Document Type

Book Review

Publication Title

Harvard Law Review



Publication Date



Law-and-literature, family law, technology, privacy, Fourth Amendment, family policing, race


Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers — a speculative novel about a mother who abandons her child for a few hours and is required to attend a school for good mothers to regain custody — may not be a great book, but it is a good yarn, and a page turner, and thought-provoking. Thought-provoking, because to measure her fitness to be a mother, the protagonist is assigned a robot doppelganger of her child — one that is sentient, one that seems almost real, one that might even pass the Turing test, and one that she is required not only to care for but also love. At the same time, the robot child is programmed to collect and record data from its assigned “mother,” including her heart rate, “her temperature and posture, how often she makes eye contact, and the quality and authenticity of her emotions.”

This review pairs The School for Good Mothers with Dorothy Roberts’s decidedly non-fiction book Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World. As the title suggests, Torn Apart paints a sobering portrait of what Roberts calls the “family-policing system,” especially when it comes to Black families. Are their advantages to putting these two books — a work of fiction, and a work of non-fiction — in conversation with each other? Definitely. Especially since in this conversation, they each have much to say about technology and privacy, about policing, about race, and a lot more. Pairing the books also shows where each book could have gone further, and to questions left unanswered.


THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS. By Jessamine Chan. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster. 2022. Pp. 324. $17.99. TORN APART: HOW THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM DESTROYS BLACK FAMILIES — AND HOW ABOLITION CAN BUILD A SAFER WORLD. By Dorothy Roberts. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books. 2022. Pp. vii, 375. $18.99.