Title: Gather the Daughters
Author: Jennie Melamed
Publishing Information: July 25, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopia (I guess?)
Series information: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley *all quotes below taken from ARC format and are subject to change
Recommended For: Readers who want something compelling but perhaps rage-inducing. Readers who don’t mind open endings
Note: the first part of this review gives away some details regarding the plot that I don’t consider spoilers as it is pretty clear right away what is happening on the island. Down below, I get into a spoiler-filled review but will clearly note when to look away as to avoid the big spoilers! Also, I had FEELINGS while writing this so please excuse the less formal review!
Gather the Daughters is a hard book for me to review. On one hand, I couldn’t stop thinking about it but on the other hand, I kind of hated it. I’m going to be completely honest. Before I started Gather the Daughters…I almost didn’t. There were some so called “triggers” such as incest and molestation and those are pretty much the two topics that I cannot handle. Finally I realized that I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and maybe that was a reason for me to keep an open mind and give it a try.
First, let me say that Jennie Melamed has a knack for beautiful writing. It was compelling and beautiful and kept me needing more. However, Gather the Daughters is told from four different narrators. Unfortunately, it was incredibly hard to tell them apart. I found myself wondering, “which one is this again?” One of the narrators was pregnant, and that was honestly the only way she stood out to me among the others. Obviously as the story progresses they become somewhat easier to tell apart, but it took a long while to get there. The voices sounded the same and therefore I had a very hard time connecting to any of these girls.
Here is where things get frustrating as a reader. In this community, women exist to breed, basically. Wait., it gets worse. On this island, each family is permitted to have only two children. So, when a husband and wife have conceived two children, guess who becomes the stand-in to take care of the father’s pleasure? Did you guess his prepubescent daughter? If so, you are absolutely correct!
“Who is my little wife?” asks Father in a sugary tone.
“I am,” whispers Vanessa.
So, daughters are now the stand-in wives and some of the mothers often resent their daughters while the daughter becomes responsible for their father’s well-being in many ways.
Okay so let’s get into some more details regarding the upbringing of these children. Each summer, before the girls hit puberty, they run amok on the island. They live like wild animals in the woods and do whatever they want. Those who have hit puberty – please keep in mind how young some girls are when this happens – and older men spend time together in groups deciding who they will marry. Families “foster” these girls and the group of men comes to visit each night and things often end with couples um…coupling. For the most part, like the molestation from their fathers, this is “normal” to these young people. If a young woman decides that she doesn’t want to mate with someone, they simply drug her with drink and eventually she complies due to the utter lack of function altogether. Isn’t that, in a word, disgusting? I should quickly mention that as these families live on an island they are always obsessing over the mainland and the “eternal fires” that happened over there. Only a select few (read: men) are allowed to travel over there to gather certain supplies and it is mentioned when they have let anyone come from the mainland before there were “problems” (read: probably rape) which also happens to be one of the plot points in this novel. One of the daughters is almost raped by someone new to the island. The man of course sees no problem with this because well, she sleeps with her father and his wife (before she died MYSTERIOUSLY) was pregnant with a daughter so he was going to get to sleep with her anyway! So anyway, this whole eternal fire thing seems like a scary story kids are told so that they don’t leave the island. The reader is wondering throughout the novel “are these fires real?” “Is this just going to play out like an M. Night Shyamalan movie?” “WHY ISN’T ANYONE ASKING THESE QUESTIONS?”
One of the daughters inner thoughts regarding her relationship with her father…
“Every girl lies down under her father, even if nobody talks about it. Like picking your nose, or scratching your bottom; it’s not something to be discussed in public, but you know everyone does it in darkness, when nobody else is looking.”
When they are discussing men being widowed due to their wives dying from a sudden illness taken over the island…
“Let some of the older men go to the summers of fruition. The younger men can wait a year.”
“We’ve never had older men or widowed men at the summers of fruition. For good reason. That could be a catastrophe.”
Oh, could it? COULD IT BE CATASTROPHIC TO HAVE OLDER MEN MOLESTING YOUR DAUGHTERS AS YOU DO?!
The Pastor speaking upon why illness has befallen the island…
“As I look upon us, I can see the reasons for their displeasure. We have strayed from them. We have strayed from their vision and their holiness. We clot up the minds of our daughters with useless knowledge, instead of taking the precious time to teach them to be a solace to their fathers. Wives have forgotten how to be a support to their husbands.”
All of that being said, Gather the Daughters was still compelling in the way that I couldn’t put it down. There were some “daughters” who stood out against this whole dynamic and I was incredibly invested in their end goals. I was completely on board for this uprising of strong young women who changed their ways and you know what? I didn’t get it. All I am going to say here – before I rant below after clearly marking spoilers – is that I did not feel fulfilled by the ending.
Would I recommend this novel? Um…that’s hard to say. I read it in just a few days because it was compelling and atmospheric but it was almost like that terrible comment people make regarding not being able to look away from a train wreck. I had such high hopes and upon finishing I felt like that Tyra Banks scene where she is all, “I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU!” I usually don’t waste my time on books that I am not enjoying and I never “hate read” something as I simply don’t have the time or energy. So I suppose that means that yes…I can recommend it? I enjoyed it enough that I couldn’t stop reading, but I was also so angry upon finishing. Those “triggers” that I mentioned don’t really play into my feelings because everything happened “off the page” and I knew what I was getting into. But still it just felt like…why? So much of this novel was me continuously asking that question.
So now for my spoilery rant after the break…
Okay, so I get through this terrible molestation, weird ass father-daughter relationship bullshit where these men rape their daughters for years. I get past the wife beating and the father who can’t let his daughter “go” to her new husband. I get past the blatant murder of women who start to ask questions and why? Why did I stay? I stayed because I was ready for some kickass women taking control of their lives. They do, for a time, and I am totally on board. Then? Every single “daughter” dies except one. ONE. You know why she survives? Because she was so complacent throughout that no one killed her and then her dad helped her ESCAPE. So then they’re on a boat and they see the “mainland” and she comments on how she doesn’t know if what they can see is the “eternal fire” burning or just the sun bouncing off of the people walking around. That’s it. Ambiguity after all of this build up. What the fuck?! I cannot explain to you how frustrating this was after I was completely invested and ready for some badass “daughters” taking charge of their lives. So angry. So disappointing.
This is the part where I want to tell you not to waste your time with this novel because IT IS SO FRUSTRATING and omg I was so angry upon finishing it I just wanted to throw it out the window. So I am conflicted. I will probably read something else by this author because she has a knack for writing compelling moments but on the whole, the characters were hard to connect with and I absolutely felt as if I had wasted my time upon finishing.