The Roanoke Girls

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Thank You to Crown Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Amy Engel’s novel, The Roanoke Girls, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Fifteen-year-old Lane Roanoke’s life has just been turned upside down. Her mother, Camilla, has committed suicide, and Lane has been uprooted from her city life in New York to live with her maternal grandparents and younger cousin, Allegra, in rural Kansas. Lane has never known her grandparents; her mother ran away from their home as a pregnant teen and remained estranged. Lane soon learns that the Roanoke family harbors a dark secret and that the females of the family either runaway or die young from tragic causes. Will Lane become the next victim in the Roanoke curse?

LIKE- The Roanoke Girls is a compelling story; a page-turner. I ripped through it in less than a day. The great Roanoke secret is so utterly disturbing, that it’s like a car crash: I knew I shouldn’t want to look, but I did. I had to. It’s taboo, salacious, and shocking. I can’t remember the last time I read a novel with this much shock value. The Roanoke secret isn’t necessarily a surprise, as the hints are clear early on, however the element of surprise isn’t necessary, as being in on the secret, and watching how it all plays out, is the hook.

Shock value aside, what makes The Roanoke Girls so readable, is Engel’s writing. Her narrative is strong and she deftly handles that delicate balance of writing in a way that is plain and  flows, yet is filled with unusual descriptions and sensory imagery. In other words, her writing isn’t flowery or bogged down with description, yet in many place, I paused to admire her descriptive phrases. She has a knack for constructing beautiful, powerful sentences. The pacing and intensity never drops either. The Roanoke Girls has all of the elements of a well-balanced, readable novel.

The Roanoke Girls is told both in flashbacks and in the present day, where we learn that Lane left the Roanoke household shortly after arriving, but Allegra, who stayed, is now the latest girl missing. Lane returns to Kansas to search for her cousin. The story is revealed in a third way; through short chapters dedicated to each Roanoke girl, giving us a closer look at these mysterious women, such as Allegra’s mother or a female baby that died. I like how Engel used these chapters to slightly lift the veil of mystery and tease out the ultimate secret of the Roanoke household.

DISLIKE– I’m trying to write this, without giving spoilers, so it may be vague…but I’m not sure why all of the Roanoke girls fell under the same spell. Although I found the story fascinating, I’m not sure that I found it believable. Maybe adding another perspective would have given this clarity? I’m not sure.

RECOMMEND– Yes, if you can handle stories that are shocking and uncomfortable. You will squirm. The Roanoke Girls is not going to be for everyone, but if it sounds up your alley, I can recommend it as an engaging read and Engel as a talented storyteller. The Roanoke Girls will certainly stick in my memory for a long time.