On a small isolated island, 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 time 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 laces 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.
I was so interested in this one because it’s ultimately about a cult. A cult who live on an island where very strict rules are put in place. Daughters are used to “comfort” their Father’s during the night until their first bleed, then they get married off, Mothers are used for producing two children and housework. Sons help their Fathers in their jobs and Fathers rule the land.
On the island they have a Bible / religious text equivalent called Our Book and within the book there are the “Shalt Not’s”, for example “Thou shalt not disobey thy father”, or “Thou shalt not touch a daughter who has bled until she enters her summer of fruition”. Living on the island is simple if you don’t question or break the rules.
For a woman to have a decent life on the island, there’s only one piece of advice: have son’s.
If you can’t already see what I’m getting at from my short description above, then let me put this simply. This is dark. Gather the Daughters is a very ominous, disturbed and often times uncomfortable read.
Melamed’s writing is stunning. The island she has created comes alive in your mind so easily with every description of the trees, the houses, the beach. The shadiness of the men, the melancholy of the woman, and the fear of the daughters can really be felt and you can almost touch the tension of what is looming, as it gets heavier and heavier with every turn of the page.
I loved the use of the four different characters to tell a story. To begin with, it is a little confusing – who is who? But you get used to it very quickly! Each of the girls we follow are so well developed, we climb inside their shoes and exist as they do for the length of their chapter. Personally, Rosie was my favourite character of them all, and she wasn’t even one of the main ones! That just goes to show how well structured every single girl in this book was… when you feel you can love a side character over a main one.
I guess this book only gets a 4 stars because it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting… and sometimes that’s a good thing, your expectations are exceeded, but that wasn’t the case for this one. It was a lot slower moving than I would have liked, there were panicky, heart racing moments, but not a lot of them, and I wasn’t really satisfied with how everything ended. I don’t want to say too much because of spoilers, but yes, not what I was hoping for.
Would I class this as sci-fi? No. As horror? No. As a thriller? No. For me, this felt more like a general fiction novel with some more disturbing aspects than many of the others in the genre have.
Overall, though, this is worth picking up to read. It’s definitely uncomfortable to read at times and I did feel a little bit squirmish at what is implied throughout, but it’s such a gorgeously written book and there are some excellent exciting moments. As this is Melamed’s first book, I can see her going big places with more fiction in the future!
P.S. If you don’t feel comfortable reading books about incest / child sexual abuse please don’t read this and then rate it 1 star because you found the subject matter difficult to read. That’s just not fair.
Thanks to Tinder Press for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!