In one of the most anticipated debuts of 2022, a single lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance. Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers is an explosive page turner and a transgressive novel about the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love. National Book Award finalist Julia Phillips (Disappearing Earth) joined Chan in conversation about this terrifyingly timely novel.
The School for Good Mothers
By Jessamine Chan
Published by Simon & Schuster
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.
Jessamine Chan’s short stories have appeared in Tin House and Epoch. A former reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, she holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Brown University. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.
Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan
Julia Phillips is the debut author of the internationally bestselling novel Disappearing Earth, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. A Fulbright fellow, Julia has written for the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Paris Review. She teaches at the Randolph College MFA program and lives in Brooklyn.
Photo Credit: Nina Subin