Gather the Daughters is the story of a group of people living on an isolated island. The story goes that just before the country went up in flames, a small group of men and women brought their families to the island, thus escaping the fate of what would later come to be known as “the wastelands.” The founders formed an entire civilization based around ancestor worship, adhering to the rules set forth by the original inhabitants of the island, such as: limiting the number of children each family is allowed to have, and the declaration that a person may live only so long as they are useful. Knowledge about the wastelands is practically non-existent, and only an elite group of men known as “the Wanderers” are allowed to go there in order to scavenge for supplies.
The island is a particularly restrictive place for girls. They are simply future wives who will marry and have children. But they are allowed a brief respite from a suffocating life bound by rules (called the “shalt-nots”) when summer arrives. They run wild outdoors, doing whatever they want, every summer… until they reach puberty and their “Summer of Fruition”, which marks their final summer of freedom. When it ends, they will marry and have children of their own.
During the summer, one girl sees something horrific—something that should never have happened on the island—and tells the other girls about it. This sparks a rebellion led by Janey Solomon, who is determined the uncover the secrets of the island and the wastelands. But on a secluded island bound by generations of traditions and practices that are disturbing (to say the least), will it even matter? And what price will these rebellious girls be forced to pay, in the end?
It’s been over a month since I read this novel and I’ve been struggling with how to review it because I’m conflicted on how I feel about it. So I’m going to do something a little different from my usual review, and focus on the good, the bad, and the ugly. (I’m pretty sure one I saw this approach by one (or more?) of the bloggers I follow, but I’m not sure who it was. Whoever you/they are… thank you for the idea!)
Simply put, Melamed’s writing is fantastic. Had I been unaware this was her debut novel, I would have assumed she already had a few titles under her belt (or rather, on the shelf). The island society she created is vivid, dark, and disturbing. Every character in the book—major or minor—all have distinct personalities. The different areas of the island and the homes are all described well enough for the reader to easily picture them.
Janey Solomon struck me as a particularly strong character, as well as a tragic one. Each of the four girls whose POVs tell the story are compelling characters, but Janey’s portion of the story, for me, was the most intriguing.
After all the build-up about the mystery of the wastelands, we are left with no solid answers, only suspicions. I assumed from the start there would be some sort of twist concerning this mystery, and while it was often heavily hinted at, it never happened. I was extremely disappointed by this.
Another thing that bothered me is that the story ends on a cliffhanger (in my opinion). If it ended this way because a future sequel is in the works, then it’s a good thing—it works as a finale for this portion of the story, and is a great starting point for the next portion. But if this is meant as a stand-alone book, it’s a very bad thing, indeed, because it hinted at a pay-off that wasn’t there. With this sort of ending for a stand-alone novel, even the most brilliantly written book of all time is going to leave me feeling sour once I reach the end.
I’ve previously described this story as dark and disturbing, and with good reason. One of the accepted practices of the island is father-daughter incest. Looking back, I can see that it’s vaguely hinted at in the blurb (“free of their father’s hands”), but it never occurred to me that that’s what it meant. It’s never graphically described, but still…
I mostly enjoyed reading this book, but I wasn’t a fan of the lack of resolution regarding the mystery of the island and the cliffhanger ending. That was the deciding factor in the three star rating I’ve given this book.
However… I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Jennie Melamed’s next novel. She’s clearly a fantastic writer, and I’m eager to see what she comes up with next!
About the Book
NEVER LET ME GO meets THE GIVER in this haunting debut about a cult on an isolated island, where nothing is as it seems.
Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers–chosen male descendants of the original ten–are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smoldering fires.
The daughters of these men are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony. They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die. But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme. With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly–they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ hands and their mothers’ despair. And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.
Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.
GATHER THE DAUGHTERS is a smoldering debut; dark and energetic, compulsively readable, Melamed’s novel announces her as an unforgettable new voice in fiction.
About the Author
JENNIE MELAMED is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in working with traumatized children. During her doctoral work at the University of Washington, she investigated anthropological, biological, and cultural aspects of child abuse. Melamed lives in Seattle with her husband and three Shiba Inus.