The Farmby Joanne Ramos Published 07 May 2019
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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 Farm" Reviews
Or will she admit, as she has rarely conceded, that life is sometimes more complicated than easy judgements? That maybe, sometimes, you do the most good when it seems like you’re doing nothing much at all.
Some time ago, I read a starred review for The Farm, requested an arc, got approved, and then promptly forgot everything about the book that had made me want to read it in the first place. And let me tell you: I think this is the best possible thing that could have happened.
Words like "dystopia" are being thrown around in reviews of the The Farm, as are comparisons to The Handmaid's Tale, but this is misleading. This book should not be regarded as a dystopia; it is a mere breath away from reality. It is almost entirely a contemporary. Most, if not all, of what happens in this book is already happening. If I had gone into this believing I was getting a dystopian novel, I would have been disappointed.
Instead, The Farm is better viewed as a character-driven exploration of race, immigrants, class, and reproductive rights in modern America. As technology develops, we see the disappearance of blue collar jobs, long-filled by immigrants and the poorest Americans. Out of this will grow - and are growing - service-based jobs. One such job that is increasingly becoming an option for former blue collar workers is surrogacy. This is not a dystopian matter. Companies like Growing Generations already exist, offering you the chance to earn up to $63,000, plus benefits.
This book is about a company called Golden Oaks, similar to Growing Generations above, except that it offers a live-in center for the surrogates to be free from outside threats and distractions, eat only the most nutritious food, and live stress-free.
Ramos uses this setting to examine several very different characters. There's Jane, a Filipina who joins Golden Oaks to earn money for her own 6-month-old baby, and her older cousin, Evelyn, who has a long history of caring for rich people's newborns. There's white, pretty and educated Reagan, a "premium host" who is driven by her need to do good and be of use. There's Lisa, also white, who is on her third pregnancy at Golden Oaks and frequently criticizes the center for its exploitation, calling it "The Farm".
Reagan laughs, surprising herself. It isn’t funny, but it is. It’s all completely ridiculous: three pregnant women carrying other people’s babies talking about second-trimester sex pangs and trying to guess which one of them harbours a billionaire’s fetus.
Through these women, the author weaves a tale that I personally found fascinating. She looks at the way people can be exploited and manipulated based on their character profiles. She looks at racial and class bias and the ludicrous way rich Americans will pay so much more for a white, educated "host" when the kid is 100% theirs anyway. It's ridiculous, and yet I absolutely believed in it.
There are, of course, lots of morality questions. So much deceit goes on under the guise of protecting the surrogates from stress, and the hosts' contracts create many issues. Mae-Yu, the Chinese-American running Golden Oaks, finds loophole after loophole to lie to both clients and surrogates. Questions arise as to whether the center should be allowed to force an abortion, and whose life takes precedence - surrogate or baby's - when the host has signed a contract promising to use their best efforts to ensure the wellbeing of the unborn child.
Ramos really understands all her characters. Her writing never falters as she takes us inside such very different minds and makes each one completely believable. She must have put a lot of thought into all of their situations and motivations. And there are a number of very moving moments, too. I really enjoyed it.
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“The Farm”... called “Golden Oaks”, is a surrogacy Farm. Women are impregnated with sperm to host a child. Most of the ‘host women’ are black Caribbean immigrant women. They need jobs - the money is good. The clients are wealthy and white.
It’s an intriguing story - but the writing often felt motionless and toneless. I kept wanting to add some Technicolor.
Jane, ( who left her own baby behind), Lisa, ( feisty rebel of the bunch), and Reagan are all hosts on the farm. Each went through intensive vetting before they were selected. Other main characters are Ate, ( too old to be a host mother- but had been a master Nanny Queen in her prime), and Mae. (Ms. Wealthy-bossy of ‘Golden Oaks)...
For nine months the host women are medically monitored. At the end of nine months - the infant gets handed over to the client whose embryo they carry.
The host women are offered many spa benefits - but also potential penalties.
