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Book Review: Gather the Daughters (WITH SPOILERS!)

Gather the daughters""If she could start her life over again, she decides, she would shout more. She would bite like the dream dogs. She wouldn’t be so scared of everything all the time. She wouldn’t come when Father called, she would stay where she was. She wouldn’t lose her breath when Mr. Abraham said her name, but speak boldly. She would stomp and yell and be loud and big, eat until she grew six feet tall and then run away."

I recently read two novels about girls living within a fundamentalist Christian cult. The first one was Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed. In this novel, a society of people is living on an island, sheltered there after the outside world has been devastated by fire, war, and disease. In this society, men are in charge. Children are educated, but the only thing they are allowed to read is “Our Book,” which is a sort of amalgam of the Bible. Everyone is allowed to have two children, and after your children have grown up and gotten married, you drink something that kills you and your body is buried in the fields so as to fertilize the ground for future crops. When a girl begins having periods, she has reached the age where she can be married. During the summer, the children are allowed to simply run wild over the island; people leave food on their porches for them, and then they come home when it begins to get cold. The girls who have “grown up” have their summer of fruition instead, where they are all gathered at different houses in the community along with whichever adult men have been chosen for that summer. This is really the only time they are allowed a choice, as they get to pick who they will be married to.

Before the summer of fruition, fathers are expected to “lie with” their daughters. (So as to avoid getting their wives pregnant again.)

The story rotates around four girls: Vanessa, Caitlin, Amanda, and Janey. Each of them are trying to resist, in varying ways, the roles and rules their society puts on them. Janey is the most vocal; she is starving herself, existing on the barest minimum of food, so that she won’t start having periods. Amanda is newly-married and newly-pregnant; when a midwife’s ritual tells her she will be having a girl she realizes her daughter will have to experience what she did with her own father. Caitlin’s father beats her and her mother and she is trying to find her own voice to tell him to stop. And Vanessa, whose father is a wanderer (the men who both lead the community and are able to leave the island to gather supplies and, sometimes, new recruits) who sometimes brings books to the island.

Each girl’s experiences illuminate the different facets of the community. And while it was a difficult book to read, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I tend to like dark, problematic stories, and this one does a good job at using this imagined community to subtly point out issues in our current reality. 

However, and THIS WAY LIE SPOILERS, the ending.

I was so infuriated by the ending.

It seems like the cool thing to do right now is to compare feminist dystopian novels to The Handmaid’s Tale. I get it—it’s a good way to market a novel. And this one is, true to form, compared in this way. I suppose there are some similarities; the scope of the communities is different, but women being controlled by a male-dominated society is a shared theme. Main characters trying to push back against the social restraints also appears in both books.

And, if you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, you know the ending is…well, I’ve heard people describe it as “lame,” “frustrating,” “disappointing,” “confusing.” People feel like they’re left hanging, not knowing what happened to Offred. For me, I have always thought that ending was brilliant. Partly because the van driving up isn’t the actual end, the epilogue is. The end-frame of the epilogue changes the whole arc of the story, the whole purpose. This is why I feel pretty bitter about Margaret Atwood writing the sequel. It wasn’t necessary, despite everyone clamboring to know what happened to Offred. “What happened to Offred” isn’t really the point. What happened to the country and to the women inside it is, and the epilogue gives just enough details for you to imagine for yourself. Besides, literature often has ambiguous, unsettling endings.

So, back to Gather the Daughters. Yes, like The Handmaid’s Tale it has an ambiguous ending. I felt like it ended that way to check off some imaginary list of how a feminist dystopian novel should end. To make the Handmaid’s Tale connection stronger. But they are such different books (and the author, while good, isn’t quite the stylist that Atwood is), with different purposes.

(OK, I lied: HERE is where the spoilers start!)

The book sets up a story of rebellion. Each of the four girls rebels in her own way, but Vanessa is the least rebellious. Each one is looking for her way out of the society and away from men’s control. And, one by one…each of the four rebellious daughters dies. Until we get to Vanessa, and the novel ends with her being rescued when her father is offended by the Wanderers threatening to burn his books.

