BOOK REVIEW: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan

BOOK REVIEW: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine ChanTitle: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: January 4th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Dystopia
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

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 eyes 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 judgment, 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.

A searing 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.

Chan’s The School for Good Mothers is a reflection on the government’s hold on social services, children, and women’s bodies/lives. In a similar vein of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the events in this book teeter on our society’s imminent future, serving as both a criticism and a warning. 

Frida’s marriage has crumbled at the birth of her daughter, her ex-husband leaving her for another woman, and she is struggling coming to terms with her new life as a mother and an ex-wife. She leaves her daughter home alone for a couple of hours, to go to work, to escape the tedious and difficult reality, and she finds herself entangled with Child Protective Services as a result of her misjudgment. 

She knew it was wrong to leave her child behind, knew it was not the best choice, and she hopes for some sympathy in her break in good judgment when the agency reviews her case. Frida is told that there is a new program being offered for reform for these “bad mothers,” and she is sent off to a reform school just outside the city with other mothers who have also made bad judgments for their children (ranging from relatively mild to extreme).

These schooled mothers are now under constant observation and evaluation with childlike animatronic dolls that record the mothers’ every move. Privileges are taken away if the mothers don’t adhere to strict rules and performances. The surveillance has an undercurrent of violence that is difficult to ignore, especially in contrast to the school for fathers that is seemingly much more relaxed.

The concept of a “perfect mother” can be incredibly damaging to anyone trying to live up to societal expectations, and especially to those with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that can interfere with day to day life, activities, and care. Lapses in judgment can happen to any of us, but how is a year’s worth of strict instruction and surveillance a better course of action than compassion and resources for parents navigating the raising of children? How are we to consider motherhood today, especially considering the shift of raising children from being a family/community task to being the task of a nuclear, “traditional” family with the figurehead being the mother? How are we to consider the “ideal motherhood” that’s rooted in heteronormative Western whiteness in contrast to the way in which other cultures view motherhood, parenthood, and the raising of a family?

Written in a clinical, stark style that fully showcases the horror simmering underneath the surface of the perception of perfect motherhood, The School for Good Mothers is a chilling, disturbing read that begs a second consideration of what it means to be a mother, what’s expected of mothers, and how we perceive motherhood in our society.

Review copy from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss, thank you!

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: Upcoming Fantasy Releases

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine (though it seems as though it’s been a while since she updated that particular blog, so if you know of the current host, if there is one, please let me know) that highlights upcoming releases that we’re impatiently waiting for. This week I’m featuring upcoming/newly released fantasy titles I’m excited to read!  As usual, pub dates change without warning, so keep that in mind! You can also click on the cover photos for more detail/bigger file size.

  • Daughter of the Moon Goddess, by Sue Lynn Tan – Inspired by ancient Chinese mythology about the moon goddess Chang’e and her quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm. The cover of this is gorgeous, I have an ARC waiting to be read, and this kind of lush fantasy is something I am in the mood for. (January 11, 2022)
  • Gallant, by V.E. Schwab – I’m always excited for a new Schwab release, and this looks amazing. (March 1, 2022)
  • Misrule, by Heather Walker – The first installment of this sapphic retelling of Aurora/Maleficent was one of my favorite reads of 2021, and I am dying DYING to get my hands on the finale. (May 10, 2022)
  • Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher – This has a fairy tale vibe I’m here for and that I was already sold on, but the phrase “a chicken possessed by a demon” in the description has made me want this so much more. (April 26, 2022)
  • Spear, by Nicola Griffith – I still need to read Griffith’s Hild, but this is a queer retelling of Arthur mythology that I’m so excited to read. (April 19, 2022)

BOOKENDS: October, November, December 2021

Let’s just say 2021 was a year and carry on.


I am still picking through The Big Book of Science Fiction but this will be finished this year. I have a plan. 👀

📚 bookshelf pick  |  📓 physical review copy  |  📱 digital review copy | ⌛️ library/borrowed | 💾 ebook | 🎧 audiobook  |  💞 reread

📚 The Big Book of Science Fiction – edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (38%)


I read 12 books in October, 7 books in November, and 8 books in December.

📚 bookshelf pick  |  📓 physical review copy  |  📱 digital review copy | ⌛️ library/borrowed | 💾 ebook | 🎧 audiobook  |  💞 reread

⌛️ A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson (4/5 stars)
🎧 The King of Crows – Libba Bray (4/5 stars)
📓 A Spindle Splintered – Alix E. Harrow (5/5 stars)
💾 Because Internet – Gretchen McCulloch (3.5/5 stars)
📱 My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones (DNF)
💾 Gild – Raven Kennedy (3/5 stars)
💾 The Lady From the Black Lagoon – Mallory O’Meara (3.5/5 stars)
⌛️ These Hollow Vows – Lexi Ryan (4/5 stars)
⌛️ Matrix – Lauren Groff (4/5 stars)
📓 Yours Cruelly, Elvira – Cassandra Peterson (4/5 stars)
💾 Glint – Raven Kennedy (3/5 stars)
⌛️ A Tip for the Hangman – Allison Epstein (5/5 stars)

📚 The Ex Hex – Erin Sterling (4/5 stars)
📱 What Moves the Dead – T. Kingfisher (5/5 stars)
⌛️ House of Salt and Sorrows – Erin A. Craig (4/5 stars)
📚 Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo (2/5 stars)
📱 Nothing But Blackened Teeth – Cassandra Khaw (3.5/5 stars)
⌛️ The Wolf and the Woodsman – Ava Reid (3.5/5 stars)
⌛️ Witch Hat Atelier, vol 1 – Kamoma Shirahama (4/5 stars)

📚 The Duke Goes Down – Sophie Jordan (2/5 stars)
⌛️ The Heroine with 1001 Faces – Maria Tatar (2.5/5 stars)
⌛️ The Last Thing He Told Me – Laura Dave (3/5 stars)
💾 Gleam – Raven Kennedy (3/5 stars)
⌛️ Kingdom of the Wicked – Kerri Maniscalco (DNF)
📚💞 Zel – Donna Jo Napoli (5/5 stars)
⌛️ Medieval Bodies – Jack Hartnell (4.5/5 stars)
💾💞 Sabriel – Garth Nix (5/5 stars)


I will be updating this for January’s reads to keep things more organized!

📚 bookshelf pick  |  📓 physical review copy  |  📱 digital review copy | ⌛️ library/borrowed | 💾 ebook | 🎧 audiobook  |  💞 reread



I will be updating this for January’s reads to keep things more organized!

📚 bookshelf pick  |  📓 physical review copy  |  📱 digital review copy | ⌛️ library/borrowed | 💾 ebook | 🎧 audiobook  |  💞 reread



I will be doing 2021 recaps of each of these in the upcoming weeks!





Let’s just say I am glad 2021 is over.