‘EVERY SUMMER, THE GIRLS RUN WILD. THEY KNOW IT COULD BE THEIR LAST’.
Gather The Daughters is the debut novel from Jennie Melamed.
Just published by Tinder Press, it is described as ‘dark and energetic, compulsively readable’. I have had a copy of this novel for some time now, but for some reason the subject matter kept me from picking it up. It has been compared to many books, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Emma Cline’s The Girls, books recently termed #CULTLit. As I have never read either of these, I decided the time was now right to jump in and introduce myself to this genre.
I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like it…..
Read on for my thoughts…
The premise of Gather the Daughters is based around an isolated island cult, where the menfolk reign supreme. Girls from a very young age are primed for a world where their opinions are not worth anything and they must, at all times, be willing to accept the ‘shalt nots’, the laws of the ancestors.
I’m going to quote Jennie Melamed at this point in my review, because I think her words are vitally important to how the reader approaches this novel.
‘I’d like people to marvel at the creativity and strength of children, despite their physical, mental, and societal limitations. I’ve tried to portray that even in the worst of circumstances, young people are able to find joy, connection and humour. Even when innocence is violated, it does not mean it is dead, and many children who suffer also find the strength to shine.’
Jennie Melamed is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, specialising in working with traumatised children.
Gather the Daughters is set in a dystopian world, a place where society exists in an environment of misery, with a very controlling and oppressive atmosphere. The story focuses in on a number of girls who become central characters to the novel. They each have very different personalities which develop as the book progresses.
In this island existence, no-one lives to be old. As soon a girl reaches puberty, her path in life is laid out before her, her role very structured. She must serve her husband in every way and bear children. As folk age, their use in society is debated and their future is dictated by the leaders, known as The Wanderers. It is these men who maintain order on the island. What lies beyond the seas is The Wastelands, portrayed as a dark, dark place where bad things happen.
There is a very primal event that takes place every year on the island. Every Summer, the children are allowed to leave their homes and run wild. The atmosphere is feral, as they fight, scavenge, sleep in the open and build camps on the beach.
‘Clenched fists slip off to the side instead of thudding solidly into skin, nails skitter down muddy limbs without ruffling skin to shreds, even teeth slip over mud-caked flesh and click shut with an unpleasantly electric snap. No matter how a fight starts, it always ends the same way:dirty children writhing and wincing in a tangle of torsos and limbs, like they’ve fused together into some filthy, many-legged abomination.’
For this time, the children are free from parental supervision and fend for themselves, They must return home as Autumn approaches and order is soon restored. Giving the children this freedom for a limited time, is recognised as the best method of maintaining discipline for the remainder of the year.
Some of the children have questioned the ways of the island but fear is a constant and most are afraid to speak their mind. There is an acceptance that this is their life and though, many are in dread of their future, the laws of their ancestors must be obeyed at all time.
In a society that is built on such structure and control, human error is a constant threat that could upend the status quo at any time….and it happens. One of the children, returning from her summer of freedom, is a witness to something that she cannot quite comprehend. This terrifying event sparks an almost anarchic reaction that completely deconstructs the society. Chaos descends as the horrors of their world come crashing in on top of them.
Gather The Daughters is a book that was both disturbing and compelling at the same time. The subject matter made for very uncomfortable reading, yet I became invested in these girls and I was hoping for a better life for them, a future without fear and pain.
There are trigger points in this novel which may cause distress for some, but Jennie Melamed has avoided any graphic imagery, leaving it to the reader to extract the truth themselves.
Gather The Daughters is an unflinching portrayal of a society that is cruel and barbaric, where the female is born into servitude to men and where the laws of the land are absolute.
Gather The Daughters is a novel that is quite chilling. The control of a cult and the dominance of a belief, that is grounded in one man’s insane notion, is not a new concept. But Jennie Melamed has written this novel in a rather unique style, applying ‘clinical psychological knowledge to a speculative world’, in the hope of encouraging the reader to question human nature.
‘If a whole society is committing an abberration does that diffuse responsibility?’ (Jennie Melamed)
Order your copy online here.