"The School for Good Mothers" by Jessamine Chan

By Jessamine Chan

Reviewed by Alyssa

ISBN 9781982156121

What constitutes a good mother? What mistakes and bad days are permissible while parenting, and which are never to be forgiven? And who gets to decide? These questions at first blush seem pretty answerable - children have the right to be provided for and well-cared for, without fear of abuse or neglect. Chan's debut novel, however, reveals just how insidious the desire is to insist that there is a one best way to parent, but more specifically, to mother.

After losing custody of her 18-month daughter, Frida is expected to attend a new school designed to rehabilitate 'bad mothers.' With the help of mostly unmarried, childless women who work for the school as instructors and dolls designed with artificial intelligence to mimic a real child, a year is given to Frida and the other women in her cohort of bad mothers who are learning to be good to prove that they are remorseful for their failings and that they have become the type of women that can be trusted with their own children. The expectation of this School for Good Mothers is clearly self-sublimation to our children and their needs, but then how do we teach them to be human? If a mother should be a perfect creature capable of righting every ill with the cadence of her voice, when does this transformation set in for women postpartum. And what if it doesn’t? How does one quantify a mother's love? And where are the fathers, again?

Chan has you wading/swimming/sinking in these questions, vacillating from surety to confusion and back with every new day spent with Frida. A great read and important conversation on mothering in a culture that expects perfection without adequate support.

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