I was intrigued by the the premise of The Roanoke Girls and so was keen to get a hold of a copy to review. It sounded like Amy Engel is one of the many authors contributing to the mass of crime thrillers featuring ‘girls’, in the wake of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and more recently The Girls.
The book is short – 288 pages in total and is compelling so it didn’t take me long to read, although by the time I finished I felt incredibly confused and conflicted – and you’ll see why.
The premise is that girls from the Roanoke family have all been disappearing and dying at young ages – all before their teens, with the exception of Lane’s mother, however when she commits suicide, her daughter Lane is forced to go stay with her grandparents and cousin at the family home. There is a taboo subject which lies under the events of the whole novel and is fairly easy to work out from near the start. What is more interesting is the disappearance of Allegra 10 years later.
The novel is split into sections, skipping from the past to present, both focalised through Lane. Interspersed throughout the novel are also short sections about each of the Roanoke Girls. I actually very much enjoyed these devices which helped drive the mystery behind the story and feed ideas of conspiracy – even though we know most of what is going on it becomes more about the detail and how it occurs. Engel used the Roanoke reference – with it’s connotations of mystery and The Lost Colony, very well. Possibly for this reason it also felt reminiscent of American Horror Story (without the horror and gore). It also felt incredibly cinematic – I could see this making a brilliant noir if the right director picked it up.
The author also dealt well with the taboo subject – exploring the complicated emotions around it, and rather than falling into the trap of victim-blaming she actually challenges this issue.
On the other hand the novel does read a bit like a YA book (to the point where I actually had this on my YA shelf) and it is most definitely not. I don’t know if this is because it is the genre Engel predominantly writes for or a side effect of focalising through a 16 year old for much of the novel. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but I just didn’t feel like the prose was particularly sophisticated. The book also risks romanticising a lot of behaviours – teenage sex and underage drinking amongst other things. The girls themselves are also almost mythologised in the way they are represented as beautiful and alluring.
So all in all I was quite conflicted over what rating to give this but it ultimately came down to the ending which was very good and which I didn’t see coming at all. Engel offers the perfect twist and a brilliant way to conclude the novel.
For this reason I would give what would have otherwise been 3 stars a 4 and I will definitely give any future novels by Engel a go too.
I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.