The School for Good Mothers

S. & S. Jan. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781982156121. $27. F
DEBUT At 39, single Chinese American mother Frida is collapsing under the crushing burdens of her life. Exhausted from caring for sick toddler Harriet while trying to work from home and having been abandoned by husband Gust, who moved in with his beautiful younger mistress when Harriet was an infant, Frida goes AWOL for a couple of hours, just long enough for a neighbor to alert the authorities. The police turn Harriet over to Gust, and Frida is caught up in Philadelphia’s revamped Child Protective Services, which sends her off to one of several Schools for Good Mothers to see if her maternal instincts can be rehabilitated. At the school, all the wayward mothers are assigned robot dolls that serve as stand-ins for the children they have failed; the children are programmed to behave in age-appropriate ways to challenge the mothers to do better. The women are probed, monitored, and psychoanalyzed, pushed to achieve an ever-changing standard of perfection in thought, word, deed, and emotion while the promise of reunification with their human children remains an elusive target.
VERDICT Chan’s stunning debut could not be timelier, leaving no stone unturned in its allusion to the real-life legal assaults constraining women today. Part-dystopian, part-prescient, impossible to put down and impossible to forget.


Correction Notice: In the original review LJ incorrectly named Frida’s daughter Muriel. The character’s name is Harriet. We regret the error. 

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