By Jessamine Chan
Published January 2022
Frida had a bad day – to put it mildly. She left her 18-month-old daughter home alone and while she ran errands, was reported to Child Protective Services. Swift retribution followed and she’s sent to a school for bad mothers, to learn how to be a good mother and, hopefully, regain partial custody of her daughter.
There are hundreds of “bad” mothers at the school. Some are there for neglect, abuse, or abandonment. Some merely let their child play unsupervised. All were reported by someone else and that informant was not always someone who had any knowledge of circumstances. Throughout an entire year, the women try to learn how to put their children first in their lives, whether by working with life-like dolls, having privileges removed, counseling, or brain scans. In the end, how many of them will succeed in being in their children’s lives?
Despite my high rating, I did not like this book. I found it disturbing, moving, and thought-provoking. But I did not like it. Anyone who says they honestly enjoyed it is probably someone I don’t want in my immediate social circle. I knew it was dystopian going in, but I was expecting something rather far fetched like The Handmaid’s Tale. Not the government overreach depicted here, which already actually happens (although not to the extent in this novel) and that every character just passively accepts. I wish the author had given a little more background on how the belief that mother’s must be 100% perfect at all times, completely losing their own identity and self in their roles as mothers, came to be. Granted, this seems to be the attitude among certain people, but to become government policy? I couldn’t get a handle on how far in the future this was intended to be. Most of it felt contemporary, but there were little technological hints dropped in that indicated this is at least somewhat in the future.
I spent a large portion of the story when Frida was at the school thinking, “WTH?” Seriously, the things those women had to say, think, and go through, royally pissed me off. I think what made me even angrier was how they all just took it, hoping that if they prostrated themselves enough, they’d get custody back. No surprise the men were treated more leniently than the women. The way Frida’s gaslighting ex is portrayed is evidence of that. Unfortunately, the author made her point in that regard fairly early on and a lot of the scenes at the school felt repetitive and slowed the pacing.
Surprisingly, there were some positive emotional scenes in this book for me, especially Frida’s bonding at the end with Emmanuelle. Then that little glimmer of happiness got flushed away by the ending. As a whole, this book sent me down a mental rabbit hole and I suspect it’s going to live in my head for a while.
If you haven’t read this yet, just know going in it’s not a happily ever after sort of book. It’s definitely a cautionary tale.
Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐+
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