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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Banned Books Week

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Banned Books Week

We love stories. That’s why we are in the business of storytelling. But what happens when certain stories are withheld from the public, access is denied in schools and libraries? This is no new concept, certain books still get banned. Censorship is still alive and well and continues to be implemented in school boards all over the world today.

This week, Sept 24th-Oct 1st has been declared Banned Books Week, a time when libraries, schools, and bookstores celebrate our First Amendment freedom to read. Whether it’s print or in the form of an audio book, stories are a precious resource that provide us not only with entertainment, but information, ideas, opinions that may otherwise not be heard.

Recently, there have been various books banned, books I recall reading way back in my high school English classes. Below are some commonly challenged books that you might be interested in. But as you review the list, ask yourself, where do you stand with the content questioned? Sure, there are various reasons why these books are banned, some due to sexual perversity or overall obscenity like Lolita, or because of political, religious, or racial grounds, but does that make it right to remove it from bookshelves?

Commonly Challenged Books:

To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee –A classic work of literature that was banned two years ago from a high school in Brampton, Ontario due to the prejudice in the novel. A parent objected to the language used, like the vulgar “N” word used in reference to African-Americans.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Although this book came out 42 years ago, this summer a high school in Missouri banned Kurt Vonnegut’s counter-culture classic from its library and curriculum alleging the book promoted “values contrary to those found in the bible”.

Others include:
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
1984 by George Orwell

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