Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

January 16, 2022
All-Too-Real Novel Imagines America Retraining Bad Mothers, and Determined Investigation Sheds New Light on Anne Frank
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. The buzz is already building for this chilling debut novel, a near-future imagining of an America in which one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance as she is "retrained" to be a suitable parent.

Protagonist Frida Liu, a 39-year-old Chinese-American single mother in Philadelphia, loses custody of her 18-month-old daughter Harriet after she leaves the toddler home alone for two hours. To regain custody, Frida must spend a year at a newly-created institution designed to rehabilitate bad mothers. There she is given a lifelike toddler doll - equipped with artificial intelligence to boot - and the assignment to improve her parenting skills and hone her maternal instincts enough to convince a judge that she deserves a second chance with her Harriet.

Sound creepy? You bet. Worse yet, the idea of the government monitoring and controlling the behavior of mothers through technology seems a bit too close to reality for comfort, especially given the current climate regarding women's right to choose. This review from Vogue underscores that point: “The School for Good Mothers picks up the mantle of writers like Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro, with their skin-crawling themes of surveillance, control, and technology; but it also stands on its own as a remarkable, propulsive novel. At a moment when state control over women’s bodies (and autonomy) feels ever more chilling, the book feels horrifyingly unbelievable and eerily prescient all at once.”
The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan. This intriguing new book will undoubtedly make headlines, given the nature of its subject and conclusions. Using new technology, recently discovered documents, and sophisticated investigative techniques, an international team — led by an obsessed retired FBI agent — says they have finally solved the mystery that has haunted generations since World War II: Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family? And why?

Thanks to The Diary of a Young Girl, the story of Anne Frank is well-known to millions — a journal-writing teenager living in an attic with her family and four other people in Amsterdam during World War II, until the Nazis arrested them and sent them to a concentration camp. Yet despite the many works devoted to Anne’s story, none has ever conclusively explained how these eight people managed to live in hiding undetected for over two years — and who or what finally brought the Nazis to their door.

But in 2017, retired FBI agent Vincent Pankoke and a group of expert investigators took on one of the world's best known cold cases, bringing modern forensic science and criminology to bear. They pored over tens of thousands of pages of documents — some never before seen — and interviewed scores of descendants of people familiar with the Franks. This book is the story of their mission, and author Sullivan introduces readers to the investigators, explains the behavior of both the captives and their captors, and profiles a group of suspects. All the while, she vividly brings to life wartime Amsterdam: a place where no matter how wealthy, educated, or careful you were, you never knew whom you could trust.