gather the daughters

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

I've decided that I don't have the time or energy (whispers: at this moment, anyway) to go off on a tirade about my opposition to trigger warnings but (contradictory), I will say that the bottom line is that I ultimately do feel like people/readers should ultimately have the decision-making autonomy over what they're reading, so all this to say that if you have any concerns over your possible sensitivity to just about anything that isn't all light and happy and smiles all around, you are guaranteed to have concerns about this book.

Which, of course, is one of the reasons I loved it so much. This debut is quite unremittingly harsh and bleak and dark and also (as so often happens) quite unremittingly beautiful and insightful and tender.  

"It embarrasses her that everyone thinks Father beats her, but she knows it's just because she bruises so very easily. Father sometimes jokes that she'd bruise in a strong wind. If he lays a hand on her leg, it bruises. If he pulls on her arm to punctuate a point, it bruises. Sometimes she doesn't even feel it. Caitlin hates the marks; it's like her body is a tattletale, blabbing everything that everyone else's body keeps silent. Her body is so garrulous, with its bruises and pink marks and maroon spots, that she rarely talks, not wanting to add to the din. If she can't be smart or pretty, she can be quiet. And good."

"She discovers that grief is a liquid. It passes thickly down her throat and she drinks water and pools soggily around her food. It flows through her veins, dark and heavy, and fills the cavities of her bones until they weigh so much she can barely lift her head. It coats her skin like a slick of fat, moving and swirling over her eyes, turning their clear surfaces to dull gray. At night, it rises up from the floor silently until she feels it seep into the bedclothes, lick at her heels and elbows and throat, thrust upward like a rising tide that will drown her in sorrow."

 Jennifer Boyle

Jennifer Boyle

If pressed into classifying this into a genre, I'd say it's a clever mix of dystopian and magical realism, except that dystopian might be a misnomer or misclassification and, really, the novel is never going to make that clear. Magical realism, though, I feel is definitive.   

You'll see comparisons out there to The Handmaid's Tale, both as a compliment and a derogative (Oh, look, she's copying Handmaid's) and I can't truly comment either way on this as I have thus far (whispering again) failed to read Handmaid's, but I can tell you that I loved how she portrayed the possible ways that girls may emerge or respond or tailor their personalities and responses to an environment that includes sexual physical and emotional abuse but doesn't do so in a cookie-cutter way; these girls are representative of how a child might reflect the values of the community they live in but they're still whole characters and immersive personalities. 

One of my top books this year. Hachette provided a reader's copy to me and this was released on July 25th.