The Roanoak Girls by Amy Engel

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Photo courtesy of http://www.netgalley.com

Wow. This book is incredible. Disturbing – absolutely, upsetting – in a number of ways, but it draws you in so completely that you won’t be able to put it down.

The Roanoak Girls is the story of a young girl (Lane) who is sent to live with her grandparents following the suicide of her depressive mother. When she arrives at their bizzare, sprawling house in the backwaters of America, she meets her cousin Allegra who bears an uncanny resemblance to her. The two become friends, but Lane discovers a dark secret about the family which ultimately pushes her to leave. Years later, Lane receives a call from her grandfather telling her that Allegra is missing. Lane returns to the house and as a result of her hunt for her cousin, begins to uncover even more of the secrets that Roanoak hides, including the reasons behind the freak deaths and disappearances that continue to occur within the family. Written in chapters that alternate between the past and the present day, the Roanoak Girls keeps you on the edge of your seat as you become ensnared in the horrific secrets that hide within the house.

I really had to take a day or two to digest this book before I could bring myself to review it. The novel deals with some awful content matter so should be plastered in trigger warnings for suicide, rape, incest… I don’t want to give away too much but seriously, if you’ve been affected by any kind of abuse then please be warned. In saying that, I was utterly gripped by the story and absolutely devoured it in one day. You really are kept guessing and so much goes on that you have to keep reading to find out what happens next.

The novel has some brilliantly strong characters including the main character Lane and her cousin Allegra. I loved the way that the girls befriended each other and their complex relationships with other family members, as well as each other. It would have been very easy to have Lane run away from Roanoak and never look back but I completely understood her loyalty to her cousin which made her return, despite the terrible secrets that she had to explore in order to find the truth. In terms of Allegra, I struggled to understand some of her decisions but could see that she was obviously deeply disturbed by the events which had happened. She’s a really complex character and although she said and did some things which I found absolutely repulsive I found myself becoming absolutely fascinated by her. By the end of the novel you realise that every single character is flawed which again adds to the suspense – who can you trust?

The way that the Roanoak Girls is written is absolutely brilliant – it’s so complex and the themes covered are so dark that it’s sometimes hard to read but the author doesn’t shy away from exploring their full impact. There are little clues peppering the text which allude to some of the secrets within Roanoak – for example the novel starts with a family tree and a quote from Vladimir Nabokov – if you’ve read his most famous work this should give you some indication as to how the girls might be thought of. In terms of similarities to other books there’s something of the Gillian Flynn about it – it’s that level of creepy/gross/fully crazy characters and uncomfortable reading.

Although I can’t say I enjoyed the book it was an amazing experience to read it. If you think you can cope with reading about the abuse mentioned above then I would highly recommend it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thank you to By Hook or by Book for writing such a great review of The Roanoak Girls which made me want to read it!

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #7 Read a book that’s a story within a story.

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