I have to jump right into this book because I have a lot of thoughts and they’re all jumbled together. BEWARE: trigger warnings here for sexual abuse. It was never discussed, graphic or detailed, we just knew it was happening. But don’t NOT read this book because of it. I’ll explain below.
Gather The Daughters is a dystopian fiction novel that, I found, somehow separated itself from the other dystopian novels that are crowding our shelves.
Years ago, a group of men, referred to as “the wanderers” left “the wastelands” and took their families to an isolated island to start over (cult, anyone?) They made laws, or “shalt-nots” that everyone must abide by–basically a lengthier 10 commandments–and if you do these without questioning, you’ll have a much easier life. The men work a trade and teach it to their sons, while the mothers keep house and have children. Couples are only allowed to have 2 babies but if a child dies, you’re allowed to have another to replace it. After parents raise their children and they are married, the parents no longer considered useless so they are encouraged to drink the “final draft”…AKA boom, you’re dead. They’re then buried in the fields and used for fertilizer. WTF man. Ew. Human-flavored carrots, anyone?
Sorry..I couldn’t resist. I mean, when else could I use this bitmoji? (The answer is never.)
Now to the dark stuff. Young girls are kept at home and go to school until they reach their Summer of Fruition. (All this sounds crazy because it is. Just stick with me here.) Basically, girls live with their parents until the summer after they reach puberty. Up to this point, the daughters “comfort” their Fathers at night (yes, this means exactly what you think it means). Once the girl reaches puberty, Father isn’t allowed to touch her anymore because, you know, incest babies. AND ALL THIS IS NORMAL TO THEM. During the Summer of Fruition, the newly pubescent girls (usually around 13-14) and the boys (older, around 20) live together in a giant orgy where they all sleep with each other. At the end of the summer, they pair off and get married. The women are then supposed to start popping out babies like it’s their job..because, well, it is. Mothers pray that they have baby boys because they don’t want a daughter to grow up the way they did. Seriously, you’re supposed to cry when a baby girl is born and celebrate when its a baby boy. So many ways we could unpack THAT but not why we’re here today.
“Endure. I have done it and so can you.”
The book is given from 4 different perspectives. In the beginning, I struggled a bit to keep up with who is who, but you catch on quickly. These young women are all at different places in their lives and from different familial backgrounds. It was interesting to see how life can differ for daughters on the island. One daughter in particular is Janey, a 17 year old who is starving her body to fight off puberty. She is vehemently against becoming an “adult” and all that goes with it. Janey is determined to find out the truth behind their island and all the secrets that go with it. Will she succeed?
“I wanted to change everything.”
I know all this sounds so wonky and weird, and you’re probably thinking, why in the world would I read a book about incest and cult and female abuse but I SWEAR there’s more to it than that. Jeannie Melamed describes the island so perfectly, I felt transported to these sadistic grounds. The moods of the characters were emanating off of the pages and I absorbed and felt so many of these emotions while reading. There are definitely times where I felt uncomfortable and thought to myself, “OK I can’t keep reading this, no one is going to listen to me or understand what I’m trying to say here.” BUT it is just so beautifully written and powerful and the underlying themes of women empowerment are so strong. I gave this book 5 stars immediately after reading because I flew through the pages and was so captivated by Melamed’s writing BUT the ending wasn’t exactly what I had in mind..and I’ll leave it at that. I still loved this book. For her debut novel, I was completely blown away by the eloquence and imagination she presents and I felt incredibly connected to her characters. I really hope everyone reads this book because it was definitely one of my top 2017! Get your copy here!
Melamed discusses her ideas behind the book here.
Happy Reading! ❤️