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The School for Good Mothers: A Novel (Paperback)
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January 2022 Indie Next List
“A mother leaves her toddler alone for hours and pays the price for the rest of her life. Chan took me from being a judgmental spectator to understanding how the system is stacked against mothers. A Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 for Generation Z.”
— Cathy Fiebach, Main Point Books, Wayne, PA
Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
Longlisted for the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence
Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize
Selected as One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2022!
In this New York Times bestseller and Today show Read with Jenna Book Club Pick, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance, in this “surreal” (People), “remarkable” (Vogue), and “infuriatingly timely” (The New York Times Book Review) debut novel.
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 eye 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 judgement, 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.
An “intense” (Oprah Daily), “captivating” (Today) 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.
"Jessamine Chan’s infuriatingly timely debut novel, The School for Good Mothers, takes this widely accepted armchair quarterbacking of motherhood and ratchets it up to the level of a surveillance state — one that may read more like a preview than a dystopia, depending on your faith in the future of Roe v. Wade...chilling...clever." —THE NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW
“The School for Good Mothers picks up the mantle of writers like Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro, with their skin-crawling themes of surveillance, control, and technology; but it also stands on its own as a remarkable, propulsive novel. At a moment when state control over women’s bodies (and autonomy) feels ever more chilling, the book feels horrifyingly unbelievable and eerily prescient all at once.” —VOGUE
"A surreal, dazzling witty tale." —PEOPLE
"This debut novel was so captivating, thought-provoking and beautifully written, everything I tried to pick up next paled in comparison...It was all I wanted to talk about, think about and read." —THE TODAY SHOW
"Intense, unputdownable debut that will doubtless spark conversation about what makes a good or bad mother." —OPRAH.COM
"It sounds dark and weird, and it is kind of dark and weird, but I found it really, really absorbing." —Linda Holmes, NPR
"It’s about Big Things like state violence, family separation, so-called “perfect parenting,” and the unrealistic demands of motherhood, with a little sci-fi fun!" —NYLON
"This scarily prescient novel that's reminiscent of Orwell and Vonnegut explores the depths of parents' love, how strictly we judge mothers and each other and the terrifying potential of government overreach." —GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
"An incisive thriller on modern-day parenting." —HEY ALMA
"In this debut novel about the launch of a government program meant to correct "bad" mothering, Chan collects the judgments and pressures that society places on women who deign to be multifaceted and translates them into a propulsive, perceptive story." —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
"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." —LIBRARY JOURNAL
"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
"Sinister and surreal... Stark social commentary and questions of authority and attachment play out in Frida’s desperate gambit to atone for her one very bad day." —BOOKLIST
"An enthralling dystopian drama that makes complex points about parenting with depth and feeling." —KIRKUS REVIEWS
"If good writing, gripping plot and provocative questions about the world we live in are your priorities, then The School for Good Mothers needs to be on your reading list, whether or not you are a parent, or someday want to be." —BOOKPAGE
"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