Adams’ tweet inspired dozens of empathetic responses, mostly in the vein of “I feel this” followed by lots of heart emojis (to be clear, I also feel this). But in the fictional world of Jessamine Chan’s new novel, The School for Good Mothers, a tweet like Adams’ would likely have more significant consequences — a tweet like Adams’ might result in a visit from Child Protective Services, loss of custody, or maybe a state-mandated reeducation in what exactly good motherhood entails. Such is the fate of Chan’s heroine, Frida, who, having made a parenting misstep as a result of exhaustion, overwhelm, and a lack of structural supports that’s not so different from what most mothers in this country are forced to navigate, finds herself sent to The School for Good Mothers. Her education (sentence) takes a year, during which she is deprived of physical contact with her toddler daughter, all parental rights, and most human rights as well. The book is a harrowing dramatization of how the cultural and systemic demands we place on mothers create conditions in which all mothers are doomed to fail, and in which mothers are continuously robbed of their humanity “for the good of” their children. Or for the good of the state. It’s hard to tell.
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