Review of The Roanoke Girls


The Roanoke Girls

Amy Engel


March 7, 2017

Goodreads BlurbRoanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

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.

The Roanoke Girls is labelled as a mystery and thriller and while it is both of those things, it is also a bit of a horror novel, the horror being what a charming, charismatic individual is capable of doing and making it seem fine, right, loving even.

I won’t lie to you. I struggled with the first few chapters of The Roanoke Girls so much so that I started it at the end of October and only finished it on February 8. Why, you might ask?  Was the writing bad? No. The writing is excellent, beautiful, evocative, but those first few chapters in which we meet Lane are sometimes shocking (and sometimes it felt like it was for the shock value alone) and Lane isn’t a character you immediately love. From the outset she confides her unfaithfulness, her meanness, which I frankly couldn’t read open-mindedly initially (thus the hiatus). She owns her prickliness and as the chapters unfold you find yourself forgiving her bad behavior more and more because you see that early on she didn’t have a choice but then as time went on she seemed only capable of making bad choices, hurtful choices—hurting both herself and those close to her.

While the reader comes to understand the secret at Roanoke relatively early on, it isn’t until late in the novel that Lane understands and it is this which confuses her and drives her away. She is disgusted by the trail of her own reactions. She wants Allegra to run away with her, but Allegra is spellbound.

As Lane leaves behind Allegra, she also leaves behind Cooper, who, although they share a tempestuous relationship, sometimes emotionally destructive, he embodies the light against the darkness. He is the blonde haired boy  charming her in contrast to all of the darkness that Roanoke physically and spiritually represents.

While the reader presumes that there will be a summing up to Allegra’s disappearance, author Amy Engel keeps tossing out wrenches until the very end.

So, should you read this novel? Definitely, but prepare yourself. Much of it, unlike the actual writing, is not pretty. All of the characters have failings; no one is lily-white, without a flaw. Sometimes you’ll feel frustrated or dismayed or angry about a character’s reaction and then you’ll realize that Engel has written about dysfunction extremely well. People don’t act in textbook ways and Engel’s characters are flawed people.

And, if nothing else, I guarantee you will leave this novel feeling something.

I received an ARC from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

To Pre-order from AmazonThe Roanoke Girls

rating: 4-and-a-half (4 butterflies and a ladybug)

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