Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel - Old house, small town, disturbing secret

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Released: 14th March 2017
Published by: Hachette
Genre: Thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 277
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane's first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Before the prologue even begins, the quote on the very first page from Vladimir Nabokov sums up the essence of this story: "Look at this tangle of thorns". The Roanoke Girls is a darkly enigmatic novel about what happens behind closed doors, the perpetrators of unthinkable acts and the people who protect them. While the major 'twist' of where this disturbing conduct stems from came a little too early to have that lasting impact on the story for me, this book is testament to Amy Engel's ability to write successfully in a genre other than YA.

She stayed. That's what it meant to love. Never letting go. Never giving up. Never giving in. And when it was all over, she would be the last one standing.
The only one left for him to love.

Engel's prose provides the feeling of being unsettled from the beginning, unveiling the first piece of shock factor with the detailed revelation of Lane's mother's instability and eventual suicide. The 'family tree' of Roanoke women proves useful in the pages to come, as the story switches back and forth between the disturbing events of then and now. With quite a few to keep track of, in the sections referring to the past, it did create a slight detour in the continuity of the plot, although since this is a relatively short read anyway it did help shape the context of the future events that followed. I'm being deliberately vague here as to say any more about the fate of these girls would give away too much, but it was not what I expected and made my skin crawl.

After a lifetime of relying only on myself, believing in someone else felt nearly impossible. But the look in his eyes, as if I were the most precious thing he had ever seen, made me want to try, to give in a little and trust that maybe he wouldn't let me down.

Where Engel succeeds is in her depiction of characters who are all dysfunctional - in their relationships, and at their very core. It seems that not only the Roanoke girls themselves, but everyone in the rural town is inadvertently hurtling towards destruction. Lane running from the devastating events at her home and coming to Roanoke to once more be pulled into its tortured embrace is at first glance a recipe for disaster. Her cousin Allegra, whose name ironically would translate to 'happy', and her feverish dalliances, are a prelude to Lane's tense determination to find out the truth of why she went missing. The men of their past; Tommy as Allegra's quick but intense fling, and Cooper as Lane's old flame, have their own roles to play in the drama which unfolds. Yet what was more intriguing was seeing how the miasma of deranged desires lay at the heart of Roanoke itself. Although some of the twists were perhaps convenient, Amy Engel certainly knows how to create a sense of place - and that is what stood out to me the most.


The Roanoke Girls is a dark novel about the twisted personalities within a brooding house, in a town which has been touched by the disconcerting mysteries which come from it. 

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