Frida has one very bad day with her toddler, and her entire life changes. In this Margaret Atwood-esque novel, bad mothers and fathers are removed by the state and sent to schools to learn to be good, practicing the latest parenting techniques with personalized, life-mimicking dolls. Frida has one year to become good and get her daughter back or else be separated from her forever. This book was dark and moving, highlighting gender and race and culture, all while focusing very individually on "bad" mothers you'll come to know and love.
(Note on subject matter: includes brief mentions of child abuse)
—Sarah Catherine Richardson, Snail Readers Circle
In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement 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.
About the Author
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.
"Enthralling....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
"An enthralling dystopian drama that makes complex points about parenting with depth and feeling." —KIRKUS REVIEWS
"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
"The School for Good Mothers is an astonishing novel. Heartbreaking and daring, propulsive and wise. In the way that The Handmaid's Tale made us fear for women's bodies, The School for Good Mothers makes us fear for women's souls. It's hard to distill all the love and longing this book contains, and how electrifying it is to be immersed in Chan's world. So let me just say, I read with my heart in my throat and I held my kids tight." —Diane Cook, author of The New Wilderness
“This book is like nothing I've read before--a tightly plotted, deeply moving novel that also offers profound insights into the state of contemporary motherhood within a country that offers very little in the way of societal support for parents. I found myself moved to tears by its conclusion. The School for Good Mothers is haunting and unforgettable, and I'm in awe of Jessamine Chan's mind.” — Liz Moore, author of Long Bright River
“This taut, explosive novel is all the more terrifying because it edges so close to reality. With the story of one woman struggling to get her daughter back, Jessamine Chan spotlights the punishing scrutiny and judgment aimed at mothers everywhere—especially those who aren’t wealthy or white. Frida’s predicament embodies the fraught question so many women are taught to ask: Am I good enough?” — Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
“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