"The School for Good Mothers"| Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider.
View it as negligence or a knee-jerk misstep by a sleep-deprived single mom. Readers of “The School for Good Mothers,” by Jessamine Chan, might judge Frida for leaving her 18-month-old daughter at home alone at night to run to the office for a file. But all will agree the price Frida pays doesn’t fit the punishment the 39-year-old mother suffers because of her “one very bad day.”
Frida shares custody of Harriet, her daughter, with her Ex, Gust, who started an affair with Suzanna when Frida was pregnant. Frida’s acceptance of their split is admirable. When she lands a remote job in Philly, that enables her to stay home with her daughter, Frida feels she’s getting her life in order. But the rug is pulled out from under her when Frida’s accused of child endangerment. So begins the woman’s nightmare.
In the society where Frida lives, mothers are held to impossibly high standards. If Frida wants to retain custody of Harriett she must attend a year-long school where she and other moms will be instructed in all things maternal, their hands-on lessons delivered in a rigid environment overseen by women officers who make penitentiary personnel seem like pussycats.
Each throughly scrutinized mom is assigned a robotic doll, a lifelike humanoid that acts as a teammate. Perfection is the school’s goal as Frida strives to get to know Emmanuelle and work cooperatively with her so she won’t relinquish phone privileges with Harriett, her only contact with her beloved daughter. No matter what Frida does, or how hard she tries, she can’t measure up to school’s unrealistic, cruel expectations.
“The School for Good Mothers” is entertaining, disturbing and thought provoking. While its premise might seem outlandish, it’s easy to suspend reality because Frida is such a sympathetic, admirable character and because you'll want to finish the book quickly to find out Frida's fate.
This is a novel you won’t be able to set aside once you begin. It’s sure to quickly climb the bestseller list.