As readers of this blog will know, I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, and so I was thrilled when my request to review this title was approved on Netgalley.
Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonised 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-smouldering 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.
This is an incredibly dark and twisted tale, and (need I say it?) one that I absolutely loved. It becomes clear very quickly that there is much that is not right in this small community, and whilst there is little ambiguity as to what is happening, there’s very little that happens “on screen” – it’s all hints and comments that let the reader know how the society works, and in particular, how daughters are (mis)treated pre-puberty, and how they very quickly become wives after reaching this milestone.
Gather the Daughters is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, all of them young females, and some of their tales are quite harrowing, although not all bad all the time. I have to admit that I did struggle to remember who was who at first as there are a lot of people to keep track of, but it soon became much clearer. I can’t say that I liked all of the characters equally, but I did find them all to be interesting in their way. Whilst they are schooled, there is very little dissemination of knowledge as to what happened to turn the (unnamed) country into a wasteland, and what forced those ten families to set up the society as they did, and I got the feeling that school was more about keeping them busy and out of mischief rather than to educate them in any meaningful way. They also have little knowledge of what life was like before, and whilst you want them to question the lives that they have, you know that they can’t, because they have nothing to compare their lives to.
If you’re a reader who likes everything to be explained and neatly tied up by the end of a novel, you may be a little frustrated with this one. I have to admit that whilst I was reading it, I was hoping for some explanation as to WHY they lived as they did. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it wasn’t necessary, because whilst much of it is less than palatable, it does all make sense in an extremely twisted way.
Gather the Daughters has already drawn comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, and rightly so. Whilst different in many ways, it bears comparison in its consideration of what a world in which women have no rights might look like. And like The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s not pretty. There were multiple sections that had my hackles up, and I’ll leave you with this quote as an example:
Thou shalt not allow women who are not sister, daughter, or mother to gather without a man to guide them.
Gather the Daughters will be published in the UK by Tinder Press on 25 July. Many thanks to the publisher and to Netgalley for letting me review this title ahead of its publication.
You can find out more about Jennie Melamed and Gather the Daughters at: http://www.jenniemelamed.com/