Book Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

A gripping, provocative thriller about the twisted secrets families keep, perfect for fans of The Girls. Beautiful. Rich. Mysterious. Everyone wants to be a Roanoke girl. But you won't when you know the truth. Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family's rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But what she doesn't know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice...(from Goodreads.com

Published 9th March 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton (UK) 

It was the cover of The Roanoke Girls that first caught my eye - pretty yet subtly chilling in equal measures, it hints perfectly at the dark, dark tale inside. After reading the blurb and a couple of reviews I was convinced....I definitely wanted to read this book. 

Fifteen year old Lane has recently lost her mother to suicide. She's left alone in foster care, having spent her life being brought up by her distant and depressive mother. But when she's told her Grandparents want her, Lane hopes that for first time she can find a true family and home. Moving across the country to the huge mansion in the middle of rural Kansas, Lane is welcomed into the home by her vivacious cousin Allegra and her charismatic and doting Grandpa. But a dark secret simmers within the walls of Roanoke, and Lane is being pulled slowly into her family's twisted history. Ten years later, and Lane is again living away from Roanake and hasn't been in contact since she left suddenly. When she gets a call from her Grandpa to say Allegra has gone missing, Lane is drawn back to Roanoke to face the demons she left behind all those years ago. 

To say The Roanoke Girls is a shocker of a book is an understatement. It's quite early in the book when one line, thrown so bluntly by Lane, made me gasp out loud in horror, despite the fact I had my suspicions where this book was going. This is a disturbingly dark story, yet I couldn't tear myself away. Some people are going to find this book too controversial. Personally, despite the horror of what was going on in those pages, I was hooked. 

The story is told from Lane's point of view, both during the long, hot summer as a naive fifteen year old and ten years later, when she returns to Roanoke bitter, cruel and damaged. I liked the contrast between Lane's character in each section of then or now, which we're given in alternating chapters. Amy Engel creates the perfect atmosphere of oppression and dark secrets, from the eerie setting of Roanoke itself to the claustrophobic and searing heat of the Kansas summer. The cast of characters are damaged and flawed, trapped into the disturbing cycle of the Roanoke family...creepy in their own knowing silence. Added to this, there's an occasional chapter from each of the fated Roanoke Girls who came before Lane. Sprinkled throughout the book like ghosts, the horror at the extent of this family's disturbing and twisted history builds with each one.  

The Roanoke Girls isn't exactly a thriller, there is the mystery of what has happened to Allegra, although my suspicions early on were right here and the author makes the secret of the Roanoke family clear within the first few chapters. This doesn't mean it's without its shocks and twists - it's full of them and I was gripped throughout, holding my breath and unable to look away. This is a dark, disturbing and chilling read, often uncomfortable but twistedly fascinating. I read it in two sittings, only breaking to sleep. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, its dark and taboo subject matter not being easy to stomach, but if you like your books tense, shocking and compulsive with evocative and atmospheric writing and deep, dark family secrets, then I'd recommend it. I thought it was fantastic, even though I sometimes felt I shouldn't! 

(I read an advanced ebook proof supplied by the publisher through Netgalley)

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