Book Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls
Amy Engel
Crown Publishers, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-90666-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“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.

I first encountered Amy Engel with a young adult dystopian duology and, in my review of the second book, The Revolution of Ivy, I remarked, “This is essentially a character study of how people cope with extreme conditions and stress while holding on to their humanity.” The Roanoke Girls is a contemporary adult mystery but I would make that same comment about this book.

When Lane arrives in Kansas to live with her grandparents after her mother’s suicide, she knows very little about these relatives and would have been content to live on her own, something the authorities would never allow a 15-year-old to do. She has few expectations but, even so, her first glimpse of the rambling and mystifying structure known as Roanoke leaves her flummoxed. Moments later, she meets the cousin, Allegra, who will become so important in her life, a life that has just taken a turn for the worse. Much worse.

The core theme of the story is not as uncommon as we would like to think and Ms. Engel handles an extremely uncomfortable and disturbing tragedy in a compelling tale. Near the end, a character asks a question, showing his puzzlement and lack of true understanding. I can’t repeat it here without being spoilery but I think you’ll know it when you see it as it points out very simply how a person can think there’s nothing wrong with his enormously awful behavior. It’s creepy and unsettling while utterly tragic. This is not a book I’ll ever want to read again but Ms. Engel kept me turning the page even after I knew the true nature of this family’s secrets.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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About the Author

AMY ENGEL is the author of the young adult series The Book of Ivy. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. This is her first novel for adults.

Photo credit Trish Brown Photography

Connect with Amy:
Website | Facebook | Twitter

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