‘Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.’
The girls of the Roanoke family – beautiful, rich, mysterious – seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them that’s never spoken.
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?
At just 15 years old, Lane Roanoke finds herself alone in New York following the suicide of her seriously depressed mother. She’s not had a great life so far – indeed Lane feels as if her mother didn’t really like her.
So when an NYC social worker tells her that she has grandparents in Kansas who want her to come and live with them she is astonished. Lane’s mother had always refused to talk about her family, so she really has no knowledge or history of them.
When she gets to Kansas, what she finds is the Roanoke mansion in Osage County where her grandparents Lillian and Yates Roanoke live with their other granddaughter, 16 year old Allegra.
Allegra is a bit of a kindred spirit, full of life and mischief, who loves nothing better than a bit of fun. Lane finds that there is significance in being a Roanoke in a poor town where the Roanokee’s can play the wealthy benefactors and for the first time in her life, Lane finds that she is loved, wanted and that she can buy whatever she likes.
Yet, when we first meet Lane, she is on her way back to Roanoke after a series of dead end jobs in Los Angeles. She doesn’t really want to go back, but her cousin Allegra is missing and she feels a deep sense of guilt for having left Allegra behind when she went. So when her grandparents call her back, she reluctantly returns.
Amy Engel beautifully intertwines the past and present Roanoke, with a 10 year gap between the two. So we learn how the two teenage girls grew up together and how Allegra was yearned after by the young and straightforwardly handsome Tommy, now the local policeman. Lane was attracted by the dark and sultry Cooper; a town bad boy destined to inherit his father’s car repair workshop.
It isn’t long into the novel before we learn that Roanoke has a dark and horrible secret. It is this secret that causes the Roanoke Girls either to run or to die.
Tommy isn’t having much luck finding Allegra, but Lane knows her better than anyone and she is tenacious about finding out what happened to her cousin, helped by that knowledge and the carvings that Allegra made whenever she was upset.
What makes this novel work so well is the strong focus on characterisation and the very clear atmosphere of repression, dust and depression and the secrets that hold this family together.
Oddly Yates Roanoke is the least fleshed out of these characters, even Lillian Roanoke comes across more clearly – in her case as a cold, bitter shrew – devoid of warmth or hope.
There’s no doubt that The Roanoke Girls is a well written, dark, disturbing and grippingly compelling novel. But for all that I was left uncomfortable about what it says about women and that unsettles me more than anything.
The Roanoke Girls was published in paperback by Hodder Books on 10th August 2017
About Amy Engel
Amy is the author of the young adult series The Book of Ivy. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. The Roanoke Girls is her first novel for adults.