The Blurb On The Back:
Thou shalt not disobey thy father.
Thou shalt not enter another man’s home uninvited.
Thou shalt not raise more than two children.
Thou shalt not touch a daughter who has bled until she enters her summer of fruition.
Thou shalt not allow thy wife to stray in thought, deed, or body.
Thou shalt not allow women who are not sister, daughter, or mother to gather without a man to guide them.
Thou shalt not kill.
On a small island, cut off from the rest of the world, there’s a community that lives by its own rules. Boys grow up knowing they will one day reign inside and outside the home, while girls know they will be married and pregnant within moments of hitting womanhood.
But before that times comes, there is an island ritual that offers children an exhilarating reprieve. Every summer they are turned out onto their doorsteps to roam wild: they run, they fight, they sleep on the beach and build camps in trees. They are free.
It is at the end of one of these summers, as the first frost leaves the ground, that one of the younger girls witnesses something she was never supposed to see. And she returns home, muddy and terrified, clutching in her small hand a truth that could unravel their carefully constructed island world forever.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
13-year-old Vanessa lives on the island with her parents and younger brother, Ben. Her father is a wanderer who visits the ravaged wastelands to gather items that the community needs such as paper, metal and books. Vanessa reads the books that he’s brought back – but not the ones that he’s locked away as being unsuitable for her – and wonders what life is like in the wastelands. Not that she’ll ever visit them. Once she starts menstruating she’ll be sent for her summer of fruition – a wild time where the girls can get to know potential husbands ready for marriage in the autumn and when she’s married, she’s expected to have a maximum of 2 children and to cook and sew and look after their husband and comply with his directions.
Until then Vanessa looks forward to the summer when she’s released from her chores to join the other children in roaming the island doing whatever they please until the first frosts arrive. But this summer a girl sees something that she’s not supposed to see. When she shares it with the others, the ramifications rock the island community and threaten everything they – and Vanessa – has held as being true …
Jennie Melamed’s debut novel is a creepy and disturbing look at an isolated quasi-religious community that has normalised female oppression to twisted ends but although the world building is solid, the ramifications of the revelation are muted (despite fitting the narrative), the various female narrators were too interchangeable for me and I found the passivity of the female characters frustrating.
Melamed splits the narration between inquisitive Vanessa, pregnant Amanda, anorexic Janey and brutalised Caitlin but I found their voices and shared frustrations too similar. Janey and Vanessa are the most interesting, particularly Janey who uses anorexia to stave off her periods and thus prevent her from being forced into marriage and who actively tries to change things. However I was disappointed with the ending to Amanda, Janey’s and Caitlin’s plotlines because they’re quite passive and in Amanda’s case leaves more questions than answers.
Melamed’s prose is deft and subtle, which makes the incest revelation all the more disturbing for the way it’s normalised as part of daily life but I didn’t understand the wanderers’ about defective births given some of their actions.
Ultimately this is an interesting though flawed debut and I would definitely read Melamed’s next book.
GATHER THE DAUGHTERS was released in the United Kingdom on 13th July 2017. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.