The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

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The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: A dark and twisted Southern Gothic dream about family, womanhood and the lies we keep to protect ourselves; a thrilling reminder that the truth may not set you free and that we are haunted by the echo of poor choices, broken hearts and missed opportunities. Not one for the faint of heart but definitely one for those of you who like your love affairs with teeth.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473648371

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For Lane, her entire life changed during a hot summer with relatives in Kansas. There she met her cousin Allegra, a wild girl with a bleak future, something shared by all the Roanoke Girls. But what else do they share? What other secrets does the dusty, ramshackle homestead keep? And why do all the Roanoke Girls run? Or die? Lane left Roanoke and never looked back and yet the seductive, winding tendrils of that place gripped her heart and shaped her choices and a lifetime spent running brought little hope of freedom. When her cousin disappears, Lane decides it's time to go home and face her demons once and for all.

It is unfair to class The Roanoke Girls, a tale which is at once hauntingly beautiful and terribly macabre, as a thriller. To do so would fail to do justice to the complexity and depth of Engel's work. Whilst the book centres on the mystery of a missing girl, it is really a story about family, love and how the past must inevitably shape our future. The characters are luminously and lovingly crafted, although often unlikeable and the claustrophobic heat of Kansas is as much a character as the main players. It is impossible not to feel the creeping isolation of whispers in dusty hallways, the burden of secrets too terrible to reveal but too heavy to keep and the dawning realisation that sometimes love is terrifying and some secrets have teeth that snap at your throat and won't let go.

It's fair to say that this book is not for the faint hearted or those who want a happy ending, although redemption and forgiveness are themes which are returned to throughout. This is a book about the messy, heart breaking and often traumatising journey from childhood to womanhood, about how secrets make us beholden to the will of others and how easy it is to hurt when you, yourself are hurting. It is also a meditation on the nature of love and how the lack of it can starve us, make us breathless with a need to belong and be noticed and how it is easy to nurture that need into a dark and greedy, grasping vine that strangles the heart and makes us cruel.

In terms of style, The Roanoke Girls is as beautiful as the girls themselves: written sumptuously and with care by Engel who has an engaging style and uses alternating chapters to describe the past and the present and to draw together the history and the often bloody end of each of the Roanoke girls. Despite this, it is never hard to follow and it would be easy to devour this in one sitting. The cover is also the most beautiful I have ever seen, its delicate florals a stark opposition to the sweat soaked, sultry and shocking story within.

If I had to criticise, I would say that it is not difficult to guess the grisly secret at the heart of the book and the 'whodunit' is not especially complex. However, the strength of The Roanoke Girls lies in the real human emotion etched in blood and tears on every page, the lushness of Engel's prose and the vivid recreation of a haunting summer for Lane and Allegra, at the brink of womanhood and teetering on the precipice of self-awareness.

For those interested in further reading around difficult, often taboo subjects you could try Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma or You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Buy The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel at

Buy The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel at


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