Book Review – The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

First published, 2017

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The story follows Lane, a teenage girl, later a grown woman, as she deals with her fractured childhood, family secrets and the disappearance of her cousin.

Told by the present adult Lane, and with a healthy load of flashbacks, the subject matter is difficult and hard to explain without giving away the whole story. If we consider that the story is focussed on teenage girls, in rural middle-America, with a lot of family secrets, maybe you can get an idea of the difficult points without my having to spell it out.

The characters are provocative, often they speak without thinking or purposely do what they can to shock or injure with their words. I found this bracing, although often uncomfortable.

The trouble for me was that although there’s a big revelation at the 79% mark, because we’ve been told all about it (just with less graphic imagery) throughout the experiences and flashbacks of the rest of the story, it lacks punch and almost feels like repetition – as it’s first, not so much alluded to as said outright around the 12% point.

As such, this is something we’ve known about for some time. So, is that the point? We’ve read on with this knowledge for an extra 60% of the book, are we somehow complicit? Are we involved in the undoubted crimes, or are we, the readers, hanging about waiting for revenge?

As a thriller, I found it somewhat lacking, but the characters were fascinating and the setting was well-described.

“‘Lane? Lane, is that you?’
“I hold the phone away from my face, squint at it like they do in the movies, before returning it to my ear. ‘Who is this?’ I ask, although I already know, my stomach bottoming out at the sound of his deep voice.
“‘It’s your granddad, Lane. We need you to come home. Back to Roanoke.’
“Hearing the word sends an electric shock up my spine, waking me instantly. I shove myself upright, playing hair off my face. ‘How did you get my number?’
“My granddad sighs. I hear the scrape of a chair. ‘You need to come home, Lane,’ he repeats.
“‘Because Allegra is missing.’
“At the sound of her name, Allegra’s words from all those years ago take flight, flittering around my skull and bouncing off the bone…
Roanoke girls… gone… dead… dead… gone. ‘I don’t… what happened?’”
6% in, Now, Chapter Two, The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Did I download it because I assumed it would be about the lost colony of Roanoke that I’ve only really heard about from American Horror Story? Of course, I did. What I found instead was dark, compelling, unsettling and fraught with emotion. The fact that the novel had its own spoilers early on made me feel short-changed to begin with but the story is sure to stay with me for a very long time.