Listen, I’m all for saving books! And for books! And education! But he didn’t decide to flee until his books were threatened. Not when he had routine sex with his own daughter. Not when the wanderers killed Amanda and several other young girls. Not when his daughter was nearly raped. Nope. When his books were threatened, that’s when he decided to act.


All of the actions the characters took to save themselves were for naught. They pushed back and they were punished with death. Vanessa pushed back, but she didn’t save herself. Instead she was saved as a sort of collateral saving—get the books and oh! better grab Vanessa too!

I think my level of disappointment reflects my level of engagement in the book. The world-building was good, I loved the writing style, I was deeply involved in caring for the characters.

So the big fat nothingburger of the ending was a enormous disappointment. All of that setup, the rebellion of girls living on the beach together, their realizations that probably their leaders were lying to them, the sinking church…there was so much possibility for something to happen. And then it just…ended.

Like The Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps this will one day have a sequel. I hope so, but even if it does, I’m not sure I will pick it up. Trick me twice and all that…

Three Baby Boy Quilts

In the quilting group I’m in, lots of people have been posting their “quarantine quilts.” Things they finally finished during the shut down, or even started AND finished. Some people have finished five or six! I’ve also been sewing a lot. I think I made about 100+ masks before I got so tired of making them and gave it a break. I’ve made several quilty things, a few I can’t share yet because they are gifts, but here are the three baby quilts I made.

Board Books
I made this one for my librarian friend’s new baby. In the spirit of the age—ie, not shopping unless it was necessary—I tried to only use strips from my scrap box. I only partly succeeded…I think there are 4-5 totally new fabrics in there, and I cut into some fabrics I already owned because I needed a bigger variety of colors. 2020 quilts board books front
There are lots of book- and word-themed fabrics because she’s a librarian! I just sewed together random strips until they were about 8" wide, then trimmed into 7.5" squares. Since this is a mixed-media quilt (flannel AND cottons), I used a 3/8" seam to make it sturdier.

I was a little bit worried as I made this one that it would be TOO scrappy, but I think it turned out OK. I debated for a good while with myself about whether to make all the patterns run in the same direction (so there is a top and a bottom in the sense of "reading" the quilt) but in the end decided a random approach was better. 2020 quilts board books detail
One thing I love about making scrappy quilts is being reacquainted with older pieces. I had bits & pieces from quilts I made all the way back to Kaleb’s baby quilt. Quilts I’ve made for friends, family, neighbors, and my own kids. Seeing them again takes you back to how it felt to be making that first quilt. I love that!

For the back I used a panel. I had planned on framing it only with flannel, but when I dug into my stash I discovered a little piece of ultra flannel so I used that, too. Ultra flannel is a very thin flannel on the back side and silky on the front. My mom used to make us nightgowns with ultra flannel! I like using it in bits and pieces because it adds a different texture, both with the literal feel of it and the "visual" texture as well.

2020 quilts board books back

Mama Elephant

2020 quilts mama elephant front
I made this one for my neighbor’s daughter. Ha—writing that out sounds a little bit crazy. I love my neighbor, though, so even though I only know her daughter a little bit, I still wanted to make a quilt for her. I made this one with some of the 7.5" squares I cut when I did my big fabric organization last year. (I meant to cut 8.5" squares but for some reason, one day I cut a pile at 7.5" instead.) I’m so glad I finally conquered my fear of triangles! Half square triangles are so fun to make and come together really quickly. And there are so many options for how to piece them together. This was another quilt I tried to only use my stash for, and I achieved that with the top. The back, though, is new. So cute! 2020 quilts mama elephant back
The mom wanted African-themed baby items, so this seemed perfect. I tried to find every elephant-themed print I had. I have been experimenting with mixing low-volume prints so I tried that with this quilt. I didn’t get it exactly right…I think there are a few that aren’t low-volume enough, but it works.

