We’re told never to judge a book by its cover, and yet it was the cover of The Farm by Joanne Ramos (in stores May 7) that drew me toward it. I’ve never read (or seen) A Handmaid’s Tale, and dystopian fiction is something I usually reserve for YA titles, but the juxtaposition of those pregnant bellies against the simple two-word text had me captivated already—I had to know what kind of world would have to exist for this to become a reality.
Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money—more than you’ve ever dreamed of—to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your überwealthy clients.
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.
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.
I picked this up expecting The Handmaid’s Tale or a spin on one of the many dystopian YA trilogies I’ve read, but this was something different. It disturbed me—and I mean that in a good way—because the world wasn’t some far-in-the-future world that I won’t see in my lifetime…it was exactly the world we live in today. Golden Oaks was not created in order to give people children or give women who are down on their luck amazing employment: It’s strictly a money grab. And that terrifies me. Top it off with the fact that this novel touches heavily on immigration and socioeconomics, two hot-button topics at the moment especially, and it was feeling much too real.
It took me longer than usual to get through this, and I think it was because I was waiting for something *dystopian* to happen. Though the characters in this book are incredibly vivid and believable, the plot just trots along with Jane and Co.’s experiences, and while things surely happen to them, I was kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joanne Ramos is a fabulous writer who can write each character’s perspectives in an individual yet complementary way that I don’t see often, and that is the reason I kept powering through.
Mae’s character arc is an interesting one. She is set up as being the antagonist of the story because she’s the one who came up with the program and who does whatever’s in her power to make is succeed—so she can open another site, of course. Near the end, it sort of comes to light that she feels bad for Jane and wants to make up for her wrongdoings by hiring her as her personal surrogate (and maid, really), and I question whether it was the author’s intention to redeem her in the end. Though Jane is treated very well, she, an immigrant, is still in service to Mae and Mae still opens her second location… so I’m not sure she really learned anything. The story ends on a happier note, so I just wish Ramos’s intentions for Mae’s arc were a little more clear.
“Golden Oaks hired women to be surrogates. If you were chosen to be a Host you lived in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where your only job was to rest and keep the baby inside you healthy. According to Mrs. Rubio, Golden Oaks’ clients were the riches, most important people from all over the world, and for carrying their babies Hosts were paid a great deal of money.” —Joanne Ramos, The Farm
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced copy, and to Stefan Widuai on Unsplash for the featured photo of the peaceful farmland.