The School for Good Mothers
By Jessamine Chan
Simon & Schuster, 9781982156121, January 4, 2022, 336pp.
The Short of It:
Loved this weird, quirky story about motherhood.
The Rest of It:
Frida leaves her toddler alone for a few hours and is reported to the authorities. Already struggling with her husband Gust leaving her for a younger woman, not able to find a career worthy or important enough to impress her parents, losing her child is the perfect ending to a very bad day.
But all is not lost because she has been sentenced to The School for Good Mothers. This school focuses on the basics of childcare, but gently builds to more complicated matters such as discipline, intent, empathy and the all important eye-contact and inflection and tone. And how is this accomplished? By assigning a life-like robot, or “doll” to each mother. One that requires the constant monitoring of the blue viscous goo that keeps them running. Failing to notice a rise in temperature, failure to change the doll’s fluid regularly, results in the loss of privileges such as phone calls home to her actual daughter, Harriet.
Frida, like most of the mothers in this school struggle with the idea of taking on a doll as their child. Let me tell you, these things are life-like and feel things. They express frustration and pain and it’s all recorded by the teachers and observers assigned to each mother. Data collection rarely points to the positives, but instead focuses on the one time Frida pinches her doll, leaving a permanent mark upon her form. The pressure to do well is palpable. Frida’s only goal is to get through it so she can get Harriet back but as she continues to lose her privileges, Harriet becomes more of a stranger as contact diminishes.
This was a surprise read for me. I am not sure what I expected but robotic dolls wasn’t it and yet I ate it up. Every word. It’s a strange story and very futuristic but if you compare it to today’s world, mothers are often given the short end of the stick when it comes to childcare. I really enjoyed Chan’s skill in regards to taking a reader through this experience without casting judgment on the parenting choices made.
Highly recommend but it isn’t a story to leave you all warm and fuzzy. It’s a little cold and sterile but I tend to like these kinds of reads.
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
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