The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Fiction | Speculative Fiction
Published by Random House
Released May 7, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
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.
The synopsis of this novel gave me strong vibes of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it. Speculative and slightly dystopian, I was thrilled when I received an arc of this novel through Random House.
The story is told from multiple perspectives: Jane and Reagan, hosts at Golden Oaks; Ate, Jane’s cousin; and Mae, who runs Golden Oaks.
Golden Oaks has one mission. They…
“…embrace – proudly and unabashedly – its essence: a high-end, one-stop shop for the procreation of the men and women – the movers, the shakers, the leaders, the iconoclasts – who are changing the world!”
The startling thing about this novel is that absolutely nothing about this story is far-fetched. Perhaps that’s because surrogacy farms are a real thing, as this 2016 article from The Guardian discusses:
As a feminist campaigner against sexual abuse of women, and in particular the sex trade, I feel sick at the idea of wombs for rent. Sitting in the clinic, seeing smartly dressed women come in to access fertility services, all I could think about was how desperate a woman must be to carry a child for money. I know from other campaigners against womb trafficking that many surrogates are coerced by abusive husbands and pimps. Watching the smiling receptionist fill out forms on behalf of prospective commissioning parents, I could only wonder at the misery and pain experienced by the women who will end up being viewed as nothing but a vessel.
The Farm‘s view of surrogacy as a business is truly something horrific: forced abortions, rampant lies, loss of freedom, furious policing, and mothers kept from their other children. The surrogate women at Golden Oaks are not treated as people, instead, they’re given numbers and spoken about as commodities with a price attached to them.
One thing The Farm does well is to expose the extremes some people are forced into in order to try to better their circumstances, especially the most poverty-stricken people among us. Going to “the Farm” to have a stranger’s baby is incredibly emotionally draining for the women involved, but they don’t have many other options for getting paid this well.
Another thing I want to bring up about this book is that it says a lot about the way Western culture is starting to outsource everything, even things that in the past were seen as sacred or important. We’ve reached a point technologically and socially that people don’t bat an eye at outsourcing everything from laundry to planning date nights. I’m not saying that outsourcing is always bad – in a lot of cases, it can be a good thing and help busy people enjoy more of their time. However, there are a lot of cases where we’re starting to take things a bit too far.
When it comes to the writing, I’ll admit that I did have some difficulty connecting to the characters at first, but that easily dissipated by the time I was halfway through the novel. Especially when it comes to Jane, and her growing horror that her daughter might be sick and Golden Oaks not allowing her to be at her daughter’s side because her “client” doesn’t approve. I felt so strongly for Jane’s strength and hardships throughout the story.
The ending of the book left a lot to be desired and is the reason The Farm received four rather than five stars. As usual, to keep this review spoiler-free, I won’t go into details, but I felt that the book wrapped up too conveniently. Whereas the rest of the novel was starkly realistic, the ending was not. Mae, the antagonist for the entire novel suddenly becomes a good guy? I’m not buying it. Essentially, I loved everything before the epilogue.
It’s hard to believe this is Joanne Ramos’ debut novel. I’m eagerly looking forward to anything she publishes in the future!