Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.
If you’re in a book club, you know how difficult it can be to find something that people enjoy reading but that also provides a lot to discuss! It’s fine if not everyone enjoyed the book but that can also mean that people don’t have a lot to say about said book.
I feel confident that Joanne Ramos’ The Farm will make for enjoyable reading for most AND provide amazing content to discuss.
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.
I was really excited to read this book based on the premise. Then I read early reviews of this book talking about it being dystopian and I shied away. I don’t like reading dystopian fiction. I think it freaks me out! I’m glad that I didn’t let that keep me from reading The Farm because it’s not dystopian at all as far as I could tell. It actually reads more like a gossipy, soapy read. And I mean that as a compliment! It reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians or Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win or Sarong Party Girls.
Part of what made this book really work for me was that Asian women were the center of their own story. And it was written by an Asian American woman who knows these women, who is these women in some cases. That makes a massive difference.
Jane is a young Filipina woman who is living with her older cousin, trying to find ways to make money to look after her new baby on her own. When she finds The Farm, it seems like a good short term way to make her dreams come true. Mae is the brains behind The Farm, an ambitious Asian-American women planning her wedding while making power moves in her career. She knows she has to find certain kind of women to act as surrogates to be able to attract the kinds of clients she knows will take the business to the next level. And Reagan is the idealistic White woman who is at loose ends in her own life, who doesn’t want to take her father’s money, is struggling with her mom’s dementia diagnosis and wants to do something meaningful with her life.
The juxtaposition of the lives of these three women help to make The Farm a layered and nuanced novel about women. Ramos manages to tackle racism, sexism, the 1%, control over one’s body, female friendship, and family dynamics in an almost casual way. I was blown away by how easy Ramos made it look to write a book this captivating and noteworthy.
I will say that the ending was a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t wild about the redemption offered to one character and how another doesn’t seem to have any meaningful character development. The things that happen in Jane’s life happen TO her as if she is a passive passenger in her own life. But the rest of the novel was so good, so enjoyable to read that it didn’t bother me as much as it could have.
There’s still some time before summer is officially over and I think The Farm would make a great companion for the final days of the season.