Book reviews, Crime/mystery/noir, Drama, Literary fiction

Review: The Roanoke Girls

The Roanoke Girls is the first novel Amy Engel has written for an adult audience, after a successful career as a YA author. She’s certainly got to grips with writing for grown ups in this gritty and disturbing family saga.

The Roanoke Girls

What’s it all about? 

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:


The Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them which is never spoken. Every girl either runs away, or dies.

Lane is one of the lucky ones. When she was fifteen, over one long, hot summer at her grandparents’ estate in rural Kansas, she found out what it really means to be a Roanoke girl. Lane ran, far and fast. Until eleven years later, when her cousin Allegra goes missing – and Lane has no choice but to go back.

She is a Roanoke girl.

Is she strong enough to escape a second time?

What’s good about it? 

OK, so, it’s really difficult to talk about this book in detail without giving away the key plotline and twists. As you know, I don’t do spoilers so I’ll try to give you as much feedback as I can without spoiling your reading of the book.

So, The Roanoke Girls is brilliant. It’s atmospheric, tense, visceral and blistered by the heat of the South.

Engel lines up a series of subtle reveals that unravel the horrors and secrets of the Roanoke Girls, indicating how their troubled adult lives were formed by their unusual childhoods. The information comes thick and fast, and Engel never drops the pace of this tense and absorbing thriller until the very end.

The novel moves between past, present and Lane’s teenage summer with her family to create a distorting sense of time where pieces of the puzzle seamlessly entwine.

Characters are well formed and believable – even those whose actions you deplore. Those characters are never painted with sympathy, though, and Engel manages to pitch the balance between insight into their motives and condemnation of their crimes perfectly.

What’s not so good about it?

About 3/4 of the way through I longed for more information about Gran and her role in the story but Engel delivered that (massively) in the last quarter of the novel.

The subject matter of the book is harrowing and some readers will find the detail of it difficult to read. It’s an uncomfortable read at times but it’s none-the-less mesmerizing.

The Roanoke Girls is a unique and troubling read that is delivered with great style and subtly. I was drawn into the world of the girls immediately, and Engel didn’t let me go until the book concluded.

This novel isn’t for the faint-hearted but it’s well worth reading for its pace, gripping narrative and intriguing thrills.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an ARC of The Roanoke Girls. It was released in hardback on 7 March.

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