Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.
Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.
When struggling single mother Jane Reyes is selected to become a Host at Golden Oaks Farm, she’s ecstatic.
For the next nine months, she’ll be living in a luxury retreat for the one percent—or, well, for the women carrying the children of the one percent—where the staff will trip over themselves catering to her every need. Or at least that of the baby she is carrying.
Leaving her six-month-old daughter in the hands of her older cousin Evelyn, referred to as Ate (“older sister” in Filipino), Jane goes to Golden Oaks, where she meets a variety of people: her new roommate Reagan; Mae Yu, Golden Oaks’ sophisticated managing director; and a number of other Hosts, most immigrants, many of them nonwhite, all of them ready please their faceless clients.
But the more Jane learns about The Farm, the less she sees her family—and the more she wonders if the tradeoff is worth it.
An eye-opening look at the diaspora
The Farm begins when Jane picks Ate up from the hospital. Weak from a heart condition, Ate asks Jane to fill in for her at her lucrative baby nurse job in Manhattan—and Jane’s agreement starts a series of events that leads her to Golden Oaks.
Even before we get into the meat of the novel, Ramos provides a nuanced, insightful look into the living conditions of immigrants, and the many ways that class and race intersect to create unequal power dynamics between workers and their employers.
But things really get going when we arrive at Golden Oaks, a complex ecosystem designed to help healthy young women produce optimal babies for wealthy families—at the cost of privacy, freedom, and even their humanity.
No enemy but the system
Though The Farm‘s world of Hosts, Coordinators, and mysterious clients is undeniably dystopian, reminiscent of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, it also feels solidly set in the present.
Each of Ramos’ protagonists is a flawed, complex woman with her own motivations: Jane, a shy immigrant who recently left a failed marriage; ambitious Mae, who is sympathetic towards her favorite Hosts, but not enough to jeopardize her career; Reagan, a pretty, white Duke graduate searching for a meaningful path in life; and whip-smart Lisa, who enjoys top-tier status at Golden Oaks but wants to escape its twisted web anyway.
But beyond these women and their relationships, what fascinated me were the power dynamics at play, even in decisions that they believed were their own. Ramos also perfectly portrayed the insidiousness of capitalism and the unjustness and dehumanization it perpetuates, making the story more real—and all the more horrifying.
Worth a read and definitely worth discussing
It took me a few chapters to fall in love with The Farm, but the more I read, the more I enjoyed its unnerving, present-day dystopia. Ramos also tackled race, class, reproductive rights, and social injustice with wit, humor, and compassion, with each new perspective providing not just new information, but also true emotional depth. An outstanding debut novel, but don’t read it alone like I did—read it with a friend and get ready to think, feel, and talk. ♦
A nuanced, compelling look at race, class, and the illusion of choice, The Farm is unforgettable.
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Thank you to Fully Booked and Penguin Random House for the ARC! This review was originally posted on Fully Booked Online in May 2019. It was edited for brevity and clarity in August 2022. Check out Fully Booked on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.