Book Review: ‘The School for Good Mothers’ by Jessamine Chan

Gripping, triggering and emotional story.


Book Title: The School for Good Mothers
Author: Jessamine Chan
Publisher: Penguin (Cornerstone)
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-1529158526
Date Published: Dec. 08, 2022
Price: INR 339

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan Book Cover

Book Review

Ethics or moral philosophy studies morality and guides people in choosing the right path in life. Good and evil can be confusing because what one may conceive as bad may be acceptable to another. There are many factors that can affect how an individual views a conduct or an act as good or evil. Sometimes, situations make a good decision look bad. Read this story by author Chan about how a decision at the wrong time made a loving mother evil!

The School for Good Mothers” by Jessamine Chan is a poignant tale that explores the themes of motherhood, mistakes, and the weight of choices. This well-written novel is emotionally intense and challenging, evoking a strong response from its readers. Set in a feminist dystopian world, it offers a disturbing glimpse into a possible reality concerning motherhood, delivering sharp and unflinching social commentary.

The story revolves around Frida Liu, a mother raising her toddler daughter, Harriet while sharing custody with her unfaithful ex-husband. Struggling to balance her job and motherly duties, Frida faces a breaking point when a sleepless night due to Harriet’s ear infection leads her to make a grave and life-changing error: leaving her daughter alone for two hours. As a result, her neighbors report the incident, and the state intervenes by taking away Harriet. Frida’s fate now lies in the hands of government officials who will determine if she is fit to regain custody, subjecting her to a Big Brother-like institution that scrutinizes her devotion as a mother. To prove herself, Frida must do everything it takes to be deemed worthy of being Harriet’s mother.

While the characterization of Frida may raise questions, readers will find themselves drawn closer to her. Despite her terrible mistake, it becomes evident that she has endured significant mental health struggles, faced betrayal from her husband, and dealt with the challenges of single parenthood. The novel delves into the complexities of motherhood, showcasing the harsh judgment and expectations women face daily, even from strangers. Chan skillfully utilizes Frida’s character and decisions to shed light on the hardships of single parenting and the challenges women encounter in their roles as mothers.

Frida eventually enters the year-long “school,” a training program designed to transform so-called “bad” mothers into “good” ones. Here, she encounters a diverse cast of characters, each with a unique background, where issues of classism, racism, and judgment come into play. Despite the segregation among attendees, the camaraderie among the suffering mothers stands out, illustrating their shared struggles and emotions, transcending racial and cultural barriers.

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The novel also parallels the real-life case depicted in the Hindi movie “Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway,” where cultural differences clashed with the Norwegian child welfare system, separating a mother from her children. The story highlights society’s pressures on mothers and the disparity in treatment compared to fathers in similar situations.

The School for Good Mothers” is a compelling and haunting novel that leaves a lasting impact. The strength of its narrative lies in its empathetic and complex protagonist, making the exploration of motherhood and societal expectations all the more powerful.

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