Set in a not-so-distant future and following one woman’s journey through divorce, single parenthood, and self-doubt, Jessamine Chan has crafted a dystopian debut novel that will leave you both spellbound and horrified.
The School for Good Mothers revolves around 39-year-old Frida Lui. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Frida has never felt like she is enough – either for her parents or for Gust, the handsome, successful, and non-Asian father of her only child Harriet.
When Gust leaves Frida and relocates with his much-younger and white girlfriend, Frida must move and find a job in an unfamiliar city to maintain joint custody of Harriet. While Gust is playing house in the suburbs with his mistress, Frida struggles to make ends meet while working from home and taking care of Harriet in a tiny apartment in a not-so-great part of town.
Next, a bad child care-related decision thrusts Frida into what is basically a hellish social services system. In Chan’s future, the state has its eye on women like Frida – the ones who choose career over children, complain too much about motherhood on social media, and let their kids walk to the library alone. When Frida’s parenting misstep is discovered, a host of government officials swoop in to determine if she is worthy of motherhood and whether a stint at a Big Brother-like institution that measures the range of a mother’s devotion will reform her.
At the institution, the mothers are assigned android children. Desperate to be reunited with their kids, Frida and the other moms must develop relationships with their AI-powered toddlers to demonstrate they are ready to be good mothers and reunited with the human children they abandoned.
With short-ish chapters and a choppy writing style, Chan guides the reader through an unsettling maze of bad decisions, horrific circumstances, and government overreach. The book is an intense examination of society’s expectations of mothers, the pitfalls of what can be perceived as ideal parenting, and the judgment enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, each other.
A New York Times bestseller, you won’t be able to put down The School for Good Mothers.