the novel, a mother (Frida) leaves her young daughter at home temporarily and is whisked away to a facility for a year to learn how to become a better mother.

"A mother is always patient. A mother is always kind. A mother is always giving. A mother never falls apart. A mother is the buffer between her child and the cruel world."

I found the pacing of this book almost excruciating. There were slow moments I thought would never end, then suddenly a whole month had passed. I couldn’t get a grasp on the timeline, and that was one of the worst parts of the entire book. At many points, everything felt very underwhelming - I was just waiting for something to happen.

Other parts of the story were absolutely horrifying in a subtle, creepy way. There were never jump scares or in-your-face blood, guts, and gore, but the story was haunting and thought-provoking. I think it will stick with me for a long time.

There was a lot of ethnic representation throughout the book, which I really liked. The representation didn’t feel forced or stereotypical, as it does in a lot of fictional works. There were conversations about race and how it impacted the mothers’s stays at the facility, how they ended up there, future plans, etc, but otherwise, it felt like most of the characters could’ve been any race. So that was handled really eloquently.

The plot felt like an intensive social experiment, and while I’ve read up on several real experiments that have taken place throughout history, I’ve noticed those are typically conducted on male subjects. I could definitely see this adapted into a mini series (I’m looking at you, Reese Witherspoon), and it would be an updated take on previous films with similar male-focused counterparts.

*I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are entirely my own.

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