For fans of speculative fiction looking for a book that can go toe-to-toe with The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s classic about female oppression and rebellion, look no further: Jennie Melamed’s chilling debut, Gather the Daughters, is the dazzling dystopian narrative you seek.
Spanning a year in the lives of four girls, Gather the Daughters hurls readers deep into the heart of a fringe island community that was founded when modern civilization collapsed and the mainland devolved into a burning wasteland. Theirs is a deeply patriarchal society, where the birth of a daughter is met with tears and girls are taught at a very young age to obey and serve their fathers in preparation for their summer of “fruition,” when they are married off and begin producing children. On the brink of womanhood, our four female protagonists are loath to accept their fate. When one of the girls witnesses an act so horrific it defies comprehension, they decide to challenge the dogma that has ruled for decades. Determined and courageous, the girls begin to question what they have been told, demanding answers and explanations, even if it means ripping asunder the very fabric of their community in the process.
Brutal and bold, Gather the Daughters is beguiling but not for the tenderhearted; its vision of the future is grim, and the realities daughters and wives face are undeniably harsh. For a first-time novelist, Melamed displays remarkable restraint and confidence, masterfully drawing out the mysteries of the island so that the girls’ sense of unease and confusion is perfectly mirrored by readers. The gradual reveal about what is really going is suspenseful and satisfying, and Melamed narrates the tale in dreamy, lyrical prose that provides a heightened contrast to the nightmarish aspects of the girls’ reality. Chilling in tone and fearless in its storytelling, Gather the Daughters is a fierce, feminist battle cry.