BOOK REVIEW: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Hodder & Stoughton
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Beautiful, rich, mysterious, the Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them that’s 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 had no choice but to go back.
She is a Roanoke girl.
Is she strong enough to escape a second time?
It is worth noting the genre of this book before diving in. It’s also worth noting that it’s incredibly twisted and disturbing and is likely to trigger some people.
I can’t tell you more than that, because it would give too much away. But if you like your thrillers nice and twisted, this is bound to keep you reading. This is definitely one of the more disturbing books I have read in the last six months or so.
One should not make the mistake of seeing the word Roanoke, and thinking this book has anything to do with the Lost Colony or the various theories about what happened, supernatural or otherwise. That is not the story Engel is here to tell, and the naming seems rather incidental.
“Wow,” I said, goose bumps sprouting along my neck, even in the closed-in heat of the hall. “That’s a lot of dead girls.”
Allegra did a quick pirouette away from me, her smile a little too wide. “Roanoke girls never last long around here.” She skipped along the hall, her voice growing fainter as she moved, like were were standing at opposite ends of a tunnel. “In the end, we either run or we die.”
This is a book about small towns and damaged people, with a rich family and large manor at the center of it.
When I woke, I started to tell my mother about it. Talking through a mouthful of stale Cheerios in just-this-side-of-sour milk. I only got as far as the name, Roanoke, before she stopped me. “It was nothing like that,” she said, voice flat. She was sitting on the wide windowsill, knees drawn up into her cotton nightgown, ragged toenails dug into the wooden window frame.
“You didn’t even let me tell you,” I whined.
“Did you wake up screaming?”
A dribble of milk ran down my chin. “Huh?”
She turned and glanced at me then, her skin pale, eyes red-rimmed. The bones of her face looked sharp enough to cut. “Was it a nightmare?”
I shook my head, confused and a little scared. “No.”
She looked back out the window. “Then it was nothing like that.”
The writing here is raw and intelligent, getting to the heart of these flawed people in a way that is bound to leave you torn, between wanting more and feeling like you couldn’t handle more. The story is written around dark events without coming right out with it, meaning there is an element of class here, even though the book is set around events that are as far as possible from classy.
The people within these pages are flawed and damaged and real, their battles reflective of those we could see going on in the real world. The things people do to hurt each other, intentionally or not.
There were some days growing up when I’d have a moment of panic, wonder if I even existed because it had been so long since my mother had acknowledged my presence. The only time she paid attention to me was when she was slipping over the edge, scrabbling for someone to save her. But that wasn’t passion; it was only desperation.
The words they use, and the barbs that dig in.
Her words punch into my chest like spikes. I stare at her, aware for the first time of exactly what her calm blue gaze conceals. I have no idea how it took me this long. “You hate me,” I say. “You’ve always hated me.” I wish I didn’t sounds so sad.
Gran drops her pearls. “Oh, Lane.” Her smile is full of sympathy, the most maternal she’s ever looked. “I hate all of you.”
And the way that darkness from the past can affect the way you live in the present.
This is a Cooper I’ve never met, one I didn’t know existed. Part of me didn’t truly believe he was capable of being hurt, at least not by someone like me. But age has made him braver, more willing to put all his past grievances on the line. For me, the passing years have had the opposite effect. I’m more scared than I’ve ever been.
For this reader there was some disconnect with the characters, so the read was a little slower than perhaps it should have been for a book that is under 300 pages, but again this could come back to the subject matter, and needing to take a breather from the darkness within from time to time.
The pacing was pretty solid throughout the book, and the brief snippets throughout the book of Roanoke girls from the past was a nice touch.
All in all this was an easy read about a difficult topic, the ease being in how tangible and real the people and events felt, but again, be aware of your triggers before opening The Roanoke Girls.
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