Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamud

I’m going to start this review by giving a trigger warning: this novel deals with uncomfortable topics like incest and child abuse. Please keep that in mind if you are choosing to read this novel. With that, I’m going to start my review:

Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, 10 men took their families and colonized an island off the coast. This new society consisted of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers, chosen male descendants of the original 10, could cross to the wastelands and scavenge for useful items. The daughters of those in the colony are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face a Summer of Fruition, a season that takes them from adolescence into 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, fighting over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ roaming hands, and their mothers’ silences. 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. With this information, Janey Solomon emerges as a leader seeking the truth. At 17, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman that 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.

Is it weird that I am drawn to dark stories? Because I was drawn to this one and I could not stop myself from reading all of this in one sitting. How do I begin to describe my experience with this book? Gather the Daughters does not really introduce any new concepts: there are plenty of dystopian novels that give men the power over women, and control breeding and number of offspring. The idea of knowledge being restricted is also not unique. However, there was something about this story that pulled me in and kept me interested. For one thing, this is not a novel you can read quickly; it has a slower pace and to enjoy it, you need to take your time with it. The story is told only from the perspectives of the daughters; there are no adults telling this tale. This is something I really liked because it gave a different outlook to the events. It actually made me more uncomfortable to read it from the voice of these girls who have never known a life outside of this one, who only have their laws to define things as “right” or “wrong”, and who still are able to recognize when something being done to them is not okay. It’s hard to read about their suffering, which only seems to grow as the story continues. Even though the concepts mentioned here are nothing new, this novel manages to pack a powerful punch. This is not an easy read by any standards, but it is a good one nevertheless. This novel is gripping, disturbing, and emotionally-charged. There is so much more I want to say about this novel, but I don’t think I have the words. My final verdict? I’m giving this a 5/5 stars.

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