For a slow character study, for a creepily realistic look at how things can suddenly yet subtly cross the line, for a book that’s like the opposite of The Farm
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.
This book is somewhat outside my usual preference of magic and action and saving-the-world kinds of issues. Frida is just looking to save her own little world, and maybe that of her daughter’s, Harriet. And yet, despite this being a more literary style, which I usually struggle with, this kept me 100% engaged. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. And I finished it in two days.
The pull of this one is almost voyeuristic, because I watched Frida slowly and undeniably lose herself through her time in the school. Her thoughts are mine to know, and I end up having more insight than even the all-seeing monitors who judge her emotions via endless camera footage. Hearing their diagnoses of some mothers in the program as not having enough love in their hugs, based on the biometric feedback, or that they should be able to physically heal illness with just their motherly love, was so genuinely unsettling to read that I kind of shudder again just thinking about it.