The Roanoke Girls
By Amy Engel
Roanoke 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.
Tricky, tricky this one. I have been sitting with this since last night, mulling it over and trying to determine what I would say and how I actually feel about The Roanoke Girls. Two things are certain: I enjoyed the book and the writing is superb. This is Amy Engel’s debut adult fiction as she has previously written for the young adult audience and she seems to have hit the mark and raised it. I will warn that while I was completely comfortable reading this title, I feel it is a fair statement to acknowledge that the content and language will be offensive for some. This is not for someone seeking a light read and will not be a match for anyone who does not enjoy the disturbing. Luckily for me, I happen to be a fan of the latter.
15-year-old Lane Roanoke is no stranger to hardship and pain. Having spent a year living at Roanoke Estate on the outskirts of a dead-end town after her estranged mother commits suicide, she soon learns of a looming family secret that drives her away. She will run, leaving behind the closest thing to love she has ever known, her cousin Allegra.
11 years later though, Lane receives news that Allegra has disappeared and makes the journey back to Roanoke. A journey she vowed to never make again. Now Lane is forced to confront the family that she ran from in hopes of discovering the truth. Where is Allegra and will she have to strength to leave again?
“The first time I saw Roanoke was in a dream. I knew little of it beyond its name and the fact that it was in Kansas, a place I had never been. My mother only ever mentioned it when she’s had too much wine, her breath turned sweet and her words slow and syrupy like molasses.”
Engel wastes no time setting the perfect stage what becomes a complex and poignant story centered around one family’s dark history. Within a matter of mere chapters, she cleverly begins to expose the key components that prime this story for the twisted mystery that unfolds. But this is so much more than a simple. Diving beneath the surface of a missing young woman, we find that this is a harrowing tale of revelations and even acceptance.
We follow our protagonist Lane as she returns to a town and estate that has haunted her life, forever altering who she was and is. Her character is gritty, acrimonious and melancholic. She exhibits such a raw yet balanced nature that she solicits very authentic emotions. I cannot claim to relate to her because the life she has endured and the secrets that she carries are beyond anything remotely close to comprehensible on a personal level. But I did feel a strong connection in the most odd sort of ways. I was immersed in her anger and heartache. I was sorrowful and distraught for her and at times I really disliked her.
“You can’t outrun what’s inside of you. You can only acknowledge it, work around it, try and turn it into something better. I may not know exactly where I’m headed, but this time I’m choosing my own destiny.”
The plot that we receive is more than it originally appears as we soon discover. We are presented with a mystery of a missing young woman, a dysfunctional family and an unsettling history that creates an apprehensive and tense read that draws you deep within and promises not to release until the bitter end. The author cleverly feeds the reader bits and pieces of one messed up puzzle that leaves us questioning every motive as she slowly divulges the whole truth that is The Roanoke Girls.
The narration provides crucial and solid world building through perfectly timed past memories and present events as seen through the eyes of Lane. Perhaps one of the most interesting twists added to the narration though that truly heightened the tension and upped the curiosity was the insertion of very brief glimpses into the lives of previous Roanoke Girls that have all passed or disappeared at some point. Slowly a tale of bad love, hurt and betrayal of the darkest sort is uncovered.
“But she loved him. Not an easy butterflies and sunshine kind of love. Not a fairy tale. A dark, twisting horror show of love. Love that spread through her like poison, coiled like inky tentacles that slowly squeezed out all of the light.”
Engel’s writing is graceful and engaging. She weaves each moment together in a fluid timeline, creating a seamless and consistently paced read that seizes you from beginning to end. The Roanoke Girls is a captivating yet disturbing experience that is difficult to release and guaranteed to evoke a multitude of emotions that linger long after the last page. Recommended for anyone who enjoys a brutally raw reads with plenty of dark twists. Perhaps fans of V.C. Andrews might find some appreciation for this one.
*I would like to thank the author and publisher Crown/Penguin Random House for this copy. The review above is of my own unbiased opinion.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