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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Celebrate International Women’s Day with Audiobooks

Every year on March 8, International Women’s Day is celebrated to acknowledge the social, economic, political, and cultural achievements of women — and what better way to celebrate than by listening to audiobooks penned by incredible female authors?

I look forward to this day every year to see what governments, organizations, charities, corporations, and my friends are doing and saying to recognize the trailblazing women who have changed (and are changing) the world. The future, indeed, is female.

In addition to the many remarkable women in my life, reading books by female authors that depict both real and fictional lives of iconic and ordinary women has given me the support, guidance, and courage to move beyond glass ceilings and push for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

We’ve rounded up a dozen inspiring books to celebrate some of our favorite female authors and feminist stories. Tell us in the comments who your favorite female authors or characters are and let us know how you’re celebrating International Women’s Day!

1. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena, narrated by Firdous Bamji, Neil Shah, Soneela Nankani, Lameece Issaq

A Girl Like That.In this young adult debut set in Saudi Arabia, where the law forbids romantic relationships outside of marriage, two teens fall in love with tragic consequences. Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: an Indian girl, a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a troublemaker whose romantic entanglements are the subject of endless gossip among the girls in her school.
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2. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, narrated by Hillary Rodham Clinton

What Happened.For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules.
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3. Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction by Erica Garza, narrated by Joy Osmanski

Getting Off.

A courageous account of one woman’s unflinching and ultimately hopeful journey through sex and porn addiction. A fixation on porn and orgasm, strings of failed relationships and serial hook-ups with strangers, inevitable blackouts to blunt the shame – these are not things we often hear women share publicly, and not with the candor, eloquence and introspection Erica Garza brings to Getting Off.
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4. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins, narrated by Morgan Jerkins

This Will Be My Undoing.From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today — perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.
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5. milk and honey by Rupi Kaur, narrated by Rupi Kaur

milk and honey.Rupi Kaur reads milk and honey, her New York Times bestselling collection of poetry and prose about survival, the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. The book is divided into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache.
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6. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, narrated by Caroline Lee

Big Little Lies.Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, biting, and passionate, remembering everything and forgiving no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare but pays a price for the illusion of perfection. Single mom Jane is so young, another mother mistakes her for a nanny. She comes with a mysterious past and a sadness beyond her years. They are at different crossroads, but all wind up in the same shocking place.
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7. The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips, narrated by Bahni Turpin

The Darkest Child.A new edition of this award-winning modern classic, the shade of a 13-year-old black girl’s skin can make the difference in her fate. Tangy Mae is the smartest of her mother’s ten children, but she is also the darkest-complected. The Quinns-all different skin shades, all with unknown fathers-live with their charismatic, beautiful, and tyrannical mother, Rozelle, in poverty on the fringes of a Georgia town where Jim Crow rules.
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8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.
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9. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, narrated by Elisa Donovan

Lean In.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, ranked eighth on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, is one of America’s most galvanizing leaders, and an icon for millions of women juggling work and family. In Lean In, she urges women to take risks and seek new challenges, to find work that they love, and to remain passionately engaged with it at the highest levels throughout their lives.
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10. Wild by Cheryl Strayed, narrated by Bernadette Dunn

Wild.

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Alone.
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11. Heart Talk by Cleo Wade, narrated by Cleo Wade

Heart Talk.

True to her hugely popular Instagram account, Cleo Wade brings her moving life lessons to Heart Talk, an inspiring, accessible, and spiritual book of wisdom for the new generation. Featuring over one hundred and twenty of Cleo’s original poems, mantras, and affirmations, including fan favorites and never before seen ones, this book is a daily pep talk to keep you feeling empowered and motivated.
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12. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, narrated by Karissa Vacker

Red Clocks.In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.
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