This review is going to contain some spoilers, so if you haven’t read this book and are interested in it, please be warned. This book is also heavy with trigger issues, specifically, sexual abuse and violence, along with domestic abuse.
“Laughter for a boy, tears for a girl.”
That one sentence summarizes the horror of living as a girl in this disturbed society. Even calling this society disturbed doesn’t feel like enough. It is horrific and beyond understanding.
I went into this novel expecting creepy. I expected something bad and disturbing to happen. What I didn’t expect was the entire thing to be creepy and disturbing.
Gather The Daughters takes place on an island. This group of people live by the word of their ancestors, “The Ancestors”, who have rigid rules in place to keep everyone in line. They’ve been on the island, isolated from the rest of the world for generations.
The rest of the world is called, The Wastelands, and they are raised believing that fire and disease have eradicated the land. The Wanderers, a small group of men, are the only ones allowed to travel beyond the island and collect items from the wasteland. The Wanderers are also the enforcer of these rules from the Ancestors, although they can add to the rules as they wish. But they are in complete control of everyone’s life on the island.
We hear only from the viewpoint of a handful of daughters. Vanessa, Caitlin, Amanda and Janey. Vanessa is a wanderer’s daughter and so seemingly has it better than the rest. Caitlin is physically abused by her alcoholic father. Amanda is recently a married woman, having just finished her “summer of fruition” and is pregnant with her first child. And Janey, the small incredibly strong willed girl who starves herself in order to make sure she never turns into a woman.
All of this sounds like typical dystopian fiction, right? Yeah, until you realize that the reason it’s horrible to be a girl in this society is that fathers lie with their daughters. Yes, you read that right.
Okay. So, I’ve read some pretty dark and disturbing books in my life as a reader. And sometimes they deal with really icky issues like incest and rape and abuse. But in every book that I can recall, there was a point. A plot driven point that makes it understandable why the author chose to dive into these awful subjects. I wish I could say the same for this book. Sadly, I can’t.
Here are the main inconstancies that bother me. First, we are never given any information regarding the wasteland to really understand how this society emerged. We get hints and clues, but even more disturbingly, it seems that most of the facts regarding the devastation of the wastelands appears to be made up to keep everyone compliant. All I can gather is that the ancestors were a bunch of pedophiles that wanted to sleep with their daughters.
But even that doesn’t make sense because they came to the island with families! So how does a mother, growing up in a society that even somewhat resembles the one we live in, get on board with this?! How do TEN??? It’s beyond comprehension, and even more frustrating is that the author doesn’t even attempt to explain! For me, I could have stomached this society a little more if I had been given any explanation of how they were created. Or understand why the men continue to go along with it, when clearly The Wanderers know full well what is happening in the rest of the world. It feels incomplete and inadequate.
My other problem is there is zero redemption in the end. We are given the seeds of discontent through the discovery that women who are unhappy or perhaps a little too opinionated frequently “bleed out” and die. Except no one ever sees the body. However, this community is so controlled that it has never been raised or questioned. Until Janey wants justice for her friend.
Janey begins to rally the girls and forms a rebellion of sorts. But right when you think something will happen, something will spark a change or force this society to reveal details it doesn’t want revealed, a mysterious illness conveniently sweeps through and kills almost everyone. The Wanderers force everyone to remarry and decide to bring in more families from The Wastelands. To add to the genetic line. Which the ancestors wrote a warning about, needing to add to the gene pool.
But even the rebellion is problematic. If this is a society that has been bred in such tight control for so many years, and trained to believe that this is normal and natural, why would the girls feel it was wrong. The mother’s are sometimes described as being jealous of the father-daughter relationship, which feels more real in this sense than being horrified by it. So, where does the sense of “wrong” come from? I suppose the author is saying that there is an innate knowledge of wrong behavior, but coming from someone who works intimately with abused children, I’m a little surprised at that belief. Usually abused children aren’t aware that the abuse is wrong, unless they’re told to keep a secret, or some other indicator is given. But there have been plenty of cases where that behavior wasn’t given any morality and it was simply accepted. So where would these girls or fathers have learned any wrong-doing?
I didn’t understand what the point was. This novel was completely horror for horror’s sake. Trauma for trauma’s sake. We are fully immersed in this cult-like society where sleeping with your daughter is “cherished”. It is sick and twisted. Yet, we aren’t given any background to this society and in the end, nothing changes.
Vanessa’s father finds out that The Wanderers were behaving in ways that concern him, and he ends up taking his family away from the island in the dead of night. But even this isn’t redemption or closure. First, we never see what happens, or where they go. But mostly because he didn’t leave because he was remorseful of regretted sleeping with his prepubescent daughter. He left because he was afraid something might happen to her if she stayed. So he loves her. Abusers love their victims in their own way. It doesn’t excuse or forgive the abuse.
I don’t understand what the point of this novel was. I felt traumatized reading it. There was no helping these girls, or saving them from future horrors. Perhaps she meant to make art mimic life in that sense, but the result is simply tragic and horrific.
The novel felt incomplete to me. Whenever an author takes on issues of this magnitude, I do feel that they have an even greater obligation to be sure to handle the subject matter appropriately. First, there was no warning regarding the content of the book. I felt that was misleading and dangerous. Second, the subject is so extreme, that it needed more. It needed a history of the Wastelands, a more solid idea of what that world was like to at least attempt to explain this society. Or, it needed to be more honest about the nature of the men. That they simply were predators relishing this power they held. By trying to make Vanessa’s father sympathetic, even though he is an abuser, is dishonest and misleading. It needed a point to the rebellion or at least some catalyst for change.
I did not enjoy the book. It was a weird glimpse into a sick society.
Thank you to Little, Brown for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.