From the outside, Golden Oaks looks like any other luxurious spa located in the gorgeous Hudson Valley just north of New York. But what most people don’t know is that it’s actually a retreat for surrogate mothers of the ultra-rich. Owned by the famous and successful entrepreneur, Ethan Holloway, Golden Oaks aims to give surrogate mothers every physical, emotional, spiritual, and medical advantage, so that the unborn children they carry get a head start, even from conception.
The pressure is on to make this experimental venture work, and Holloway has appointed one of his top employees, Mae Yu, to monitor every aspect of the operation. From the minute-by-minute heart rates of the surrogates, to the amount of organic bran muffins they are expected to eat, to how they interact with friends and family via email or phone, Mae sees everything. The surrogates technically know they are being monitored, and all have signed waivers and release forms for their time spent at Golden Oaks. But since most of the surrogates are poor, uneducated, and non-native-English speakers, they can’t fully comprehend just how limited their freedoms will be—even if there is a handsome bonus waiting for them at the end if they carry to full term. The story follows three surrogates in particular—Jane, Reagan, and Lisa—from the time they arrive at the farm to the time they each leave…and all the drama-filled surprises in between.
If you go into this novel thinking it’s going to read like The Handmaid’s Tale, you’re going to be disappointed. The first reviews I read for this book were all negative for that very reason. But The Farm isn’t a dystopian novel. It’s a nuanced and complex, character-driven story about race, class, family, ethics, and the inequality of the sexes. It’s about our lust to compete and “win,” and our willingness to exploit others if it means we can inch ahead. It’s about how the rich take advantage of the poor—and how everyone takes advantage of poor women.
Without a doubt, The Farm is solidly one of my favorite books of the year. The characters are so well-developed. Even though I didn’t love everything about them, I could easily identify with aspects of each one: Jane’s lostness and her bravery, Reagan’s well-meaning cluelessness, Lisa’s whiny outrage, and, yes, even Mae’s relentless perfectionism. I understood these women. I felt connected to their stories, and I was deeply invested in how things were going to work out for them.
I really appreciated the creativity of the story, itself. It was interesting. And unique. Plus, it ended up in a place I didn’t expect. It felt very “full circle” to me, and I liked that.
In short, wow. Loved this one start to finish. Author Joanne Ramos is definitely on my radar now.