A band of young girls grows to undermine the world they were born into.
Vanessa, Amanda, Caitlin, and Janey live on an island, at an indefinite distance from the U.S. mainland. It’s not clear what year it is or when, exactly, the island was colonized. The girls and their families are all descended from 10 “ancestors” who founded the island society. The only ones to leave the island are the “wanderers,” who travel to the mainland—the “wastelands”—to bring back supplies. In this world, women and girls live tightly proscribed lives. Children run riot during the summers, but, once they reach puberty, girls undergo a summer of “fruition” before they are married and begin breeding. In her debut novel, Melamed, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, has written a terrifying work of speculative fiction. The customs and rules of her island become clear only gradually, so the truth of that world seems to blossom, horribly, in the reader’s mind. In their own way, the girls begin to resist their society. To put off puberty, Janey starves herself. Vanessa, whose father is a wanderer, devours the books he brings back from his travels. Further details would require spoilers. Suffice it to say the apparently placid surface of their world begins to roil. Melamed is a masterful writer, and she establishes a hauntingly vivid atmosphere. While it may be difficult at first to differentiate among her many characters, by the end they each become clear. This is a haunting work in the spirit of The Handmaid’s Tale—but Melamed more than holds her own. Hopefully her debut is a harbinger of more to come.
Fearsome, vivid, and raw: Melamed’s work describes a world of indoctrination and revolt.