I don’t tend to read books centred around cults but I couldn’t pass this one by when I saw the praise it was receiving.
On a small island, cut off from the rest of the world, 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.
Compulsive, chilling and yet deeply tender, GATHER THE DAUGHTERS is a smouldering debut that explores the resilience of the human heart in the darkest of circumstances and the strength we find in each other.
Gather the Daughters is a dark tale, one that silently unnerves you. When I first began reading this novel, I struggled to get into it; around the 30% mark, I was debating if I wanted to finish it or put it back on the shelf and return to it at a later date. I opted to persevere and I’m glad I did because this is a novel that gets better with each page you turn.
The daughters are on an island, isolated, they’re not sure what the truth is or how big the world really is and it’s this sense of wonder, wondering if there could be a better way of life for them that really touches the reader on an emotional level. As an adult reading this book, we know there is a better way of life and we so desperately hope these girl can find a better way of life outside of the cult, but they are only young, how can they escape and survive?
This novel is narrated from the viewpoints of several of the daughters, living the same life but experiencing things differently – some fathers are kind, some are abusive, some mothers care, some don’t, some have friends, siblings, some feel so alone. It’s these individual experiences that allow you to get to know the characters and essentially make this book the deeply tender read it is describes as.
My favourite of the characters was Amanda, one of the first girls to want a better life, I admired that in her and it made her instantly my favourite. Closely followed by Rosie, a girl who doesn’t narrate her own story but through the narration of others, her bravery is displayed. Janey, Caitlin, Vanessa, this is fiction but you feel all their stories as though they are real people.
Regarding the ending of this novel, it was left a little open in the sense that Melamed doesn’t explicitly state what happens but the way it’s written, the reader can make a very good guess as to what will happen – the novel has ended but we know how the story continues. Gather the Daughters contains some very dark themes, one being incest, but there’s no descriptive details, Melamed informs us it’s happening but removes the horror from the telling.
On an island where men are in control and each of the daughters is hoping for just one more summer, Gather the Daughters, is a book that will sneak up on you and have you highly invested in the plot and the outcome; it indeed does explore the resilience of the human heart. This is a debut novel you won’t quickly forget.