The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Lane Roanoke is just a teenager when her mother commits suicide, and Lane is sent to live with her grandparents in Kansas. While Lane lived a sad life with her depressed, volatile mother, her wealthy grandparents represent a chance for a new start - and Lane can meet her cousin, Allegra, who is close to her age. When Lane arrives in Kansas, she quickly befriends Allegra and is amazed by the kindness of her grandfather, but she also realizes not everything is as it seems.
Eleven years later, after Lane has fled the farm (and left her family there behind), Lane receives a call from her grandfather: Allegra is missing. Can she please come home? Reluctantly Lane returns to a place she vowed she'd never see again to search for her cousin, whom she has always felt bad about leaving behind. But returning only brings up bad memories, and Lane quickly worries that something terrible has happened to Allegra. Can Lane face her fears and figure out what happened to her cousin?
This book, oh this book. Wow. This is quite the novel! The story alternates between the present-day and that fateful summer (from Lane's point of view), with a few snippets from earlier generations of the other Roanoke girls thrown in. It's slightly confusing at first (you'll need easy access to the family tree at the beginning of the book), but quickly pulls you in and never lets you go. I was immediately captivated by this novel and read it in less than 24 hours. It's not some "feel good" novel, but it's amazingly well-written and just spellbinding. It starts off with a bombshell and then hooks you from there with the dark story of the twisted Roanoke family.
There is something completely alluring about how messed up and sick the Roanokes are. I couldn't turn away from them. The book is great because you become quickly intrigued and invested in the story of what happened to Allegra, but there's also a bit of suspense to the "then" storyline as Lane finds out something terrible about her family. Engel is remarkably talented because we know the secret already, and Lane knows it in the present-day portion of the book, but it's still enthralling watching it unravel as she's a teen. There's also just a pure fascination and horror at this family. There are also periodic shockers throughout the entire novel and several "wow" and "didn't see that coming" moments for me. The whole thing is extremely well-done.
I was extremely expressed by Engel's characters. For instance, Lane is a broken and damaged person who cannot trust or love. As such, she is frustrating with her guarded heart but still sympathetic. She drove me crazy, but I loved her. Engel did an excellent job with all of these characters. Even those that seemed (or were) absolutely awful; they all seemed so real. She also did a great job at portraying small towns and their tangled web of secrets. The broken Kansas town where the Roanokes lived was expertly done, with all of its bit characters and the descriptions of its streets and happenings.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with this book. Its entire plot was creepy and twisted, and it was compulsively readable, with plenty of shocking moments. Yet it also had empathetic, well-written characters. It was an amazing dark look at the power of childhood, your parents, and your past. It's a mean and twisted novel and impeccably written, because you feel such a range of emotions for its characters. Definitely recommend.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 03/07/2017.
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