Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers
Jessamine Chan is the author of 'The School for Good Mothers'
| Credit: Beowulf Sheehan; Simon and Schuster

Jessamine Chan is having a hell of a debut. Her first novel, The School for Good Mothers (out now), appeared on pretty much every most-anticipated list in the business, she's Jenna Bush Hager's latest pick for the Today book club, and on top of all that, critics and early readers are raving about her propulsive tale about a government-run reform school for mothers. Here, to celebrate the publication of the book, Chan explains where she got her writerly start.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

JESSAMINE CHAN: I've been keeping a diary since I was about 6 years old and technically my diary was more drawing than writing at the beginning. That first year, each day's entry was a drawing of whatever gown Vanna White was wearing on Wheel of Fortune (I watched a tremendous amount of television). If I'd been old enough to write captions, I would have. 

What is the last book that made you cry?

I must sheepishly admit that I don't think I've ever cried while reading, but this is due to being on antidepressants, rather than lacking empathy. I have many crying-adjacent feelings, though, and was regularly on the verge of tears while reading We Measure the Earth With Our Bodies, by Tsering Lama, which comes out in May. 


Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?

I'm currently reading the brilliant and devastating memoir Easy Beauty, by Chloé Cooper Jones, which comes out in April. As soon as I'm done, I'll read This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown, by Taylor Harris. 

Where do you write?

At my Ikea desk, facing a window, with many plants nearby. I used to work out of our bedroom in West Philly, but now in our new apartment in suburban Chicago, I have my own office. Having a room of one's own is lovely indeed.

Which book made you a forever reader?

James and the Giant Peach. I want to tell you what this reading experience was like, but I read it in first grade and I mostly remember my teacher making a very big deal out of the fact that I was reading it alone and therefore was allowed more time to complete my book report. It instilled in my mind that books are important and reading is an important life activity.  

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

Dry-roasted, salted almonds. Ginger tea. 

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?

Well, there's only been one book so far. I'm sure after more time has passed, I'll have a different answer, but for now, I wish I could have written another four pages of acknowledgments. Publishing my first book at 43 means there's so many people to thank.

What is your favorite part of The School for Good Mothers?

My favorite parts are all spoilers, so I'll just say I'm really proud of the leap in the story when Frida leaves her home life and enters the school. Hundreds of pages were discarded in favor of making that leap in time and hoping readers would go with me. 

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

I don't think I realized this as I was writing the first draft, but I created a huge cast, and making sure all the mothers at the school were distinctive, well-rounded characters was quite challenging.  

Write a movie poster tagline for the book:

"Be good." 

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