The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publishing Date: 9th March 2017
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review!
Number of pages: 288
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery
A gripping, provocative thriller about the twisted secrets families keep, perfect for fans of The Girls. Beautiful. Rich. Mysterious. Everyone wants to be a Roanoke girl. But you won’t when you know the truth. Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family’s rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But what she doesn’t know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice…
Ah, guys. Don’t be misled by the lovely cover of this book. This novel is not as rosy as it may suggest! I’ve read this story in one day. It was impossible for me to put it down for a moment. It was disturbing, dysfunctional, controversial and thought – provoking, full of dark secrets that go back in generations.
Lane Roanoke’s mother has committed suicide but Lane can consider herself lucky – the family that she’s never seen before, grandparents and her cousin Allegra, want her to come to the very rural Osage Flats in Kansas. Her mother never really talked about Lane’s grandparents so Lane doesn’t really know what to expect – the only thing she knows is that her mother ran away from her home years before – just like many other Roanoke girls before her. They ran away, or they die…
The story really takes place over one summer, when Lane arrives to the Roanoke family, with many retrospections to the past, and thanks to them we start to understand what’s really happening in this family. After learning what really happens there, Lane decided to leave and wants to take Allegra with her but she blankly refuses, even though she knows she’s living a nightmare in a toxic environment. Lane vows never to come back to Kansas but eleven years later she receives a phone call from her grandfather that Allegra is missing.
This story, mostly written from Lane’s point of view, also allows us to get to know the perspectives of all the other Roanoke girls as well. It seamlessly flows between “now” and “then”. It made me feel hate and feel upset – as it deals with things that I found uncomfortable – but at the same time I couldn’t stop reading it, and I am also thinking that the author has handled the issues she wrote about in a really skilful way, without adding drama or trying to make them even worse. The author deals with the secret and us knowing about it, about those difficult themes, in the best possible way, with a lot of gentleness and subtlety.
All the Roanoke girls are exceptionally beautiful, without exception. But they all keep shocking secrets. The big secret, that I relatively quickly guessed, was also revealed early on. I think it couldn’t be different with the secret, it must have been revealed so early on because without doing so the story wouldn’t make sense probably. This way, we weren’t asking WHAT or WHO but WHY. The author also had time to concentrate on the whole family, on explaining the relationships and bonds.
The characters in this story were full of flaws, and I mean full! It wasn’t easy to like them, to be honest, but I also think that they didn’t expect us to like them. I was irritated by the way Allegra and Lane were as teenagers but well, that’s the way teenagers are, right – behaving as if they know everything and experienced everything when in fact they don’t know anything, showboating, patronizing… The adult Lane was also not my favourite person, but now I am thinking that perhaps the way she was behaving was her protective shell? However, the characters, with all their flaws, dark secrets, habits were realistic and genuine and it was like a real breath of fresh air. They didn’t pretend to be somebody else, they were as they were, they were themselves and I appreciated them for this very much.
My biggest problem was that I couldn’t understand what kept the girls from telling the truth. There were no signals of them being brainstormed or something like this, it looked as if they’ve chosen this life and they themselves didn’t want to change it. It was not like this that they were loved and cherished only at home, as we could see they all were easily finding boyfriends or admirers – so why? Why too choose suicide? They did know that what’s happening at home is sick, and I guess this is what bothered me too much when reading this story – but probably they just couldn’t do it differently, as actually them being so strongly rooted at the Roanoke House was the most important information.
“The Roanoke Girls” is a very exceptional novel about appearances and that it often happens that evil things are hidden under the facade of money and being a “good” family with traditions. It was bitter and brutally honest, telling things how they are but sparing us the worst moments – I appreciated this fact. It was sharp and very well observed. And I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t guess the last twist. I didn’t. It didn’t cross my mind. This novel pulls you in, keeps you at its grips, dunk you into the Roanokes’ world completely. Full of dark secrets, disturbing and unforgettable, I will definitely be keeping my eyes out for more from Amy Engel, because this novel has shaken my world. Truly recommended!