Thursday, 20 July 2017

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

review by Maryom

On a small island lives a group of people who believe themselves to be the only survivors of the plague and fires that scourged everywhere else. Their world is small, with no outside contact, patriarchal and repressive, with life following the rules, the "shalt-nots" set down long ago by the founders. The only people allowed to leave the island are the Wanderers, all men, who regularly travel to the "wastelands" in search of things the island cannot produce, and very occasionally bring back a family to settle on the island. Although claiming to hold their women in high regard, the men exploit them; a girl is married shockingly young - the first year she's old enough to bear children - she's allowed two children, and then her husband's sexual desires turn elsewhere. Childhood is brief, and for the most part hedged round by restrictions, but each summer when the mosquitoes are biting, the children run wild and free, naked and covered in mud from head to foot, over the island while the adults stay indoors. But one summer, rumours spread about something one of the girls has seen, which calls into question everything they've ever been taught.
Janey has always been known as an angry, troublesome girl, one who questions the rules they live by, and is determined to avoid marriage and the inevitable child-bearing, so by starving herself has delayed puberty. Her extra years give her a natural authority over the other unmarried girls, and when she decides to run away from home and live wild, they gradually join her. Janey's actions are seen as rebellion against the established order, which must be stamped out at all costs.
Gather the Daughters is disturbing, yet gripping, dystopian read, but a difficult one to review without giving away some of the huge reveals and plot twists within it.
In such an isolated community, whoever is seen as 'in charge' can bend facts to suit themselves - and that certainly seems to have been going on here for many years.  With a hint here and a revelation there, the reader comes to realise that everything is not quite as the islanders believe.  Anything could be happening in the wider world, but everyone has been brainwashed into believing the tradition that they are the few remaining survivors of the devastation; could it be nothing more than a horror story to frighten the islanders into obedience? It's hard to see how they'd accept that, but, with no one to tell a different story, they do. Same for the way girls and women are treated, and the dubious sexual practices considered 'normal' by the islanders; no one knows any different way, and although some feel it isn't right they are considered the odd ones out.
For some the emphasis may fall on the weird cult-like community and the treatment of their daughters, but to me there's a wider issue being raised here; in our alleged post-truth world, with little social media bubbles of like-thinking folk, how do we choose which sources of information to trust, and which beliefs to follow? It's becomes easier to see how people may become indoctrinated into believing almost anything, and convinced that theirs is the right and proper way to live ...

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
 Tinder Press
Genre - 
Adult dystopian fiction,

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