STAFF PICK: The Farm

Title: The Farm
Author: Joanne Ramos
Narrator: Fran De Leon

They say “Never judge a book by its cover, but the striking cover of The Farm, is what initially drew me to it. Seeing the title of the book, and the baby bumps on the front page, it reminded me of the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale (a personal favorite!). But this is not set in a dystopian future, nor under a totalitarian government – it’s set in New York state, in current times. This does not make it any less chilling – because to me, there is nothing more frightening than something that could already be happening.

If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, The Farm has a very similar vibe, and addresses cultural themes like capitalism, technology, racism, social inequality, and poverty. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it focuses in on the women in the story, and defies conventions about motherhood, but in a more modern, and less dystopian manner.

The majority of the story is set in Golden Oaks, a sumptuous retreat in New York state, which boasts every amenity of an expensive spa: organic meals, private fitness trainers, and daily massages, and you get paid for the privilege! So what’s the catch?

If you didn’t know the purpose of Golden Oaks, you would assume it was just another getaway for the ultra-rich. However, it is anything but. Golden Oaks is surrogacy taken to the extreme – an expensive baby farm, where the ultra-rich delegate their pregnancy to a group of mostly poor, desperate, immigrant women. The babies they produce need to be perfect. And a premium is paid to the “hosts” for keeping to the rules.

The main character, Jane, is an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother. At first, she is excited to have made it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. Separated from her daughter and forced to endure a life controlled and manipulated by Farm management, Jane soon realizes her retreat at Golden Oaks is not the sweet deal she once thought it would be. Jane and the other female characters begin to discover that there is something amiss at the Farm, and that the rules cannot be broken without dire consequences for the hosts.

I truly LOVED this book. If you like a bit of politics in your literature, this is definitely for you. At no time are the characters forced to join the Farm, but their social circumstances (poverty, freedom from controlling family, etc) make them feel like they have no choice. My heart ached when Jane is separated from Amalia, and the commodification of motherhood really made me feel uneasy. I loved that all of the supporting characters are women, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Mae, the Farm’s Director, is ruthless and smart. Reagan, a “premium host”, is awkward and idealistic. Lisa is the feisty rebel who tries to overthrow the farm’s control, but mostly for her own benefit, and Ate is a strong, older Filipina woman who is a mother figure to so many of the women, Jane included.

There are a number of twists and turns throughout the novel, and it’s one of those listens that stays with you long after you finish it. Fran De Leon’s narration is amazing, and perfect for this listen. Like Joanne Ramos, De Leon lived her early years in the Philippines, and since there are many Filipina characters in the novel, her knowledge of the culture and accents make for a much more authentic listen.

Publishers Summary: 

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

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Staff Pick: #IMOMSOHARD by Jen Smedley and Kristin Hensley

Title: #IMOMSOHARD
Authors: Jen Smedley, Kristin Hensley
Narrators: Jen Smedley, Kristin Hensley

Becoming a parent is one of the most wonderful experiences. I am very lucky and privileged to be a stepmom to two wonderful young women (I’m SO OLD), and a mom to an incredibly awesome little boy. However, it’s also the most difficult, exhausting, and frustrating experience ever.
One of the hardest things about becoming a new parent for me was the pressure I put on myself. There are a plethora of parenting books, blogs, and of course, online mommy groups who give you conflicting information on what’s best. I had a whole bunch of ideas of how I was going to be the best parent ever…until I had my kids.

If you’re a parent who isn’t 100% perfect, then #IMOMSOHARD is the listen for you! Much like the popular web series, #IMOMSOHARD offers advice and sympathy in a non-judgmental way. Jen Smedley and Kristin Hensley have been friends forever – and their friendship has transcended everything, growing even closer since having their children. These women DO NOT sugarcoat motherhood at any time. They are truthful about everything, including childbirth, post-baby body, self care, relationships, toddler tantrums, and more!

Some of my favorite parts of this book are the parts that really resonated with my own parenting experiences, which were things like:

Mom friends: Because your other friends DO NOT want to hear about your toddler’s potty training escapades.

Post-Partum depression: Very few mothering books talk about what PPD really feels like, even though SO many women go through it. Their honesty on this topic was inspiring.

Feeding your kids: Before I had a kid I was always of the opinion that my children should “Eat what I eat or they’ll go hungry.” Jen and Kristin’s reply to this? “Eat what they eat, or I’ll go crazy.” As the mother of a three year old, I agree this is now my motto. Show me a parent of a toddler who doesn’t routinely eat crackers, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese sandwiches, and I’ll show you someone who’s a liar 😀

Jen and Kristin narrate this audiobook, which means the book is so much like their podcast (a good thing!). It’s like your mom friends sharing their stories, which is so much more relaxing than many “self-help” parenting books, which Jen and Kristin are adamant that #IMOMSOHARD is not.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s a parent. Whether you’re a bio-parent, step-parent, foster-parent or anyone who has a parental role, you’ll recognize a lot of the tales in the book, and feel better about some of the non-perfect things you’ve done. The audiobook version is especially parent-friendly, since you can listen while you do housework, while the kids are napping, or while you’re hiding in the bathroom FOR ONE SECOND OF PEACE.

Publisher Summary:

In their highly-anticipated first book, the hilarious mom duo with millions of followers explores all the ridiculous shit you’re expected to do to keep multiple humans alive and happy-ish, and celebrates the love for the friends who get you through it.

Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley, the creators of #IMomSoHard, are just like you and your best mom friend, only funnier and with more wine. Perhaps you’ve seen one of their insanely popular videos musing on everything from impractical swimsuit fashions to “Things I Found in My Bra.” Or maybe you’ve gone to one of the shows on their sold-out tour, hailed as “monster truck rallies for moms.” Or you might have just taken a break from mom-ing so hard yourself and decided to read some adult words for a few minutes. Did you pour yourself some wine? 
This is not a self-help book. Kristin and Jen know that you probably didn’t get to shower today and that the last thing you need is advice on all the stuff you’re doing wrong. Instead, Kristin and Jen talk nipple hair, sex after marriage, Mom-bods, and their unhealthy obsession with Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones. #IMomSoHard is packed with the back-and-forth laugh-out-loud best-friend banter that Kristin and Jen are known for, with plenty of real talk about post-partum depression, bullying, and the dark thoughts that plague every mom. Throughout it all, they know the ups and downs of motherhood often have nothing to do with your kids—it’s the female friendships and solidarity you have with other moms that makes it all worthwhile.
#IMomSoHard is like a long, funny, gab session with your best mom friends. Kristin and Jen know 6:00–8:00 pm is the worst time to call you. They know not to harass you when you show up to a playdate in a free t-shirt you got from the dentist. They won’t give pep talks, but they will talk you down from the motherhood ledge, because, congrats: you’re passing with a “C”—and that’s all any of us can hope for.

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