The Farm by Joanne Ramos – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
For a 1984-ish, The Handmaid’s Tale-ish kind of story, for a read that will make you bounce back and forth between whether something is right or wrong until you’re tangled up in knots, for complex evaluations on ways of living and which is better (indignant pride and striving for what you deserve, or gratitude for everything that you have no matter how meager it may seem to others)
Golden Oaks caters to women who need or want a surrogate for their pregnancy – provided they can pay the exorbitant price. In a facility with every amenity, secretively selected women can sign on to be monitored and controlled through their 9 months of pregnancy. The promise of Golden Oaks to its clients is to deliver a perfect baby, given every advantage starting from pre-conception; its promise to its Hosts is a pile of money, more than most could dream of. Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter’s well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on delivery—or worse.
The surface story within this didn’t compel me as much as the struggle to figure out who was correct in their view of Golden Oaks and their services. I don’t think I ever came up with a clear answer, but it made me consider some important questions and challenge some of my own beliefs, so that in itself made me keep reading.
To be honest, I didn’t really like any of the characters. I wasn’t really cheering anyone on, and everyone frustrated me. Perhaps that’s a fair reflection of real life though, as you’ll be frustrated by everyone at some point, right? I think as far as character building goes, I liked Ms Yu the most because her rationale for so many things was creepily messed up as far as modern standards go. Her complete unawareness of her own racist and elitist justifications was unsettling, as it felt like a look into so many people today; people who don’t even realize the issues with the way they’re viewing others.
The ending felt abrupt. I felt like I had a bit of whiplash in wondering why it cut off where it did and picked up spontaneously after. Ms Yu’s decision was also odd to me. I very much appreciated the look contrasting Ms Yu, Reagan, and Jane’s perspectives of that end result though, as it highlighted the best and worst about each, and made it really difficult to point to one and say, “Clearly that is the correct way to see it.” It felt very much like reality in that way.
What kept me reading this book, despite my revulsion at phrases like a baby “stewing in her sour broth,” was how the rationale of each character made me question everything. When I read from each character’s viewpoint, I understood where they were coming from and sometimes begrudgingly admitted that they made sense in a way, even when my morality or ethics were recoiling in horror from that thought.
To link this to another book I just finished reading, of a very different genre mind you, Reagan is like Hermione and Jane is like house elves in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Reagan insists to Jane that the way she is living is confined, manipulated, unfair, unjust. Jane insists she’s lucky to have what she does, and grateful for her opportunities even if it benefits others more than her. Brief HP4 synopsis of that reference for comparison: Hermione insists to the house elves that they should want to be freed and their current life of servitude is wrong and unjust, but the house elves are appalled and horrified that she would say such a thing since they love to serve and live to serve. In both cases, the question becomes: Can you, should you, force your view of freedom onto someone who truly doesn’t want it?
And of course, there’s the obvious creep-factor or hyper rich people paying for a weird baby farm. I’ve just started reading the Handmaid’s Tale, and having read The Farm first almost feels like the prologue to it.
PS – it took me until like 3/4 of the way through to realize that the cover was pregnant bellies and not just abstract wavy lines. -_-
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