*Gather the Daughters is available Tuesday, July 25th!*
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed. Little, Brown and Company, 2017. Hardcover. 352 pages.
This book was insane. Insane in the sense that the cult in this book is unbelievable yet completely believable and terrifying all at the same time. I may be at risk of repeating myself, but the best word to describe this book is simply haunting. As much as I try to shy away from comparing books to other books, I will say that if you like The Handmaid's Tale on account of the basic themes and ideas it espouses, then I'm almost positive that you will like this one. Honestly, I like this book way more than The Handmaid's Tale.
Gather the Daughters is about a cult living on an island separated from any other place. A full synopsis can be found on Goodreads, but the basic notion is that the daughters of all the men on this island essentially have one function: to be wives and have children. The men in charge essentially have free reign, and the customs that occur between men and their children, and between men and their future wives, are a bit... disconcerting.
Melamed herself is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in child trauma, and her vast knowledge of this topic plays very much into the contents of this book. She knows what she is doing, and I think that she handles these terrible circumstances and events in a deft, thoughtful, and realistic manner.
The four main women that this story focuses on are Vanessa, Caitlin, Janey, and Amanda. Each girl brings a unique perspective to the story as each one begins to question just how far one should go to question the traditions and norms of a culture. Should one even do so? Each one of these girls seems to question this notion in their own way, and each one carries out these feelings to varying degrees. Janey is a strong-willed girl who tries to have as much control over her own life and body as she can in this society -- which, sadly, isn't much. She refuses to become a woman and thus tries to stave it off by refusing to eat and preventing her body from going through puberty. She tries to enlighten the other girls to realize what is happening and that maybe they can change it. Caitlin is quiet, but vital. Vanessa is obedient overall, but she isn't afraid to push buttons and try to find out more about the goings-on of the island. And then there's Amanda, who knows something is off but doesn't know what and slowly begins to develop her own conclusions, which are vehemently opposed by those (the men) in charge.
This is a book that has ended up on my favorites list not because it was necessarily fun to read, but because I was completely engrossed with it and it will stick with me. This is a book that will grab you and haunt you and stay with you. I had the hardest time putting this book down, despite how alarmed I was at some of the things that happened. The ideas and cult itself in this book are a bit scary and really make you think. What does it take to end with a cult-like society like this? Just how easy is it truly to brainwash others? It teaches you to be self-aware, to question, to be ready to take a stand, even though the result of that stand might not turn out to have positive consequences.
Despite how terrifying and preposterous some of the norms in this book are, what makes it so gripping and captivating is how conceivable it actually could be. Do I actually think something like this could happen? Not necessarily in general society, but I don't doubt for a second that there are people capable of this. I know that women have often been perceived as having little worth other than for childbearing or being the 'dutiful wife.' And that's what is so captivating about this story. It's real.
Melamed's writing is also very gripping, beautiful and haunting at the same time. She crafts her words so carefully. It's a calm, subtle prose, but one that moves by so quickly and paints the scenes so effortlessly that you feel as if you are right there in the story, part of the horrors that are everyday life there. There was also something oddly poetic about the POV changes Melamed used. Sometimes there would be three chapters in a row of the same characters, sometimes it would switch consistently. It was almost like she knew when I would want to keep reading about one characters and when I wanted to try others.
Overall, Gather the Daughters get five stars from me!
*I received a physical ARC of Gather the Daughters courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my enjoyment of the book.*