I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
on March 22nd 2018
Format: Electronic ARC
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“Endure. I have done it and so can you.”
Years ago, the ancestors escaped the ravaged Wastelands to colonize a small island and start a new society. They wrote Our Book to line out the strict hierarchy and structure that would dictate their lives. Their descendants still follow those rules. Life in the agrarian society can be brutal, especially for girls, so the children are given a taste of freedom in the summer. They’re allowed to run wild until they return home in the fall. As one of the young girls is heading home at the end of this year’s summer, she sees something so shocking that she can’t keep to herself. The other girls are reluctant to believe her because it contradicts everything they’ve been taught, but the bit of forbidden knowledge begins to sow the seeds of discontent.
Mother says she’ll feel different when she’s older, and Lenore Gideon told Vanessa she doesn’t have a choice anyway. Vanessa suspects they’re both saying the same thing.
How could I resist a book described as “Never Let Me Go meets The Giver“? There were also shades of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, Kindred, and The Village (movie). I recently commented to someone that I’ve always been drawn to dystopian novels because I’m trying to recapture the feeling of reading The Giver twenty-five years ago. Gather the Daughters definitely rose to the occasion! I was so captivated by this story. What grabbed me most about Melamed’s writing style was the subtlety. It was engaging because she allows the reader to figure out many things for themselves. The intricacies of these characters’ belief system are revealed gradually. It deals with a disturbing topic, but it’s not graphic. The characters talk about it euphemistically, so I wasn’t immediately 100% sure if I was correct about what was happening. Admittedly, it may have been a bit of denial on my part. WARNING! This book contains content that may be triggering for some readers: View Spoiler »Abuse and incest are built into their religion. « Hide Spoiler
“My whole life, I’ve learned to not question things. It doesn’t do any good, really. You usually learn what you didn’t want to learn, and still don’t know what you wanted to know.” A sigh. “I mean, knowing things, it can really hurt.”
“But Mrs. Adam,” whispers Vanessa, clinging to the hand on her jaw, “what if the hurting isn’t the most important part? What if it’s not even worth considering?” She swallows. “What if you were going to hurt anyway?”
The girls won over my heart completely. They have little control over their lives or bodies, but the cult can’t control every aspect of their thoughts. Some of them are more rebellious than others, but even those that are reluctant to challenge the system still find their own quiet ways to rebel. In one touching chapter, the girls imagined the types of islands that might be out there. Their visions reflected what bothered them most about their society. There are four girls we get to spend the most time with:
• Amanda (almost 15yo) – She was happy to be married so that she could escape her father. Now that she’s pregnant with a girl, she realizes she’s merely changed her role in the process.
• Caitlyn (13yo) is meek, but has an inner strength that she’s not even aware of. The entire community sees the bruises all over her body, but she insists her father doesn’t hurt her. She claims she just bruises easy. When she witnesses a shocking event, her role within the group of girls begins to change.
• Janey (17yo) is the oldest of the children. She starves herself to delay the onset of womanhood. She is fiercely protective of her sister Mary. Janey isn’t scared of anything and that terrifies people. If anyone is going to be able to get through to the girls on the island, it’s her.
• Vanessa (13yo) is a curious, clever child. Her father’s position as a Wanderer gives her rare access to books. I loved the interrogation techniques she used to extract information from adults. She questions everything, but thinks it’s futile to entertain any ideas of escape.
• Rosie (9yo) doesn’t get her own chapters, but she’s such a memorable character. She’s headstrong and full of righteous rage.
She mulls Mother’s impotent grief. A thought that Caitlin has been trying to suppress abruptly rises to the surface: if she leaves, if she is not there to stand in front of Mother and absorb Father’s violence, what will happen to Mother? But another voice, one that has been driven down even deeper, suddenly sings forth. She should be standing in front of me.
In this book, the subjugated are trained to assist in their own subjugation. There are multiple signs that the women aren’t happy with their situation. For instance, male births are celebrated while girl births are grieved. Regardless, they are willing to bear the burden for the good of their society because it’s a part of life, just like the seasons. It’s seen as disrespectful to the ancestors to even suggest changes. There’s no room for dissent. By the time the girls are old enough to articulate themselves and fully comprehend what’s going on, they’re resigned to their fate. Women aren’t allowed to congregate in large numbers without male chaperones. Many keep quiet because they have no opportunity to discover that they aren’t alone in their doubts. The harmful ideas are so ingrained in their society that the dissenters begin to think that they are the ones who are defective. There’s also the threat of divine retribution. Vanessa worries the ancestors will hear her thoughts and punish the entire community. It’s repeatedly mentioned how important it is to prepare children for their roles, with some adults pushing to start preparing them at even younger ages. When the children of Gather the Daughters were singing a disturbing nursery rhyme, I was transported back to a scene in Kindred where Dana sees the slaves’ children pretending to hold a slave auction. In that moment, she realizes just how easily people can be trained to accept horrifying things.
“You have to talk to the girls again,” says Mary. “You have to talk to them about everything you know. Everything.”
“I can’t. They’re too…too young.”
“Wait for them to be old enough to understand,” yawns Mary, “and they’ll be adults. And then you can’t do anything.”
The author Jennie Melamed is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in working with traumatized children. She explains her motivations for writing this book in the following article: Exploring a Cultish Culture: the behind-the-book story of Gather the Daughters (excerpt included). How does the horrifying become an accepted part of a society? It’s an interesting exploration into the way cults operate and their methods of indoctrination. It also made me think about what parts of our own society are widely accepted but may be disturbing with some distance. The one thing I didn’t love is that the ending. It left me a little wanting. It’s a perfectly fine quiet ending, but I was left with so many questions. I can’t help but hope we get another installment. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking forward to reading anything Jennie Melamed publishes in the future.
She discovers that grief is a liquid. It passes thickly down her throat as she drinks water and pools soggily around her food. It flows through her veins, dark and heavy, and fills the cavities of her bones until they weigh so much she can barely lift her head. It coats her skin like a slick of fat, moving and swirling over her eyes, turning their clear surfaces to dull gray. At night, it rises up from the floor silently until she feels it seep into the bedclothes, lick at her heels and elbows and throat, thrust upward like a rising tide that will drown her in sorrow.