Arthur’s Court
One of the girls who grew up in my neighborhood was having a baby named Arthur, and she was doing a dragon theme for the nursery. When I saw this panel I could. not. resist! (I got it from Hawthorne Fabrics.) I wasn’t sure how to cut the panel, though, because they aren’t the same size. I framed them each on one side to make the sizes the same, and since nothing in my patterns really matched, I went for solids on the other two squares. 2020 quilts arthurs court front
I LOVE that grey fabric! I bought it for masks and am glad I got three yards because it is the perfect grey. I *think* it is a Moda Bella solid called Silver. Sometimes greys are too something (green or yellow, usually, but sometimes purple) but this one seems to be right in the middle. Anyway, I quilted around the castle and the dragon to help them pop. The back is mostly flannel from my stash, except I had to piece a strip in the middle to make it big enough. I used dark grey thread for the back of the quilt so that the shapes would stand out against the light grey fabric, and then on the front I used light blue, dark blue, and light grey thread.


2020 quilts arthurs court back

Right now, I need to quilt two mini quilts I’ve made just the tops for, along with three hot pads. Once I get those done I am finally going to start on Kaleb’s quilt. I keep putting it off because I’m nervous about matching corners. Wish me luck! (Well…luck and precision!)

Did you make anything during the quarantine?

Why I Wear a Mask

As the pandemic continues, I have been thinking about fear.

To be fair, I have thought about fear quite often over the past 15 years or so. I think about it when someone tells me I’m brave to go running on my own. I think about it when someone says I’m foolish to go running on my own, too. I’m not fearless about running by myself. I always tell someone where I’m going and how long I’ll be. I take my cell phone with me and make sure it is charged. I watch for people who give strange vibes and I cross roads with the utmost caution. Every time I leave to go running, in fact, I have the thought that this one might be the run when something bad happens: when I get hit by a car, when someone pulls me into the weeds and rapes me, when I fall and get an injury I can’t walk home with…

If you let it, the fear can control your imagination. So I choose, every time I go for a run, to go anyway, despite my fears. Because the truth is, I don’t have someone to run with consistently. If I decided to not run because of my fears, then I would never run, and not running is not an option. So I take precautions and I try to make my choices based on reality rather than on the fearful scenarios my brain can devise.

There is an idea in American society right now that people are wearing masks out of fear. I’ve seen it expressed on social media, of course, but also I’ve seen it in person. The man in the post office in April, who shouted at me because I was wearing a mask while I waited in line to mail a package to Nathan, that I was an idiot for believing in the government’s scare tactics. (And the flu kills more people than this stupid imaginary virus.) “You’re just wearing that mask because you’re a coward,” he said. Luckily librarian eyebrow is REALLY noticeable when you’re wearing a mask. I didn’t even respond with words, just glared at him until he shut up.

Here’s the thing: I’m not wearing a mask because I am afraid. I am wearing a mask because it might help turn the tide, flatten the curve, calm the wave. I’m wearing one because it could help keep someone else from getting sick. I’m wearing one because that’s what scientists are recommending.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid. I am afraid. I don’t want to bring the virus into my family. I have gone through enough medical conditions with my family to fill an entire lifetime. It is enough. I don’t want my husband, whose heart has undergone FOUR damaging processes, to catch a virus that can cause heart damage. I don’t want my teenage son, who has an aortic bulge, to catch a virus that can cause aortic bulges. I don’t want my adult son, who is grappling with mental health issues, to add illness to his list of struggles. I, in my own body, do not want to catch it. My breathing has already been irrevocably altered by pertussis. I don’t need another thing.

I also don’t want any of my adult kids who are out in the world, away from my house, to catch it. I hope many, many complete strangers I will never meet will be wearing masks so that my kids can be healthy and safe, so they can push forward with their amazing and brave pursuits.

All of my friends and family members: I don’t want any of them to get sick, either.

