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The 2021 Read With Jenna book list was filled with adventure, heartbreak, hope, mystery and some good laughs along the way. After finishing the year reading an emotional story about addiction and motherhood, "Bright Burning Things" by Lisa Harding, Jenna Bush Hager has a fresh debut novel to kick off the new year of reading together.
For January 2022, Jenna Bush Hager picked "The School for Good Mothers" by Jessamine Chan for the book club to read.
"This debut novel was so captivating, thought-provoking and beautifully written, everything I tried to pick up next paled in comparison," Jenna Bush Hager told TODAY. "It was all I wanted to talk about, think about and read."
The dystopian drama is about a young Chinese mother whose pride and joy is her only daughter, Harriet. After making one critical mistake, Frida finds herself in a government reform program for bad mothers. While the custody of her child hangs in the balance, she must prove her worth as a mother or risk losing Harriet forever.
"This book is every mother’s worst nightmare written in exquisitely beautiful pros," said the TODAY book lover. "It offers a sharp social commentary about parenthood and the vulnerability of mother."
The debut author started the book in 2014 when she was grappling with the decision of whether or not she and her partner wanted to have kids.
"Frida's very bad day came out of my very good writing day," Jessamine Chan told TODAY. "What was going on in life at the time was I was in my mid-30's and I was trying to decide whether my partner and I would have a baby. It felt like it was time to choose one path or the other. I was very freaked out about the decision of whether or not to have a baby. In a lot of ways, my anxiety about motherhood led to the creation of this dystopian novel."
While grappling with this major life decision, Chan read an article in the New Yorker about a mother who was barred from seeing her son after leaving him at home that further inspired her writing.
"Something about that article just lodged in my mind," said Chan. "I didn't have it next to me when I was drafting but, it just stayed with me. It came back to me during that very productive day when I ended up coming up with what became the foundation for the book,"
While the book is dystopian in nature, Chan hopes that it will become part of the current conversation around women's rights and parenting.
"I think it's being published at a really volatile time for women's rights," said the debut novelist.. "I hope that the book will push the conversation forward in whatever way people access the story."
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For more book recommendations, check out:
- 7 author-approved books that make great gifts for the holidays
- 5 books to read after 'Bright Burning Things' by Lisa Harding
- All of Jenna Bush Hager's book club picks