The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there's a dark truth about them which is never spoken. Every girl either runs away, or dies.
Lane is one of the lucky ones. When she was fifteen, over one long, hot summer at her grandparents' estate in rural Kansas, she found out what it really means to be a Roanoke girl. Lane ran, far and fast. Until eleven years later, when her cousin Allegra goes missing - and Lane has no choice but to go back.
She is a Roanoke girl.
Is she strong enough to escape a second time?
When Lane Roanoak's mother commits suicide Lane finds herself back in Kansas where her mother came from and in the Roanoake family home to live with her grandparents. At 15 Lane has no other relatives to care for her and being too young to take care of herself she has little choice. She has never met her grandparents or any of her relatives as her mother left the family home when she was 16 and pregnant with Lane. Over the course of the summer she becomes very close to her cousin Allegra who also lives in Roanoake and little by little she pieces together her family's past and uncovers secrets she is both ashamed and fascinated by.
We learn early on in the novel what is going on and although this should have made the novel lack luster it actually seemed to add to it. The twist at the end was not entirely unpredictable but again this did not detract from what ended up as a really good read.
The characters were well thought out and shaped not just their personalities but also the theme of the novel. Vulnerable and innocent children manipulated and 'groomed' into the playthings they became, those that ran could not outrun their past and those that stayed died young. Lane's mother ran but also died young as for her she could not put the past behind her and could not live with the shame and guilt.
The author did not try and steer the reader into one direction in terms of opinions or try and manipulate with a 'tell' philosophy but allowed the reader to come to their own conclusions as the story unfolds. All the characters in this novel had flaws or were scarred by things that happened in their lives and strong parallels are shown on how some were able to use these to shape their lives for the better and those who were too weak or controlled to be able to escape their fate. When Lane finds out the awful secrets she runs away from Roanoak after that first summer vowing never to return but she does return 11 years later when she finds out her cousin Allegra is missing and she stays until she discovers what happened to her.
I don't ever give spoilers so you will have to read it yourself suffice it to say that it covers some disturbing and real issues written mainly from Lane's point of view but also those of all the Roanoke girls which gave it a more rounded and complete view of the family over the course of many years.
Because of this clever writing the reader could have sympathy with the characters and understand in a way why they felt they couldn't unmask what was going on in this dysfunctional family unit. It laid bare the effects of neglect, the need to be loved,the guilt and shame of the abused and the consequences for those bound up in the secrets and lies.
Very clever writing and although I felt the ending was a bit predictable it did not detract from what was otherwise a well crafted novel. A well deserved 4 stars for this one.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.