Reviewed by Katya Rara
When struggling single mother Jane Reyes is selected to become a Host at Golden Oaks Farm, she’s ecstatic. For the next nine months, she’ll be living in a luxury retreat for the one percent—er, for the women carrying the children of the one percent—where the staff will trip over themselves catering to her every need. Or at least that of the baby she is carrying.
Leaving her six-month-old daughter in the hands of her older cousin Evelyn—known as Ate—Jane goes to Golden Oaks, where she meets her new roommate Reagan; Mae Yu, Golden Oaks’ sophisticated managing director; and a number of other Hosts, most immigrants, many of them nonwhite, all of them ready please their faceless clients. But the more Jane learns about The Farm, and the less she sees her family, the more she wonders if the tradeoff is worth it.
An eye-opening look at the diaspora
The Farm begins when Jane picks Ate up from the hospital. Weak from a heart condition, Ate asks Jane to fill in for her at her lucrative baby nurse job in Manhattan—and Jane’s agreement starts a series of events that leads her to Golden Oaks.
Even before we get into the meat of the novel, Ramos provides a nuanced, insightful look into the living conditions of immigrants, as well as the many ways that class and race intersect to create unequal power dynamics between workers and their employers.
No enemy but the system
But things really get going when we arrive at Golden Oaks, a complex ecosystem designed to help healthy young women produce optimal babies for wealthy families—at the cost of privacy, freedom, and even their humanity.
Though The Farm is set solidly in the present, its world of Hosts, Coordinators, and mysterious clients, a la Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, was undeniably dystopian. But The Farm isn’t a story about breaking the system; it’s about getting out of it… if you can.
Freedom—but at what cost?
I loved all of Ramos’ protagonists, each a flawed, complex woman with her own motivations: Jane, a shy immigrant who recently left a failed marriage; assertive, ambitious Mae, who is sympathetic towards her favorite Hosts, but not enough to jeopardize her career; Reagan, a pretty, white Duke graduate searching for a meaningful path in life; and whip-smart Lisa, who enjoys top-tier status at what she calls The Farm, but wants to escape its twisted web anyway.
But beyond these women and their relationships, what fascinated me were the power dynamics at play, even in the decisions that they believed were their own. Ramos also perfectly portrayed the insidiousness of capitalism and the unjustness and dehumanization it perpetuates, making the story more real—and all the more horrifying.
Worth a read and definitely worth discussing
It took me a few chapters to fall in love with The Farm, but the more I read, the more I enjoyed its unnerving, present-day dystopia; the way Ramos tackled race, class, reproductive rights, and social injustice with wit, humor, and compassion; and how each new perspective provided not just new information, but also true emotional depth.
The Farm is an outstanding debut novel, my favorite First Look Club pick so far, and I can already tell it’s one of the best books I’ll read this 2019. But don’t read it alone like I did—read it with a friend!—and get ready to think, feel, and talk.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get a copy here.
Katya has had a torrid romance with fiction for over two decades, and sneaks out in the middle of the day for clandestine rendezvous in cafés. She works in advertising and has four poodles. You can find her on Instagram @katerinarara.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]