Book review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Monday, March 20, 2017 Permalink

I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The description was a little vague and I’ve recently been ‘tricked’ into reading outside of my normal genre by books I’ve assumed to be crime fiction or thrillers… only to later discover ghosts or the supernatural. Which would be fine if I wanted to read about the supernatural. But that’s usually not the case when I settle down expecting to be entertained in a macabre-but-safe manner by psychopathic serial killers.

And while we’re making confessions, I need to add that my interest waned a little early on in this book. I’m usually okay with unlikeable characters but for some reason a couple of the leads in this novel put me off from the get-go. Fortunately however, I hung in there…

Book review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy EngelThe Roanoke Girls
by Amy Engel
Published by Hachette Australia
on March 14th 2017
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9781473648395
Pages: 288

Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her maternal grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, at the Roanoke family estate in rural Osage Flats, Kansas, following the suicide of her mother.

Lane knows little of her mother’s family, other than the fact that her mother ran away years before and cut off all contact with her parents.

Allegra, abandoned by her own mother at birth and raised by her grandparents, introduces Lane to small-town life and the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But there is darkness at the heart of the Roanoke family, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull she has no choice but to run, as far and as fast as she can.

Eleven years later, Lane is scraping by in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls with the news that Allegra has gone missing.

“Come home,” he beckons. Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to Osage Flats, determined to find her cousin and assuage her own guilt at having left Allegra behind all those years ago. Her return might mean a second chance with Cooper, the boyfriend whom she loved and destroyed that fateful summer. But it also means facing the terrible secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

There’s something unsettling about this book. I mean, readers are meant to be alarmed or surprised or even horrified at the secrets this family has been harbouring. Indeed, the happenings would be unbelievable if we didn’t see or hear of similar stories in the media from time to time. Nevertheless… it will be a bit hard for a lot of readers to stomach.

I’m pretty hard to shock but found myself second-guessing the judgements I was making about some about the characters in the book and pondered my own feelings of their guilt, innocence and – I guess – vulnerability.

The book’s not as fast-paced as I’m accustomed to, but I found myself intrigued about Allegra’s fate, particularly given the history of the Roanoke girls and their predilection for running away or dying prematurely.

The narrative as it relates to Allegra’s disappearance is akin to a slow burn as Lane’s return unfolds in multiple timeframes and we learn more about her first arrival at Roanoke 10 years earlier, when she only stayed the summer and first met her cousin and grandparents. And Lane’s story is intermingled with short chapters about some of the other Roanoke girls… their lives, departures or deaths.

There’s something almost gothic about this book and its setting. Although it’s happening in the present (and recent past) it could be unfolding centuries ago, and Engel does a good job with the creepy and desolate setting of the family home and its surrounds – a metaphor for the way in which the Roanoke family itself suffused over the years.

It was like a handful of giant houses all smashed together with no regard for aesthetics or conformity. It was equal parts horrifying and mesmerising….

It looked like something an insane person would build, or someone who didn’t give a shit. p 6

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.



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