Review: Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Contains Spoilers Every now and again, I pick up a book, read it, and wonder what the HELL did I just read? This is one of those books. Gather the Daughters is a dystopian, set on an island where the inhabitants, descended from ten Ancestors, follow the Shalt-nots. Their society is repulsive, the women oppressed and abused from the time they are young children. There is nothing as sacred as the relationship between fathers and daughters, and that right there was almost a “nope, I’m not reading this” premise. I mean – ICK. During the summer, the children run wild on the island, living outside like wild animals. Every household leaves food out for them, as they sow their wildness. After a summer of no adults and no rules, they are forced back into their grim, joyless lives, the girls waiting with dread for the onset of puberty. Once they bleed, the girls go through a summer of fruition. All of the newly matured women and all of the single men spend the summer getting to know each other, so they can pair off and choose a husband or wife to begin their adult lives together. What this basically means is that the summer is an orgy that moves from one host house to the next, with the men wooing and screwing the girls. And they are girls. Keep in mind that these newly matured women are typically 13 – 15 years old. Ugh. But that’s not the gross part of the novel. It’s the relationships between the fathers and their young daughters. What the HELL am I reading? The men sneak into their daughters’ rooms and prepare them for their year of fruition. HELL NO! The book is told through the POV of several of the girls. They are terrified of their fathers, some of them aren’t just molested sexually, but are also physically abused, beaten for any disobedience. Bruises and black eyes aren’t unfamiliar. When Janey Solomon begins a rebellion, getting the other girls to run away from home and live on the beach, the adults don’t know what to do. Can Janey, a girl of 17 who starves herself half to death to avoid becoming a woman and being forced into her summer of fruition, make a change in how the girls are treated? Don’t bet on it. Did I mention that once a husband and wife have grandchildren, and can no longer function at full capacity as contributing members of this society, they are ritualistically killed, their bodies planted in the fields to fertilize the crops? No? Yeah, just another sterling example of how benevolent and nurturing this society is. This book did not work for me. On any level. I started skimming about halfway through just to find out if any of my questions would be answered. They weren’t. I didn’t feel like I ever got to know the characters, and the world didn’t feel fully fleshed out. The society was repellent. NEXT! Grade: 1 star Review copy borrowed from my local library 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.

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