Gather the Daughters. Jennie Melamed

Gather the Daughters is a gripping read about life on a dystopian island, where a small community scrapes by, having escaped the wastelands and war and burning. The first generation settlers are worshipped and their rules still hold: a long list of ‘shalt-nots’ that make it clear that this is a patriarchy; that women and girls have no agency over their lives. It is a society where the birth of a boy is celebrated but a girl is wept over.

Jennie Melamed shows us a community where life is harsh for everyone – summers humming with mosquitoes, the smell of human excrement as fertiliser polluting the air, where couples must drink ‘the final draft’ once the husband’s usefulness is deemed over, usually by the age of forty – but this way of life is worst of all for women and girls.

We see chiefly through the eyes of the girl narrators: Janey Solomon who does not eat in a bid to stave off becoming a woman; Vanessa Adam who loves books and questions but shies away for a long time from the questions that need to be asked; Caitlin Jacob, permanently bruised and shrinking; and Amanda Balthazar who has been through the rite of passage called the summer of fruition with its resulting marriage and pregnancy. Through them we get a full, subtly-drawn picture of island life. We grow to understand fully the ways in which women and girls have to submit in this society, and the lack of choice they have over everything other than their wild, free summers as girls.

This book does not grip through twists or surprises, it is a book that draws you on instead with its cumulative building up of its story. And while the island remains unnamed, I found that I was thinking of it as Pitcairn Island. Reading this novel, I felt sad, sick and angry – this unsettling work is important, and reminds us of the importance of questioning our traditions and culture where they prop up inequalities of power.

An essential read. I give this book 5 stars.

I received this ebook free from NetGalley and Tinder Press. UK publication date was 25 July 2017.

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