I also reject the idea that I’m wearing a mask because I don’t have enough faith. “I know where I am going when I die,” I have heard more than once, “so I’m not afraid. If it’s my time, it’s my time, and I will be happy in heaven.” My faith has changed so much in the past five years that I can no longer grasp this concept, but even when I did think I knew where I was going, I didn’t want to die. I want to live a long life. I want to see my kids fulfill their ambitions. I hope I get to be a grandma one day. I want to travel. I want to sit in restaurants with friends and laugh and talk together. I still have books to write, races to run, mountains to climb. I want to be here, in this place, living with the people I love. Death is inevitable, but I don’t want to invite it in any sooner than necessary, not because of fear of the afterlife but because I am here, right now, and it is what I know.

When I run by myself, I only use one headphone and I keep my music low so I can hear my surroundings. I check over my shoulder and I look around for weirdos. I also watch the path; what divots or stones do I need to avoid so I don’t twist an ankle? I put on sunscreen so I don’t get sunburned, and make sure I have access to water on longer runs. I don’t run naked but in fact spend no small amount of money on running clothes that keep my boobs from bouncing and compress my hamstrings in a supportive way. I wear socks so I don’t get blisters and shoes so I don’t cut my feet open.

These are the precautions I take to keep myself safe in order to do something that I love. Do they absolutely guarantee that I won’t get hurt, raped, hit by a car, or otherwise injured? No (although I do ensure that there is ZERO boob bouncing). But they up the odds of my safety.

It’s the same with mask-wearing during a global pandemic (although it’s starting to feel like an American epidemic, isn’t it?) I don’t wear a mask because I’m a coward (or because I’m manipulated by the media, influenced by propaganda, virtue signaling to others, or any of the other dumb things people have said or insinuated). I wear one because I understand the risks and want to do what I can to make them smaller, for myself and for others.

This past weekend, my niece who lives in Texas was visiting Utah. I haven’t seen her entire family for years—long enough that none of her kids really even know who I am, but I was excited to see them all anyway. We haven’t had any family interaction since December, so when my sister planned a family party, I was so looking forward to it. But then Texas exploded with cases, and Utah’s cases continued to go up, and I got nervous. None of my concerns about hearts and lungs and mental health have changed. I wanted to go to see my family, but I also wanted to stay safe. So, I very carefully asked. I know this is a hot-button issue and people have strong opinions on both sides. I didn’t want to seem like I was taking all my toys and going home, but I also needed to lower the risk. I asked if people would wear masks to the party. And I know: many of them didn’t want to. Many of them disagree with my opinion.

But, you know? I went to the party and they all wore masks. No one made me feel bad, no one told me I was a coward. Maybe after I left they all took their masks off and had a mask-and-Amy-free party without me, and that is fine.

But they respected my issues because (I think) they love me and wanted to see me. I mean…it might’ve just been for my cake, but I think it was for me.

I can’t help but contrast that with another large activity Kendell and I went to a few weeks ago. We went full of hesitation but wanting to be supportive. We both wore our masks. And we were literally the. only. people. wearing masks. One other person put on his mask in solidarity, but everyone else went about their partying way, maskless. I caught the eye of several people, friends and family both, and the looks on their faces: pity, ridicule, and many efforts not to laugh. It was almost like being back in high school, when the queen bee deigned to notice you and then spotted your flaw and her eyes widened in delight at this thing she could mock you for. Like that, except far more disappointing than painful because now we are grown ups and should know better.

It is a form of privilege, honestly. To stand in the midst of so many people getting sick and so many who are dying and to defy the precautions. It might seem brave to you, you might think I am living in fear, but honestly, to me you are being stupid. It shows that you have yet to learn one of life’s cruelest truths. Illness comes to everyone, eventually, and while you might be healed you are never the same. You will always be fixed, there will always be a scar.

So I will wear my mask. In hopes that it protects my family. In hopes that it protects others. In hopes that it will create good karma that protects my out-of-state loved ones. In hopes that I will not be the vector that causes life to teach you that truth.

Not in fear, but in hope.