The School for Good Mothers Summary and Reviews

The School for Good Mothers

A Novel

by Jessamine Chan

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan X
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2022
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgment 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[E]nthralling...Woven seamlessly throughout are societal assumptions and stereotypes about mothers, especially mothers of color, and their consequences. Chan's imaginative flourishes render the mothers' vulnerability to social pressures and governmental whims nightmarish and palpable. It's a powerful story, made more so by its empathetic and complicated heroine." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"If this doesn't become a miniseries, nothing will. An enthralling dystopian drama that makes complex points about parenting with depth and feeling." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Gutting and terrifying. Vivid and exquisite. In The School for Good Mothers, you'll find not only your favorite novel of the year, but also a new cultural touchstone, a reference point for the everyday horrors all parents experience and take for granted. This book is sharp, shocking, anxiety-provoking, superb. It is exactly what you want, and need, to read." - Julia Phillips, author of Disappearing Earth

"A terrifying novel about mass surveillance, loneliness, and the impossible measurements of motherhood—The School for Good Mothers is a timely and remarkable debut." - Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House

"Jessamine Chan captures, in heartbreaking tones, the exacting price women pay in a patriarchal society that despises them, that reduces their worth to their viability for procreation and capacity for mothering. The School for Good Mothers is not so much a warning for some possible dystopian nightmare as much as it is an alarm announcing that the nightmare is here. The book is, thus, a weeping testimony, a haunting song, and a piercing rebuke of both the misogynist social order and the traps it lays for women, girls, and femmes. Good Mothers deserves an honored place next to the works of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler." - Robert Jones, Jr., author of The Prophets and creator of Son of Baldwin

This information about The School for Good Mothers shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Reader Reviews

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BuffaloGirlKS

Potent Examination of Expectations Placed on Mothers
Imagine the surveillance of George Orwell's 1984 and the subjugation of women in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and then throw in androids and you have Jessamine Chan's unbelievably potent novel.

Ms. Chan's descriptions of the trials and tribulations, difficulties and exhilarations of caring for an infant and toddler are outstanding. She captures the rewards and punishments exactly. I came to know the characters as well as the people in my life that I am close to; perhaps even more so because the author took me deep into their thoughts and feelings. The novel was easy to follow even though it moved back and forth from the mother in question’s current situation to the previous stages of her life. The moves were fluid and not at all confusing.

The only small issue that I had with the book was that there is little relief within the book from the anxiety and concern that it produces. I did feel the main character’s and the other mothers' love and longing for their children, but the dark wit that reviewers on the back cover mentioned wasn't enough to part the overcast feeling for just a little while. Still, I couldn't put the book down.

This debut novel is one of the most thought-provoking books that I have read in the past several years and I heartily recommend it.

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Author Information

Jessamine Chan

Jessamine Chan's short stories have appeared in Tin House and Epoch. A former reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, she holds an MFA from Columbia University's School of the Arts and a BA from Brown University. Her work has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Jentel Foundation, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Anderson Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Ragdale Foundation. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

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