Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Crown Publishing.

This is a riveting story about a family and a house both named Roanoke. We start with Lane Roanoke, not yet sixteen, coping with the suicide of her mother. With nowhere else to go, she is sent by New York authorities to her grandparents in Kansas. Lane knows little of her mother’s past, and even less about Roanoke, her mother’s childhood home. But when she fantasizes about it, her suppositions are cut short by her mother’s sharp comment that if her vision was not a nightmare, it was not correct.


It is a little difficult to go to far in this review without putting out spoilers to this carefully constructed tale, told to us in short flashbacks and current vignettes. At the heart of the story there is a terrible secret. There is something about the Roanoke girls, her tempestuous cousin Allegra tells her: either they run or they die.


The author does give us a substantial clue at the beginning of the book with the family tree of the Roanoke girls. At first glance, that diagram seems somehow odd. It did to me, at least–but I went ahead and started reading.


The story unfolds in tantalizing, teasing, painfully raw twists and turns, alternating between “then” and “now”, interspersed with capsule biographies of each of the girls; the method of relating the tale holds the reader spellbound to the end. A warning, this book is not for the faint of heart. There is sexual content and there is profanity. As a licensed psychotherapist, I found myself reading a case history of what we would surely call a dysfunctional family.


My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

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