This review really pains me to write as it was one of my most anticipated for January 2022. The School for Good Mothers is being touted as a new The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s part speculative fiction, part science fiction, and really focuses on the the plight of motherhood. Especially in today’s society where everyone has an opinion, it’s hard to be a ‘good mom’. Jessamine Chan takes this idea of what a ‘good mother’ should be and turns it into a modern dystopian story tale of what happens when Big Brother tries to tell us what a ‘Good Mother’ really entails.
Two caveats before I get into my review further.
- I’m 7 months pregnant with my first child and my personality hates being told what and how I should do something, so maybe I’m just a tiny bit sensitive to a book about a middle class women being told how to be the perfect mother. I’m not normally a sensitive reader but maybe set yourself up for success and don’t pick up a speculative fiction book on motherhood when you’re already nervous about that journey.
- To me this is nothing like the Handmaid’s tale. Yes, it has the dystopian atmosphere of women being told what to do and how but past that, these two are nothing alike.
Now for the story itself, after having a terrible day, Frida makes a huge mistake by leaving her toddler alone at home while she runs to grab something from work. During this time her neighbors call the authorities and Frida loses custody of her daughter. In an attempt to get her back, Frida agrees to go to The School for Good Mothers, where she’ll spend a year learning to be a ‘good mother’ and to prove that she made mistake. During the course of her ‘schooling’ Frida, along with 200 other ‘bad mothers’ are sequestered in a prison like environment and subjected to the curriculum the state has put together in order to teach them how to be the perfect mother. Told entirely through Frida’s eyes we learn about the harsh treatment and strict rules of the reform school.
This book evoked all the outrage emotions for me. Which to me is normally the sign of both a good writer and thought provoking prose. This would normally generate a much more positive review from but however I couldn’t get into the way the story was written. I’m not even sure what type of narration I would classify the writing as, but it was flat and unemotional to me. Sure Frida had emotions, she told us about them, but I never once felt them. I felt as if I was reading the manual of someone’s life, or a technical document from work. Maybe the way the story was told works for some people, but it didn’t work for me.
This book is also entirely toooooo long. At ~336 pages, the book itself is average size if not on the shorter end but it felt like it took me forever to read. It probably took me the same amount of time to read but it felt much too long, which automatically gets stars deducted. Personally, I would have cut out 100 pages in the middle and called it a day.
The subject matter itself is interesting and original. Imagine a world where a mother is told it’s selfish to be lonely, to want to be good at their job or hobby, or even to need time away from their children. Chan does a great job of depicting what it would be like, if treat and teach mothers that their sole purpose in life is to cater to the every whim of their children, and if they get any sort of happiness or joy from any source other than their children, then they are a bad mother. It’s mind blowing but also strangely relevant to today’s world.
Ultimately, this book didn’t do it for me. I appreciate the efforts and the uniqueness, but I needed this to go full blown wild on the science fiction genre, which it didn’t. While the message of the story is good, it feels like way to much work for the small reward we get in the end.
The School for Good Mothers comes out January 4, 2022. Huge thank you to Simon Schuster and Random House for my copy in exchange for an honest review. If you liked this review, let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my Instagram @speakingof_books.