Let me begin this review by saying that ever since I saw the cover and read the synopsis of this book back in January I have been obsessed with it. This is just one of those books you want to own and read and look at the pretty cover for days. Sadly my physical ARC of this book never arrived but I got it in e-form. Usually when I’m excited about a book I get disappointed in some way but this one was so great and amazing that I couldn’t put it down!
The story alternates between four different points of views we have Vanessa, Amanda, Janey and Caitlin. They live on a secluded island where everything is not what it seems – men and women, boys and girls have their lives set out for them. Their purpose is to marry, have children, raise children and when the children are all grown up and parents no longer of use they get removed from society. The island and its inhabitants follow certain written rules: much like we have a Bible or other religious texts they have one too called Our Book where there are rules and restrictions which have to be respected called Shalt-Not’s. The society is created by ten ancestors who are to be worshiped and praised for creating this world where the lives of the inhabitants are blessed and safer from the rest of the world (if there is a rest of the world). The ancestors have set ten Wanderers (men chosen by the ancestors) to take care of the society and help better it by overlooking the positions and roles everyone has on the island. Here comes the exciting part [that is if you’re not already hooked by my description of the book]: In the summer children are let go to live wild and care-free while the adults are indoors. They call this period Summer of Fruition where children fight for food and sleep in the grass and rarely return home for the whole time. To slightly older girls this is the last summer before they become a woman who has to get married and bare a child and serve her purpose for the sake of their glorified community. But not everyone wants to be a woman yet and the horrifying sighting by one girl lights a shimmering fire in the hearts of others.
What can I say except that this was an utterly and completely captivating book from the writing to the author’s imagination. The story itself is brilliantly thought of and very well executed – there were a few things that come with every debut which weren’t exactly to my taste – but overall it was unlike anything I have ever read. The themes in this book are dark and that makes the book not suited for every kind of reader but for those who love dark things this will be a perfect read.
To anyone reading this review I URGE you to head over to your local bookshop/online bookshop and purchase yourself a copy of this one! I know I will! ALSO: The US cover is 100x better than the UK one OK! The most amazing cover I’ve seen in a while and it’s definitely worth owning and showcasing.
I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher (Little Brown US) for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
**I am in no way compensated by these sites. I am simply sharing it so people can find this book easier.
Jennie Melamed is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in working with traumatized children. During her doctoral work at the University of Washington, she investigated anthropological, biological, and cultural aspects of child abuse. Melamed lives in Seattle with her husband and three Shiba Inus.
Click continue reading to read my interview with the author.
Q: First of all thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule and agreeing to do a Q&A for BreathingThroughPages. Your debut Gather the Daughters is amazingly dark, compelling and beautifully written – What inspired you to write this story and bring it to the world?
A: Thanks for asking!
I got the idea for GTD when I was nineteen- a very, very long time ago. I was in college, and so many of my friends were coming forward with stories of abuse; I was appalled. I wondered how common it was, began wondering if almost everyone had been abused. Then I wondered, what would that be like, if every single child in a society suffered abuse? The idea came to me while I was watching a movie. I left and wrote a short story.
I rewrote that story a few times, but it never really clicked until I started learning about and working with abused children as a nurse, and then as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Then I really understood the effects, could extrapolate into what I thought was a realistic representation.
I’ve always been fascinated by isolated societies, and I decided to create one of my own- all its laws and social stratification and daily life. That was difficult, but very satisfying.
Q: How long did it take you to write this book and was the process of finding a publisher easy or hard for you?
A: It took about three years. I was writing in the margins of going to graduate school and working, so it was very much something I was determined to fit in somewhere. Finding an agent took a couple of years. I had so many rejections, I can’t even count them. Once I found an agent- the incredible Stephanie Delman- the publisher came pretty easily. I am so honored to work with Little, Brown.
Q: When I read your bio it said that you’re a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I think that’s so cool and I imagine stressful sometimes. Did your work experience take part in certain aspects of the book?
A: Yes, it is stressful sometimes! I work in a community mental health center with low-income children and families currently, and always focused on child psychiatry and psychology in my education and work. My professional experience and my education informed GTD. When you’re working in mental health, particularly in child mental health, you hear some of the worst abuse stories, and a disproportionate number of people you see in a day had terrible things to them done as a child. I learned so much about trauma just from listening to my patients. I also learned about the resilience and joy that all children possess, even those who have been through hell. I wanted to make sure to portray that, as well, in GTD.
