STORY: 4/5 CHARACTERS: 4/5 WRITING STYLE: 3/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 4/5 OVERALL: 4/5
“A mother is always giving. A mother never falls apart. A mother is a buffer between her child and the cruel world. Absorb it, the instructors say. Take it. Take it.”
― Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers
Summary of The School for Good Mothers:
The book narrates the story of Frida, a Chinese immigrant in the USA. She is a single mother to Harriet who is almost two. She once leaves Harriet alone at home for two hours, and that’s when Harriet’s crying alerts the neighbours who inform the social workers. With the authorities involved, Frida eventually has to spend a year at the school for good mothers before she is eligible for Harriet’s custody.
While I do not know if the American law has something like this or not, I feel the author has shown the quintessential demands of motherhood through this school. The school, to me, is the society itself, constantly reminding mothers of what more they should do. Moms with varied experiences visit the school. They are all drilled with the same stereotypes without zero concern for their mental health. While we don’t have a formal name for it, almost every woman goes through this schooling phase where people elaborate and preach on how she is a bad mother. And how she could be doing so much more. Surprisingly, nothing remotely similar exists for fathers.
What Frida learns at the school, how she bonds with the other ‘bad mothers’, her relation with Harriet, her reckoning of motherhood, and the final decision of Harriet’s custody, form the rest of the story.
Frida is a working woman who has had depression in the past. She handles her workplace, a recent divorce, and an infant simultaneously. Nobody bothers about what she is going through; they only want to mold her into the ideal mother. She definitely makes mistakes as a mother. Her character is complicated; the author doesn’t make her a superwoman.
As expected, Gust (father of Harriet) does absolutely nothing. Even when he gets Harriet’s custody, it is his wife Susanna who parents her. Frida dislikes Susanna for apparent reasons but one cannot ignore her efforts to be a mother to Harriet.
The social workers are people with zero empathy and a strong belief that a mother should always prioritize the child. They opine that mothers should live for children and not themselves. Sounds familiar, right?
Some other noteworthy characters are the other women in the school and Frida’s immigrant family.
The language is quite simple and can be read by anyone. But I felt the narration was slow and got boring at a point. I skipped the scenes that don’t contribute much to the story. While the themes the author discusses are interesting, I was continuously checking the page count after 200. I reduced one star only because the book could have been shorter.
Who can read it?
Anyone can read it if the blurb interests them but I would recommend it, especially for mothers. Frida’s character is an ode to every mother trying to balance multiple things simultaneously. We, as a society, fail mothers each time we label them as “bad mothers” without knowing them fully. Especially for working mothers (from home or office or part-time) because they are expected to do their best in both worlds.
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