“The Roanoke Girls” by Amy Engel
276 pages, Crown
Published March 7, 2017
“I had trouble with roots. Still do. Always trying to stay one step ahead of my past, my granddad, Roanoke.
“Look how well that turned out.”
When 15-year-old Lane Roanoke’s mother commits suicide, she’s shipped from New York City to the small Kansas town of Osage Flats to live with her grandparents and cousin, Allegra. The family estate, which bears the Roanoke surname, is bursting with dark secrets that come to light over the course of the one summer Lane can endure among what’s left of her spooky family.
Allegra says Roanoke girls – her mother and her aunts who preceded them – either “run or die.” Lane runs. And the only thing that draws Lane back is Allegra’s mysterious disappearance a number of years later. If she thought she had the twisted Roanoke legacy all figured out, she was wrong.
I really, really wanted to love this book. Freebie from Read it Forward? Check. Family with skeletons in the closet? Check. Small-town setting? Check. Blurb from one of my favorite authors, Laura McHugh, on the back? Check.
But this novel went off the rails so quickly, it made my head spin. About 30 pages in, the family’s dirtiest little secret was laid out pretty plainly, and from there I felt like I was watching a car crash. I knew it wasn’t going to end well (although the author managed to tie up the story with a rather happy, if dull, ending), but I just couldn’t look away.
The book alternates between “then” (the summer Lane lived in Osage Flats) and “now” (her return and search for Allegra). Sprinkled throughout are short chapters devoted to each Roanoke girl of yore. I usually like this format, but I feel like Engel gave away too much information too quickly in the process.
One character that I would have liked to learn more about was Charlie, the Roanokes’ live-in handyman/ranch hand. I’m not saying Engel should have made him a main character, but there seemed to be gaps in his role in the story, and questions that perhaps were unintentionally left answered.
And while there were enough twists and turns to keep me reading, the thing I most found disturbing was that you can’t swing a dead cat at the pages of this book without hitting a sex scene or a reference to someone’s breasts. I’m not a prude, but please. I felt like all the sexual content really dumbed down what could have been a better novel.
Thank you, Read It Forward and Crown Publishing, for providing me with a finished copy of this book, and to NetGalley for an advance copy.
About the author
Amy Engel is the author of THE BOOK OF IVY young adult series. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. THE ROANOKE GIRLS (March 7, 2017), is her first novel for adults.
Bio and photo courtesy of author’s Goodreads profile