Single mother Frida Liu is really struggling. Her husband had an affair and left her when their daughter Harriet was only months old. Now she is trying to keep herself afloat and balance motherhood, her job, and her sense of worth. After a particularly bad stretch where Harriet is sick and Frida hasn’t slept or showered in days, she makes a very bad decision and the state intervenes to temporarily take Harriet away. In order to win her back, Harriet must go through the state’s new program. She must attend a “school” to learn how to be a good mother. Every move is watched by cameras, and everything she says or feels is recorded and analyzed by state of the art technology. Can she live up to the program’s standards of a good mother? Can anyone?
This book was very unsettling because, although it takes place in a dystopian America, you could absolutely imagine it happening for real. As I read, I became angrier and angrier at how unfair these women were treated. My heart broke for them as they were placed in one impossible situation after another. I will say the middle of the book dragged on a bit, and the messages about race, class, gender, and sexual discrimination seemed a bit heavy handed – almost like the author was trying to do too much at once. But overall I found the book really impactful and it provided a great message about how we judge mothers. Fans of dystopian fiction (think The Handmaid’s Tale) will likely enjoy this book.