March 28, 2017

The Roanoke Girls - Amy Engel

Crown Publishing, March 7, 2017.

Four Stars

Lane Roanoke is only fifteen when her mother commits suicide in their dingy New York apartment. Her mother refused to speak about the family she ran away from as a pregnant teenager, but when Gran and Grandpa invite Lane to live with them, she jumps at the chance to get to know her estranged relatives. Their rambling estate in rural Kansas is also home to Lane’s cousin Allegra, who has lived with their grandparents since she was a baby. Just like Lane’s mother, Allegra’s ran away from home – and the Roanoke girls that don’t run away seem to turn up dead.

When Lane arrives at Roanoke, she bonds instantly with her exciting cousin Allegra, who is bursting with energy and loves to push boundaries. Allegra introduces Lane to the history of the Roanoke girls – a wall filled with the portraits of the women in the family, all of whom are now dead or missing. Other than Allegra, the only remaining family members are Gran, who is cold and distant to Lane, and Grandpa, whose charismatic charm may be hiding a more sinister side. The girls are given complete freedom, and they spend the summer with a couple local boys, Cooper and Tommy. However, Grandpa tells them that the boys will come and go, but he will love them always – and possibly not just in a familial way.

Lane’s relationship with Cooper is tumultuous. Passionate and angry, he seems to know more about the Roanoke family secrets than Lane does – but when Lane eventually finds out the truth about her dark and twisted family, she runs without looking back. Eleven years later, Lane is living in L.A., divorced and directionless, when she receives a call from Grandpa. Allegra has gone missing, and Lane feels the dangerous pull of Roanoke, calling her back to help search for her beautiful and damaged cousin.

Lane is immediately drawn back into the disturbing patterns of her family, and the lethargy of small-town Kansas. She reunites with Cooper and Tommy, who have remained in town – Cooper took over his dad’s mechanic shop, and Tommy is now on the police force. Even though Tommy has been investigating Allegra’s disappearance, Lane decides to do some searching of her own. Tommy is now married, but his obsessive love of Allegra is still strong, and in Lane’s mind, he is one of many suspects in her disappearance – including the caretaker and the housekeeper at Roanoke, both of whom are complicit in the family’s secret past.

The novel alternates between “Then” (the summer Lane spent at Roanoke) and “Now” (her investigation into Allegra’s disappearance). Sprinkled in between are vignettes of the other Roanoke girls, which slowly reveal how they died or went missing. The common link between all the girls is Grandpa, and his ability to charm and seduce everyone around him. When Lane finds a message from Allegra that simply says Run Lane, she knows she must put an end to the dark saga of the Roanoke girls.

The Roanoke Girls is very disturbing, showing the extreme levels of abuse in one family and the ways it can be passed down through generations. It’s difficult to read, but also so compelling that you can’t look away. There is a mystery here, but it is not truly shocking – it is more about the slow unfolding of deeply buried secrets. This is the author’s first novel for adult audiences, and it is sometimes obvious that her style is young adult – but overall, the novel is compelling enough to overlook its flaws and just let yourself be pulled along for the ride, disturbing as it is.

I received this book from Crown Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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