Topic Themes explored are race, class, inequality, wealth, poverty, immigration, motherhood, trust, friendships, personal freedom, rules, sacrifice, self expression, exploitation, manipulation, childcare, big business, greed, fear and isolation, radical politics, and morality, with an all women dominated cast of characters.
The main female leads and the supporting females all have something to say. At times - there was not much difference between any of them, other than we knew who the HAVES and HAVE NOTS were.
I wanted to like this more than I did. The ending is weak and the epilogue just felt long and senseless.
At the same time - I honesty felt this book had potential.
‘The Farm’, itself.....had me thinking ( not particularly with all the stereotyping and the far-fetched scenarios)....but I do think it’s possible there are surrogacy home - retreats or otherwise. With integrity, these places could be a supportive environment for those serious about surrogacy.
Thank you Random House Publishing, Netgalley, and Joanne Ramos
The Farm has a phenomenal premise with well-executed imagery. The grounds of the "farm" and described so that you feel you're there yourself and the characters are all lifelike and realistic. BUT, I didn't like this book as much as I'd hoped I would when I eagerly picked it up. The situations Jane finds herself in the farm lacked the emotion and drama that I'd hoped for. While she was so upset at how confining the farm was, I honestly felt like a lot of the situations weren't that big of a deal and were completely fair under the terms she'd offered to work for the farm. And while I know that Ramos wanted to be true to the soft-spoken, Filipino woman she wanted to portray, I found Jane too meek and boring to really root for her.
I absolutely loved this book! The Farm, is the story of a young woman who will do anything to provide for her baby girl. She ends up at Golden Oaks, which is a 'farm' for wealthy people to have babies through surrogates.
I thought this book was beautifully written, and very thought provoking. Although, the subject was an uncomfortable one, I don't think the writer executed it in a way that will make you cringe.
I think it's a very accomplished, impressive debut and can't wait to see the writer's future works.
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Review of The Farm and Q & A with Joanne Ramos
What could be better than living on sprawling beautiful property in the country, healthy food being served to you, fresh air and exercise, massages and pampering, and a generous, life changing paycheck, while all your needs are being met? The catch…you must stay on the premises and be separated from your family and friends for nine months while you are pregnant with a baby that doesn’t belong to you.
In this stunning debut novel, The Farm, female-centric and slightly dystopian (will be appealing to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale), author Joanne Ramos creates Golden Oaks, a secluded, country club atmosphere in Hudson Valley, NY where mostly foreign women are bearing children for elite clients who are not able to get pregnant or who choose not to.
Jane, a young, single Filipina mom with an infant, no husband and no secure place to live, decides to leave her own baby with her cousin, Ate, and take a job at Golden Oaks, where she will make enough money to better her life. She is chosen to be a Host, living in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where her only job is to rest and keep the baby inside her healthy. Nine months is a long time to be separated from your family and as time goes on, Jane starts to question the value of that big paycheck versus her sacrifices associated with being away. She is worried about her young daughter and her cousin, and is unsure the money alone is an adequate tradeoff for the painful separation and the missing of milestones.
Joanne Ramos takes a look at class status; what poor women will give up to ultimately improve their lives, and what wealthy women give up to avoid inconvenience. How much is worth sacrificing for the American Dream? This is a thought provoking, emotionally charged novel I highly recommend! PREORDER TODAY– available May 7, 2019.
The Farm is part of the Bedside Reading program where books are placed on the nightstand at 5 star, luxury and boutique hotels.
Q & A With Joanne Ramos
Q: How did you come up with the idea for a novel centered on a surrogacy farm and do you know anyone that ever worked at one?
A. When I finally dared to commit to writing a book, a childhood dream I’d deferred for decades, I was already forty. Certain ideas had obsessed me for much of my life but finding a way into them—finding the right story to contain them and, also, allow them room to breathe—was difficult. I spent well over a year writing short stories, flash-fiction pieces and “first chapters” of stillborn novels. It was an exercise in persistence and, also, faith. Then one day, when reading my husband’s Wall Street Journal, I happened upon a snippet of an article about a surrogacy facility in India. The what ifs began swirling in my mind almost immediately, and The Farm began to take shape.
