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Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

BOTTOM LINE: Disturbing and yet unforgettable

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 25 July 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“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.”

My Thoughts: Gather the Daughters takes a familiar trope and ups the ante. Many novels explore what happens when people, often repressed or with little power, question their roles in society. Yet, few go to the extremes Ms. Melamed’s debut novel does. With her study of family dynamics and the power each familial role holds in a highly patriarchal society, what she has to say not just shocks the senses but is quite memorable as well. For better or worse, you finish her novel forever changed, a rare thing in this day and age.

For not being remotely explicit in the roles of daughter, father, mother, and son, Ms. Melamed makes her points with disturbing clarity. From the opening page, readers experience discomfort without understanding why they feel this way. After all, there is nothing overt about the characters or the story that should make readers uncomfortable. Still, the feeling remains without being able to pinpoint its source. However, sentence by sentence, Ms. Melamed paints a picture not easy to ignore or avoid. The painting may be impressionistic, but there is no doubt as to its meaning and the truth displays itself in all its unsettling glory.

Gather the Daughters is like a dystopian novel on steroids. Children are not killing children, and there is no big bad government trying to rule the world. However, what does exist on the island challenges the fabric of society. It makes you question the original ancestors and the rules they established for their new society. It makes you question the ideas of obedience and the parent-child relationship as well as the more generic adult-child relationship. There are no easy answers to any of what Ms. Melamed posits; the questions alone are disturbing enough to make you wonder if you even want to know the answers. Yet, no matter how much you might wish otherwise, Gather the Daughters is not a novel easily dismissed. It finds a way to sneak into your soul, emerging when you least expect it and forcing you to examine the novel compared today’s society.

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