I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I tried to write a review for The Roanoke Girls immediately after finishing it, but I was still buzzing too much to write anything half-coherent. This book was beautiful – creepy, but beautiful. Amy Engel’s writing made everything flow right off the page so that you feel like you are in Roanoke, boiling under the Kansas sun, and the suspense and mystery builds around you.
“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”
From the beginning, there is something mysterious and fairytale-like about Roanoke, where the main character Lane is taken after her mother commits suicide. The house is a maze of corridors and turrets, and Lane spends a long, sizzling summer with there with her grandparents and cousin Allegra, before she runs away. Years later, her grandfather calls her to tell her that Allegra has gone missing, and so she returns to the place she tried to put behind her. The Roanoke Girls weaves together these two storylines, that of teenage Lane as she settles into Roanoke with easy after her mother’s death, blind to the secrets being harboured by her family, and falling into a heated relationship with Cooper, a local boy, and that of the older Lane, reluctantly dragged back to Roanoke to try and save her cousin and herself, to free herself of the hold that Roanoke has on her, and see if she can escape the same fate that all the Roanoke girls before her have.
With regards to pacing, the story in The Roanoke Girls doesn’t develop quickly, but I don’t think that it’s an issue. The atmosphere in the novel is so palpable that I felt there was so much to read out of descriptions of the setting and small exchanges with characters that I was entertained. There are also hints and suggestions from really early on at what the deep Roanoke secret is. I’m not sure if it was intended to be so clear, but I pieced together what the secret was very early on, but I think that added an extra layer of suspense to the novel, because I knew what the secret was, but Lane didn’t. I was reading and waiting for her to figure out. Would she figure it out and save herself, or would she fall into the same trap that so many before her had? Would she be able to save Allegra too? How many people knew? The layers of the secret are peeled away one by one so that we gradually, over the course of the novel, from the very start to the very end, discover the answers to these questions. I really liked the way that the secret wasn’t revealed with a big bang, and rather sort of fades into our consciousness as we read it, and that of Lane. It was also interesting to read about how so many people kept the secret,or suspected but didn’t say anything, and I felt that this was a very interesting exploration of how secrets like the one in this novel are kept for so long, and how people are manipulated into keeping them. It felt like, apart from Lane’s story, the Roanoke house, the Roanoke family, and the Roanoke secret had their own stories to tell, and I loved these various intricate layers to the novel.
I was a bit apprehensive about this novel when I started it because I don’t read a lot of adult contemporary, and the description didn’t give a lot away. However, Engel’s writing is brilliant, and makes everything feel real. In the first of the two storylines, she flawlessly creates an atmosphere of hazy summer days all blending into one, with moments of teenaged fun interspersed with tense moments that hint at the secrets beneath the surface of the happy Roanoke veneer. In the second storyline, the atmosphere is that of intense heat, pressing down on you from all sides so you can feel oppressed the way that Lane does, surrounded by the people she ran away from and afraid for her cousin. I loved the contrast between these two storylines, and even better, the individual chapters dedicated to each of the Roanoke girls that had passed through the house before Allegra and Lane, which really upped the creepiness factor. The chapters telling the stories of the other Roanoke girls, in my opinion, gave the novel a magical feel, like there were more lives and stories present in the house than just that of the characters still living. The fact that these chapters tell us solely about the fates of the Roanoke girls, either their deaths or their decisions to leave Roanoke, also adds tension as I was eager to find out what Allegra and Lane’s fates would be.
One aspect of the book that fell flat to me was that of the relationship between Lane and Cooper. While I enjoyed their flirtation in the early stages of the novel and when they initially meet again years later, I often didn’t understand their moods in the later stages of the relationship. This was put down to their pasts both making them incapable of settling down, but sometimes it felt too ‘Nicholas Sparks’ for my liking. However, this wasn’t too much of a downer for me. What felt really out of place for me was a revelation towards the end of the novel, a secret that Lane has been keeping since she has left. It was only discussed in passing, all in all I think around 3 times, but I felt like it was done too superficially for the nature of the secret. If it was going to be such a minor point, I would have preferred to not be mentioned at all, especially considering the fact that the novel is already sad enough as it is.
I was swallowed right into this story within sentences, and I liked that, although the Roanoke secret is shocking, it didn’t feel sensationalised or intrusive, and the ending that she gives to the Roanoke family and their secret was a satisfying one. I also liked the way that this novel seemed to toe the line between different genres. At times, it felt like a YA contemporary, and at others, like an adult suspense novel. I genuinely believe that this novel would appeal to many different types of readers.