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.
Before I actually start this review and discuss Amy Engel’s The Roanoke Girls and my feelings about it, I want to give a content warning. Since it might be considered a spoiler, I’ve decided to put it in a footnote, so you can avoid it if you want.1 But in short, this book might be triggering to some, so Caveat Lector!
That being said, The Roanoke Girls is definitely one of the best books of the year so far and I was absolutely sucked into Roanoke’s world and Lane’s story. The way the story is structured — moving between then and now — helps to keep you reading on and on, because you keep wanting to go back to the other timeline, no matter in which one you currently find yourself. Interspersed within the two timelines, we get vignettes of the older Roanoke girls which illuminate Roanoke’s history and deepens the tragedy.
Lane is a sympathetic character, even if she isn’t always kind or likeable. When she first arrives at Roanoke she’s a love-starved teenager who has never known a stable home. As such it was easy to understand why she both wants to find a home at the farm, yet at the same time is deeply wary of these strangers calling themselves her family. I really enjoyed the bond between Lane and her cousin Allegra. It reflected both girls’ desire for a close confidante and the jostling for position in the household, especially on Allegra’s part. At first glance, Allegra seems to behave as many only children do when they get a sibling, feeling envious and scared to lose their place in their parents’ affection. It is only with the knowledge grown-up Lane gives the reader that we can read her behaviour differently.
The situation on Roanoke farm almost feels like a cult, where one either buys in wholesale or flees to get out. It is a pattern that has been repeated down the generations. Grandpa Yates is a magnetic presence on the farm and he knows how to manipulate those around him. There are clear grooming tactics to his behaviour and it takes some wilful closing of eyes to not be aware of his actions. He manages to make everyone complicit in the situation, from the family farm hand, Charlie, to his wife Lillian. All of them are entangled in Roanoke’s web of intrigue and few of them get clear. The character that baffled me the most was the grandmother. Why would she stay and what did Yates give her that she would be willing to overlook everything? I expect there are a number of psychological explanations for why, but for myself I just couldn’t imagine making her choices.
Beyond the farm the action mainly focuses on both Lane and Allegra’s love interests, Cooper and Tommy respectively. Allegra’s relationship with Tommy is complicated and her behaviour towards Tommy seems cruel, especially later on. Lane and Cooper seem to be kindred souls, both come from very troubled homes, both have a serious dark side, but surprisingly it is Lane who is frightened most by her feelings for Cooper. I liked that for once it was the woman who was afraid to commit. While their teenage romance was fierce and enthralling, their adult reunion was beautifully written and developed. It provided me with some of my favourite scenes of the book and I couldn’t help but root for Cooper.
The Roanoke Girls is dark, agonising, intense, and gripping. Amy Engel writes compellingly, in a smooth and easily readable style. Lane, Allegra, and the other Roanoke girls broke my heart and I felt so angry on their behalf. The ending when it came, was tragic, but in a way also just. If you can bear the subject matter I absolutely recommend The Roanoke Girls. But beware triggers!
Monday, March 6th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, March 7th: Suzy Approved
Tuesday, March 7th: Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, March 8th: Bookchickdi
Thursday, March 9th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, March 9th: Buried Under Books
Friday, March 10th: Not in Jersey
Monday, March 13th: Laura’s Reviews
Tuesday, March 14th: Sweet Southern Home
Wednesday, March 15th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Thursday, March 16th: Books and Bindings
Friday, March 17th: Rebel Mommy Book Blog
Monday, March 20th: Fuelled by Fiction
Tuesday, March 21st: Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, March 21st: SJ2B House of Books
Wednesday, March 22nd: Write Read Life
Thursday, March 23rd: Luxury Reading
Monday, March 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, March 28th: A Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, March 29th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Wednesday, March 29th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Footnote: This book contains sexual (child) abuse and while there are no explicit scenes, it doesn’t shy away from the resulting traumas.