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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The School for Good Mothers

1. Consider the epigraph from Anne Carson. How does this excerpt set the tone for the story? What do you think the relationship is between fear and motherhood?

2. The novel centers around Frida’s “one very bad day” (1). What are the stressors in Frida’s life that make this bad day not only possible but likely? In other words, what odds are stacked against her?

3. Throughout the book, Frida thinks regularly about “the house of her mind." What does this phrase mean to you? How does it take on new meaning for Frida over the course of the book?

4. After Harriet is taken away, Frida goes to the home of Gust’s best friend. What is Frida looking for at Will’s house? How is it similar or different to what she’s looking for when she flirts with Tucker?

5. Throughout the book, the women are subjected to a narrow definition of what makes a “good” mother. According to the school, what makes a good mother? How does that compare with how Frida defines what makes a good mother? Or how you would define it?

6. During her first psychological evaluation, Frida says that “you can’t judge [my parents] by American standards” (46). How does Frida approach motherhood as a Chinese American woman? How is this different from how her own mother approached parenting? How does the school approach cultural differences in parenting?

7. Frida often compares her own experiences as a woman with what she wants for Harriet. What does Frida want for her daughter? What are the things Frida wants to protect her from?

8. THE SCHOOL OF GOOD MOTHERS depicts parenting as entwined with a new surveillance state. Discuss how this relates to our current cultural climate. Is there, as Renee says, “It’s not like there’s any privacy anymore” (18)? What are the rights that parents give up when they encounter the state --- both in this book and out in the real world? Do you think those loss of rights are worth the cost to keep children safe?

9. With Susanna, we see a different model of mothering than Frida is used to. Describe it. How are she and Frida philosophically different? How are they the same? How does Frida’s attitude toward her shift over the course of the book?

10. Helen, Frida’s roommate, is at the school for coddling, which is described as a “subset of emotional abuse” (86). Do you think a mother can ever love too much? What are the different ways a mother’s love can manifest?

11. How do Frida and her cohort first react to the dolls? How does their relationship with the dolls change over the course of the book?

12. Which mother do you identify with the most? Were there any to whom you felt especially sympathetic --- or perhaps especially judgmental?

13. Early on, Lucretia guesses that the fathers’ program probably has “workbooks and multiple-choice quizzes. All they have to do is show up. Isn’t that always how it goes?” (106). What are the differences between the men’s and women’s programs? Do you believe that women are routinely held to a higher standard in parenting? How and why?

14. What do you make of Frida’s final act? How does she decide that what she’s risking is ultimately worth the cost? What does this decision say about her as a mother? As a person?

15. How did this book make you think about motherhood? Did it prompt you to reconsider mothering, either as a parent yourself or your experience as a child or in observing other parents around you?

The School for Good Mothers
by Jessamine Chan

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: S&S/Marysue Rucci Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982156139
  • ISBN-13: 9781982156138