Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed | Book Review

Rating: 9/10

Format: Audio-Book – Library

Buy it Here:  Gather the Daughters: A Novel

This is a heartbreaking meditation on the grey area between girlhood and womanhood, oppression, and bodily autonomy. Perhaps a window into the past, perhaps a window into the future.  The moving points of view and pastoral imagery contrast with the quiet horror. The children’s dialogue is incredibly realistic and believable. This is the first on a list of dystopian fiction written by women that I hope to read in 2018 (it’s 2017 now, but I already reached my book goal, so hey, head start!) and it was a fantastic first read.

The book begins with Vanessa, a young girl who is an adult in her dreams. An adult whose two young daughters swim out to sea. In the dream, Vanessa finds herself screaming at her children not to come back into the shallows, but to go. To swim as far as they can and not look back. It’s clear we are not in for a sunny, fluffy romp in the park.

This book reminded me quite a bit of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s poignant work “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which I read and reviewed for one of my sociology classes as an undergrad. The story details a woman swamped by depression in a single room. The psychological knowledge of the day called for complete bed rest. Because she is a woman, and because she is sick she is trapped, barely able to move. Eventually, she sinks into further madness.

This book is like that. The harsh and stringent gender roles on The Island keep mothers, wives, and daughters trapped as surely as Gilman’s protagonist in the yellow room.

The contrast between the lives of the women and the girls enjoying their Summer is so stark as to be jarring. Especially Amanda, whose life seems especially Yellow-Wallpaperish, and Janey, who may as well be a feral creature, if one that feeds on hunger rather than food.

This is how bad things are for women on this island:  Janie starves herself so that she never has to come to fruition, get married, and bear children. I could write several more paragraphs about Janey’s starvation and its correlation to how those who struggle with anorexia grasp for control of a small portion of their lives.

Just as I was settling myself in for a deep difficult ride through this book, Janey started the rebellion. It was so beautiful. Of course, fathers and men came out and dragged as many girls as they could back home. I was so proud and horrified when girls started coming back beaten and injured. When the men finally catch Janey, they kill the little girl who stood up for her.

Every time they’re referenced, I had to ask myself what inspired a group of men to found an island where most things seem to center around the subjugation of women in every conceivable form? I have to wonder if the Founders were some kind of NAMBLA (NAMGLA?) organization, whose members voted to start a new community where sexually abusing young girls is encouraged.

The way Melamed unfolds the information about this little society is beautiful.  Many things are hazy, but you get a deep sense of wrongness; like petting a cat tail to head.

The deaths of Janey, Caitlin, and Amanda haunted me. Vanessa finally escaping with her family out into the “wastelands,” was an unexpectedly hopeful ending. I honestly didn’t expect anyone to survive. Children are so mind-bogglingly resilient.  I think we often forget that as adults. Melamed did not– this book is a work of visceral horror, but also of persistence, self-determination, and the sacredness of bodily autonomy.

Subjective Hearts: ♥♥♥♥ 4/5

Objective Hearts: ♥♥♥♥♥ 5/5

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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