by Joanne Ramos
Length: 336 Pages
Release date: May 7, 2019
Publisher: Random House
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.
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.
My thanks to Random House & NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.
The synopsis for The Farm may have you expecting a dystopian novel of sorts, but the reality of the book is a lot closer to the real world than that. The Farm is less about government control run amok (à la Handmaid’s Tale) than it is about blurry lines of consent surrounding bodily autonomy.
No one forces the women in this book to go to the Farm to carry someone else’s baby, and they are paid quite handsomely for their troubles. But Ramos clearly wants the reader to ask which women had meaningful alternatives on the table and which did not. Entering a contract with Golden Oaks involves handing over all of one’s own agency for the duration of the pregnancy. The women may be pampered at the Farm, but they sign an NDA, are unable to leave the premises, their internet activity is monitored, and they must apply for the privilege of visits from family members. The women who enter these contracts are overwhelmingly non-white immigrants with few other prospects.
The novel switches perspectives between multiple women connected to the farm: Mae, the power hungry and wealthy woman running the operation, Jane, a young single mother and immigrant desperate for the paycheck, Reagan, an upper middle class white woman who signed up primarily to relinquish her financial dependence on her family, and Ate, Jane’s older cousin who helped her get her “job” at the Farm. The differing perspectives really highlight the points Ramos wanted to raise in regards to privilege, but the sheer number of perspectives presented their own challenge. While Jane was definitely the most developed, none of these women ever felt really fleshed out, making it difficult to connect to the story.
The premise behind this novel is interesting and unique, and Ramos raises a lot of questions about agency and privilege. There was loads of promise in this book and there are moments that really shine, but the overall experience was just okay for me. No spoilers, but the resolution felt really lacking; the story skips forward several years for the epilogue, and the changes that have occurred in the interim feel unearned. All in all, this provides a lot of food for thought, but I wanted to love this book more than I did.