Q: I want to get into your psyche – This book is very dark and I wonder how did you manage to go back from your everyday life to writing this unsettling tale?
A: I have a dark psyche in general! I have OCD, anxiety, and depression, and my brain is a pretty grim place a lot of the time. It didn’t seem too much of a jolt, especially given the stories I encountered working with children with mental health problems. It just seemed like a particularly creative part of my life.
Q: I’m curious to know if while studying anthropological, biological, and cultural aspects of child abuse did you stumble upon some shocking facts or information?
A: Did I ever! Many of the taboos we think are universal are not universal. I won’t go into detail, but pretty much every form of what we consider abuse and neglect in our society has been the common childrearing practice in some society. It was a little appalling to read. Most of the literature was old, and I don’t think the societies exist in that form anymore, but it still happens. I mean, we all know about female genital mutilation in certain areas of Africa and the Middle East, that’s an example of something so abhorrent to me that is just general practice and daily life in some places.
Q: While reading your book I sort of connected into my head Janey Solomon’s starving to death to be a sign of a psychological disorder (anorexia). I love how you made this character real and gave a new dimension to the story by incorporating the societal rules and their effects on the inhabitants of the island. Do any other characters in this book show signs of psychological disorders (the men must have all of them :D)?
A: Ha. Well, Caitlin’s father obviously has substance abuse issues. Caitlin herself has some well-deserved anxiety and traumatic stress from living in such an abusive situation. I guess you could say all the girls are suffering from traumatic stress, who are being abused. Janey is verging on bipolar, but not quite there yet. Her anorexia nervosa is a given, as once one starves themselves for long enough, they develop some very obsessive behavior around food, as the Minnesota Starvation Experiments showed us.
Q: How often do you write?
A: For GTD, I wrote at least a sentence a day. Sometimes more, obviously. Right now I’m researching a book, so not writing much, more bogged down in academic texts!
Q: Did you always know you were going to write a book (become a writer) or was it something that came spontaneously?
A: I always knew, to the point where I expected to simply get it done and then found myself in my thirties not having written a book!
Q: Is there a scene that you found hard to write and had to revisit a few times?
A: The scene when Amanda’s father visits. I wanted to strike exactly the right note of unease, but also everyday connection.
Q: The question everyone who’s read your book is waiting for you to answer: Are you planning on writing more books about this mysterious and dark world or at least one?
A: Currently I’m working on something different, although to me it’s still mysterious and dark. I expect I’ll return to the world of the island eventually.
Q: If Gather the Daughters got turned into a movie or a tv-series who would you cast as your characters?
A: Janey: Amybeth McNulty
Vanessa: Maesie Williams
Amanda: Emily Browning
Caitlin: Millie Bobby Brown
Mr. Adam (Vanessa’s father): Damien Lewis (a younger version)
Mrs. Adam (Vanessa’s mother): Brie Larson
Betty Balthazar: Paula Malcolmson
The New Mr. Adam: Oliver Platt (a younger version)
The Ferryman: Danny Trejo
Mr. Abraham: Andrew Garfield
Q: What are some of your favourite books and what are you reading at the moment?
A: Let’s see: Vanity Fair, Call of the Wild, Memoirs of a Geisha, anything by Cormac McCarthy, The Color Purple, Jane Eyre… there are a ton. Currently reading “Kings of Broken Things” by Theodore Wheeler, which my agent gave to me. I’m early into it, but the characterization is amazing.
Q: Are there any books you’d recommend to people who have read your book and are looking for something with a similar theme?
A: Well, everyone is making comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale– which they can do as much as they want, it’s always an honor! There’s a book called I Who Have Never Known Men which is a weird little dystopia that I like very much. I just read Only Ever Yours, which is absolutely fantastic and has some similar themes. There’s Lord of the Flies, of course, and Never Let Me Go.
Q: I have to compliment the designer of your book (US cover). It’s fantastic! Definitely one of my favourite book covers ever. It just speaks to the person looking at it. Were you involved in the process of choosing which cover suited your book best? Were there any alternative covers you loved (I wish we had a peek at them!) but didn’t get picked?
A: Oh, I adore the US cover. It was presented to me early in the process, and everyone involved loved it. No need to see any alternatives. My UK cover I love as well, it’s up on UK Amazon.
I am so grateful to Jennie for doing this Q&A and I hope you guys enjoyed it! Now, quickly go and purchase her book Gather the Daughters for yourself now!