Gather The Daughters is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a self-sustaining cult live in primitive conditions on an island where women are tightly controlled but children run free each summer.
What it’s about
Decades ago, 10 families moved to an isolated island to escape the scourge on the wastelands. Subsisting through primitive farming techniques, they are ruled by the ‘shalt-nots’ and the edicts of the ancestors.
‘Wanderers’ are an elite group of men who regularly journey to the wastelands to scavenge supplies, and occasionally bring back a new family. Knowledge of what the wastelands contains is strictly forbidden.
Upon reaching puberty, girls go through their Summer of Fruition and find themselves a husband. Each woman must bear two live children – ‘defectives’, who die on birth or shortly after, don’t count. It’s not unusual for a woman to bleed out and die during birth. For this reason, the Summer of Fruition is widely feared as the beginning of the end.
Barren women are set aside by husbands who re-marry. Once couples have grandchildren, and are no longer considered useful, husband and wife take the ‘final draught’ together and die.
Pre-pubescent children are left to roam the island for 3 months each summer, covering themselves in mud to fend off the mosquito swarms, sleeping outside and fighting in a manner reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.
Janey is a 17-year-old girl who starves herself to cheat the onset of puberty and delay her Summer of Fruition. When one of the other girls witnesses a horrifying scene on the beach at the end of one summer, Janey leads a quest for the truth that could blow island life apart forever.
What I thought of it
I found Gather The Daughters deeply disturbing, partly because there’s actually nothing here that hasn’t already happened in one or more society around the world. Life on the island is primitive, incestuous, debauched and simultaneously highly prescriptive (for adults) and anarchic (for children).
Jennie Melamed shows what we consider ‘normal’ is so fluid and dependent on our surroundings and what we’re taught. Remove any knowledge or possibility of an alternative way of life and people will tend to be complicit in their own abuse.
The positive note in this dark story is Janey, who bucks against the status quo and inspires others to follow her. Melamed makes it clear, however, that even Janey can’t effect change on her own.
It’s only when we work together with others that regimes can be challenged – and even then, only with great sacrifice.
Gather The Daughters is not a novel to be enjoyed, but it’s certainly one to make you think, especially in the current political climate where some societies are attempting to isolate themselves and nations debate over whether to take action on apparently barbaric foreign cultural practices.
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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.