Q: In this country do you see Filipina women experiencing economic and social challenges and in general struggling more than white women? And if so, in what way?
A. I don’t think you can really generalize in this way. I know Filipinas who struggle and those who lead cushy lives, and the same goes for white women. I think new immigrants to this country—and they come in all races and colors—do face challenges that ensconced Americans do not. I think domestic workers occupy a strange netherworld where they work in the intimacy of someone’s home and are often hailed as “part of the family”—but of course, they aren’t. That’s a difficult line to balance every day, and by and large, domestic workers don’t enjoy the protections that other workers in this country do. And of course, racism exists—here and everywhere.
Q: In The Farm we see women of different social classes and even in the same class using each other to get ahead. With the #MeToo movement, it generally seems as if most women are outwardly supporting all women across dividing lines. Do you think the situation in your novel is closer to reality? Do you believe women stand by their children first, then other women second?
A. Women, like men, have conflicting needs, desires and loyalties which they try their best to balance. Sometimes they need to compromise; some compromises are betrayals, depending on which side you sit on. Even within the #MeToo movement you see divisions—women who feel #MeToo has gone too far, women who feel it has not gone far enough, women who can relate and women who can’t, women who are changing their minds because of it.
Q: The influence men have on the women in The Farm seems nonexistent. Why did you decide not to include men in the storyline?
A. I didn’t exclude men from The Farm consciously. The book started with Jane and Ate. Their voices came first. All the caregivers I happen to know well are women, and almost all of them are raising their children on their own—the fathers are absent. So, in this way, Jane and Ate’s stories reflect the reality I know. Of course, the Hosts are women, and it made sense to me that the person running Golden Oaks would be a woman. The decision was not one made “on-high”, but an organic development.
Q: Female inequality is a subject that is underlying throughout your novel. But the women considered to be the lowest on the totem pole also have the greatest power, the ability to bear a child. You could have gone a different way in the novel, giving the pregnant women the upper hand. Why choose to create a world that diminishes the unique and valuable aspect of womanhood?
A. I don’t think that motherhood or pregnancy is diminished in The Farm at all! In fact, they are central to the book. The reality is, though, that the power dynamics of the world are not built around motherhood and pregnancy. In fact, for most of history, and in many parts of the world still, the opposite is true.
Q: How long did it take you to write this novel?
A. If you count the year and a half when I wrote in the dark, trying unsuccessfully to find a way “into” the themes that mattered to me, it took around five years. Once I came upon the idea of setting the action in a luxury surrogacy facility, the book took three and a half years to write and edit.
Q: What are you working on now?
A. I have some seedlings of ideas for a second book, but nothing coherent enough to discuss.
Q: What are the last three great books you read and what is on your night stand now?
The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
Essential Essays, Adrienne Rich
Hold Still, Sally Mann
On my nightstand: Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss; Citizen: an American Lyric, Claudia Rankine; The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli; Saltwater, Jessica Andrews
More information about surrogacy below.
Celebrities who have used surrogacy to grow their family
Surrogacy Farms in India
Surrogacy Farms in Ukraine
As an avid reader, I can certainly recognize why this book is receiving the hype that it has been getting. The focus on women's bodies, their role as mothers and the business side of pregnancy have been and continue to be very relevant issues. In fact, it makes The Farm a really great candidate for your next bookclub night. I just don't find myself on that hype train.
A story narrated by several different female characters and I wasn't able to connect with them. Actually, that isn't REALLY true, I actually did find Mae's storyline fascinating and she was such a strongly written character. I felt that I could question her ethics and role in this whole baby making business a heck of a lot more than other characters. It was Jane and Regan- the two characters I believe I was supposed to have a lot of empathy for - I just didn't!
Given the fact that I found myself continuing to shift this book down on my reading priority list, but did enjoy some elements in the story, it was a 3 rating for me.
Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date 07/05/19
Goodreads Review 11/05/19