The Official Book Blurb
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.
Looks can be deceiving. Take this cover for example. Beneath the beautiful flowers you may expect something light and whimsical. But much like the tear in the cover might suggest, when you scratch beneath the surface, the beautiful exterior of The Roanoke Girls belies a certain darkness, one which I know has and will continue to divide opinion. For, dear reader, this is a book with a dark heart. A deep and dirty secret which runs through generations of the eponymous Roanoke Girls, and one which will certain be too much of a trigger or a taboo for many. If you have a strong will and an open mind, then perhaps you will read on.
I can understand why many have said they DNF this book. When I was sent my copy by the publisher, it came with a warning that it was dark and disturbing. That is somewhat unusual but it didn’t deter me as I’m somewhat of a fan of horror and often disturbing is right up my street. But I wasn’t quite expecting this… I came into the book completely blind, having read no reviews, willing to allow the book itself to do the talking. And talk it did, but partly because I also bought the audiobook, listening to about 80% of the book this way and reading the last 20% to finish it.
And it certainly is disturbing. For the first few chapters, it seemed fairly innocuous beyond what happens to Lane’s mother, but it soon became clear what was happening and when the big secret is revealed at around 20% in, I had to wonder just where this book would go from there. I won’t say too much more about the plot other than to say this is definitely not The Waltons. This family is dysfunctional with a capital D. There is nothing overtly gratuitous in the way the story is told. Much is left to the reader to interpret, but it certainly does leave somewhat of a bad taste in the mouth.
Which is why it is hard for me to decide how I feel about it. The subject matter is abhorrent. No question about that, so it is perhaps wrong to say that I enjoyed it. But perhaps because I listened to the story, that the narrator gave life to the words in a way I many never have read them for myself, it wasn’t as hard to swallow as I imagined it would be. Outside of the main story, the imagery which is created on the page, the humid and oppressive summer, the grandeur and yet atmosphere of the old Roanoke house, is so striking, so real, that I couldn’t help but be impressed by the authors style.
I know this is billed as a thriller, but it is not so much that as a mystery. Perhaps a commentary on family life and control or manipulation, but not what i would call a thriller. It is haunting and tragic, and it creates a feeling of disgust in many readers and not because the author has gone for shock value over all else. In fact the central antagonism of the book is almost overlooked at times in favour of exploring the experience of Lane in her first and only summer in Roanoke as a teenager, and of her exploration of the town when she returns as an adult. It is a tried and tested formula, the past and present viewpoint switching seamlessly, but it is interspersed with chapters detailing the many lines of the Roanoke women and their pasts, however short they may have been.
This was a slower paced book, perhaps reflecting the pace of life in Kansas. Even the search for Lane’s cousin Allegra seems to lack urgency. Yet there are still moments of conflict where you can feel the tension bleed from the page so I can only congratulate the author on achieving this. And yet… I don’t know how I feel still. I really don’t. For the subject matter however almost sympathetically handled, I can see why people will struggle with this and I would probably give this a sitting on the fence 3 out of 5. For the way in which Amy Engel was able to heighten my senses, to give me a true sense of place and generate a real atmosphere and tension, I think I’d probably go a bit higher.
If you are brave enough, perhaps you really need to read and judge for yourselves. If you are a fan of audiobooks, then I honestly can recommend this one. I really do think it helped me to accept this book for what it is. Beautifully crafted, if somewhat disturbing.
My thanks to Emily Kitchin at Hodder and Stoughton for providing me with an advance copy of The Roanoke Girls for review. It is available to purchase now from the following links.