Hutchinson wins five-way auction for Jessamine Chan's 'chilling' début in six-figure deal

Hutchinson wins five-way auction for Jessamine Chan's 'chilling' début in six-figure deal

Hutchinson has triumphed in a "fiercely-fought" five-way auction for a dystopian début novel by ex-Publishers Weekly reviews editor Jessamine Chan, securing it in a major six-figure deal.

Publishing director Jocasta Hamilton acquired The School for Good Mothers from Meredith Kaffel Simonoff at DeFiore and Co. Hutchinson will publish in hardback, e-book and audiobook in summer 2021. North American rights went to Dawn Davis, vice-oresident and publisher of Simon & Schuster US imprint 37 Ink, following a 12-way auction, also negotiated by Kaffel Simonoff.

Chan’s novel follows a woman who is deemed an unfit mother and so must endure a year-long stay in reform school, caring for a robot child to prove her competence. The synopsis reads: "Frida Liu is an anxiety-prone, Chinese-American single mother living in Philadelphia. When she is reported for leaving her young daughter home alone, the state’s increasingly empowered Child Protective Services judge Frida temporarily unfit and sentence her to 12 months at an isolated government-run reform school. Frida’s only hope of getting her daughter back is to pass the exams designed to show that she has learned to become a good parent. Her re-education will be aided by an eerily lifelike robot child, programmed to measure and record the depths of her devotion. Having these robots will be so much like having their own children back, the school promises, the mothers will love them — to graduate successfully, they will have to."

Hamilton said: "High-concept yet emotionally astute, dystopian but absolutely of the moment, this is a novel about how we’re judged and how we judge ourselves, about how you maintain a sense of self in a system that values conformity, what makes a good mother and the lengths you’ll go to prove you’re one. It’s an utterly compulsive, chilling and thought-provoking read."

Chan, based in Philadelphia, said the book originated from her dilemma over whether to become a mother herself. She said: "I began writing The School for Good Mothers when I was contemplating whether to have a baby. Around that time, articles I'd read about ‘bad’ mothers whose children had been removed by Child Protective Services, had planted a kernel of rage in my mind. This sense of injustice about who gets judged, by whom and on what authority, combined with my deep anxiety about motherhood to form the original foundation of the book.

"In the world I constructed, I wanted to use speculative elements to heighten the stakes, so that my version of this nightmare would resound for readers as loudly as it does for parents living through this trauma in real life. Shortly after completing the first draft, I became pregnant with my daughter, and my actual experience of motherhood then informed subsequent revisions."

She revealed her heritage also influenced the novel. Additionally, as the proud daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, my understanding of the American family has always been coloured by being caught between two cultures. Even before I became entrenched in it, I found contemporary upper middle-class American parenting culture to be both hilarious and terrifying... I hope that, in addition to being entertained and moved, readers will finish the novel with questions: about the right of governments to take children from their parents, about the incredible pressure we as a society, and we as women, place on mothers, and about judgment and redemption."