Book Review: The Farm by Joanne Ramos

May 6, 2020 at 5:22 pm


            The Farm by Joanne Ramos is an engaging, suspenseful, and thought-provoking new read. The novel is set-in present-day New York, and centers around a group of diverse and fascinating characters. Jane, a Filipina immigrant living in Queens, is a health aide at a senior center. She lives in a dormitory with her baby daughter Amalia and twelve other Filipina women. Her older cousin Evelyn, whom she calls Ate (big sister in Tagalog,) is a great source of help and support for her. Evelyn is a well sought out baby nurse to the wealthy elite of New York City. When she falls ill, she asks Jane to replace her as a baby nurse for one of her favorite families, the Carters. The Carters are a rich, white family living in Manhattan. At first Jane enjoys the work, but being away from Amalia proves difficult, and ultimately results in her being fired.

            While we meet Jane and Evelyn, we are also introduced to Mae Yu. Mae is an ambitious and successful businesswoman always on the search for her next big venture. Her most lucrative project so far is Golden Oaks- a luxury retreat for pregnant women. The kicker? These pregnant women are actually surrogating for millionaires and billionaires who cannot (or do not want to) carry their own children. They use Golden Oaks to hire and take care of their surrogates. Mae is constantly on the hunt for the perfect surrogates, whom she refers to as hosts. Her clients are some of the wealthiest and most powerful people on earth, and they’d do anything to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

            When Jane is fired from the Carters’, Evelyn suggests Golden Oaks. She has already given birth once, so she knows she is capable; she will make enough money surrogating to support Amalia and herself for the rest of their lives, and she desperately needs the work. Jane is hesitant at first- Golden Oaks would take her away from her child for almost a year. However, after much thought and deliberation, she decides to leave her daughter in Evelyn’s care for nine months and begins the application process. There are countless tests, both physical and mental, along with an interview with Mae Yu herself. Ultimately Jane is accepted and moves out to Golden Oaks as a pregnant woman.

            Around the time that Jane begins her experience with Golden Oaks, we meet Reagan, who does so as well. Reagan is a white woman living in Brooklyn who is trying to make ends meet without taking money from her father or giving up on her artistic goals. She is a photographer who has spent years ignoring her father’s advice to go to business school or do something “more practical.” She believes that her carrying a baby for another family is a truly selfless act, and while she does need the money, she tells herself she is only doing it to help someone in need.

            Jane and Reagan are assigned as each other’s roommates. Reagan is eager to make friends with Jane but finds it difficult. Jane is reserved, quiet, and nervous. She finds it hard to even connect with or befriend the other Filipina women at Golden Oaks. She is described as “stand-offish” because she is too nervous to try to make friends. It isn’t until Lisa, Reagan’s friend and a third time host at Golden Oaks, gets Jane to open up that she finally sees Reagan as a friend.

            Golden Oaks utilizes only the best of the best for their hosts. All the food is organic, all the fitness trainers are world-renowned, and all the rooms are impeccable. However, the resort does also have its disadvantages. Outside contact is not allowed, internet activity is monitored heavily, and cell phones are banned from the moment you enter. For Jane, this makes life impossibly difficult. She can only use the facility computers to video chat with Evelyn and Amalia, and feels she is missing out on her daughter growing up. While the amenities are glamorous and Jane is treated better than she ever has been before, she wonders if it is worth being away from Amalia for so long.

            Pregnancy is a difficult experience for many, especially the toll it can take on a person’s mental health and emotional well-being. Many of the hosts at Golden Oaks are constantly frustrated. They cannot speak to their family members, eat refined sugars or junk food, or be sexually satisfied. Nine months is a long time to be kept away from any of these things, and it slowly begins to take a toll on Jane and the others.

            Although Jane has not been too comfortable at Golden Oaks since the start, a series of events sets off her complete breakdown. During a video call with Evelyn, Jane is horrified to see a large bump on her daughter’s head, and to learn of her recent illness and multiple injuries. Evelyn tries to assure her that Amalia is okay, but Jane is not convinced. For the next few weeks, Evelyn avoids Jane’s calls, only sending her a video of Amalia each day. Jane is distraught. She is adamant that something must be wrong, and she cannot help her daughter while being stuck in Golden Oaks.

            Reagan is constantly worried as well. She and Jane have become very close, and it hurts her to see her friend so troubled. She and Lisa concoct a plan to get Jane back to New York City to see her daughter and find out if she is okay. The night their plan is set into motion, everything goes wrong. The girls severely underestimate Mae Yu and the power she has over their bodies and decisions. This leads to trouble that impacts Jane and Reagan for the rest of their stay at Golden Oaks.   

            The Farm is an emotional roller coaster. The story is so relevant to current events, with women having no autonomy over their own bodies, lives, and futures. Jane is an immigrant who is just trying to support her daughter after her partner left them both. Her struggles are relatable to many immigrants of color just trying to make it, especially in New York City. On the other hand, Mae Yu is a woman of color who has used her career to control the lives of marginalized women. The chapters from her point of view are at times the most disturbing to read. We get to know the truly disconcerting thoughts behind a project that isolates and regulates pregnant women. Mae is also openly racist during her search for potential hosts, claiming that her clients prefer white or Asian hosts over Black ones. This is why she believes Reagan and Jane are such great catches.

            This novel is one of the best I’ve read in a while. As mentioned earlier, the story is very relevant to news today. However, there are also some elements of a dystopian future. The way each woman at Golden Oaks is constantly monitored, sometimes recorded, and always controlled is telling of which direction our country is headed in. Ramos did an incredible job making her characters relatable while also making the reader fear a future in which women are controlled the way they are. While reading it, I was shocked, scared, upset, and awed. It is rare to feel all those emotions while reading a single book. I’d recommend The Farm to anyone interested in women-centric novels and dystopia.