The School for Good Mothers
The School for Good Mothers
by Jessamine Chan
Published January 4, 2022
by Simon & Schuster
Rating: 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐
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.