After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran…fast and far away. Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again. As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.
There are a few known facts about Roanoke girls:
1) They are all cut from the same mold with the same eyes, same hair, same gorgeous appearance
2) They all harbor some very dark secrets
3) They are hard to get close and even harder to love
4) If they don’t run away, they die
Lane Roanoke has never met her extended family and if her mother can hang on long enough, Lane will never have to meet them. The only thing Lane really knows about her extended family is that her mother hates them and they are the reason she has spent most of her pathetic life depressed, angry, and utterly incapable of loving her own daughter. When her mother finally (yes, finally is the right word here!) commits suicide, Lane figures going to live with her extended family can’t be as bad as the foster care system.
From the moment she arrives at her mother’s childhood home, Lane feels the tension and sadness that permeates the Roanoke home. Her cousin, Allegra, is beautiful yet abrasive, her grandmother is cold and standoffish, and her grandfather is at once oblivious and attentive. In the weeks that follow, Lane learns more than she ever wanted to know about her relatives as Allegra is quick to tell Lane of the family’s tragic past and the fate of the women and girls who have come before. Both Allegra and Lane are certain they will be strong enough to survive and defy fate but fate is relentless and determined and by the end of the summer, Lane knows that if she doesn’t run, she’s going to die.
Though she regrets leaving Allegra behind, in just one summer Lane learned far too much about her family’s dark and dirty secrets to stay. For eleven years, Lane has managed to avoid any and all contact with her family, but when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra is missing, Lane has no choice but to go home. The minute Lane sets foot inside the Roanoke home, she knows there is something horribly wrong. She also knows the truth is never going to come out if she doesn’t dig in and do some investigating of her own. Sadly, Lane knows there are few who will truly mourn the loss of Allegra so her investigation turns up very few clues. In order to find out what happened to her cousin, Lane is going to have to delve deep into the past and pray she is strong enough to deal with whatever it is she discovers.
For many, the trip down memory lane can be a pleasant and comforting experience. For Lane, it is a journey into sadness, abuse, truly twisted beliefs, and the stories of women and girls who all eventually succumbed to a monster. As she is investigating, Lane encounters the people of her past who can tell her of Allegra and her life in the past decade that Lane has been gone. One of those people is Cooper, her first in so many respects and the boy she nearly destroyed when she ran. Cooper, still strong and beautiful even after all these years wants Lane back in his bed and his life but knows that can’t happen until the demons of their respective pasts have been faced and defeated. For the healing to begin and a future to be possible, Cooper has to help Lane discover the truth about Allegra’s disappearance and be there to pick up the pieces when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
The Bottom Line: The Roanoke Girls is one seriously twisted read! Engel has created a family that is so mired in abuse and misery, circumstances that have literally existed for decades that they can no longer see the horror they inflict on one another. Run aways, suicides, perpetual grief, and secrecy are the norm until the summer Lane comes to stay. As a virtual outsider, Lane has a whole different perspective on the situation which is how the awful eventually comes to light. In order for the reader to understand the present, the reader must also understand the past which means Engel shifts between the present and the past in alternating chapters. Mixed in between these chapters are chapters told from the perspective of dead Roanoke girls; the individual stories about the circumstances leading to their eventual deaths. While this may sound like a lot of shifting (and it is!) each chapter and each character reveals a bit more, that is, sheds a bit more light on what has likely happened to Allegra. Make no mistake, this is not a light read at all and it deals with some really nasty issues that will most certainly upset some readers. With that being said, I enjoyed (???) this read and found it to be quite captivating. There is a bit of a slow start but once you work out the pattern of shifting and Lane really begins to dive into the mystery of her cousin’s disappearance, it is hard to put this one down. In all, a good if significantly dark offering from Amy Engel.
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 is her first novel for adults.