The Roanoke Girls
By Amy Engel
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…
The book alternates between Then and Now with a few chapters from the other Roanoke girls. The story is good but the writing is what makes this book special, the author really knows how to build suspense and keep the reader’s interest. The Then chapters are set one summer when she was just a teenager and the Now chapters are set 11 years later.
Lane Roanoke grew up with her mum in New York city. Lane’s relationship with her mother was kind of unconventional, her mother wasn’t one for overt displays of affection. Her mother never really talked to her about her childhood other than vague comments about her childhood home Roanoke being a nightmare.
“The first time I saw Roanoke was in a dream. I knew little of it beyond it’s name and the fact it was in Kansas, a place I had never been. My mother only ever mentioned it when she’d had too much wine, her breath turned sweet and her words slow and syrupy like molasses. So my subconscious filled in the rest…it’s red-brick façade was broken up by black-shutters, white trim, delicate wrought-iron balconies. A little girl’s fantasy of a princess castle.
When I woke up I started to tell my mother about it…
‘Did you wake up screaming...
‘Was it a nightmare?’
I shook my head, confused and a little scared.
‘No.’ She looked back out the window. ‘Then it was nothing like that.’
The second time Lane sees Roanoke is in person after her mom committed suicide by her hanging herself using her bathrobe sash.
Next to her she left a note scribbled on the margin of the Sunday Times. I tried to wait. I’m sorry.
Lane’s social worker informs her that he grandparents Yates and Lilian Roanoke are rich and not only are they willing to take her they actually want to.
“I knew my mother came from Kansas, of course. Grew up in a house that had a name, like a person, like a living thing. But I’d never met any of her family. They never came to visit, never phoned, never wrote. I’d assumed they were either dead or wished we were.”
The author’s description of the house really brings it to life for the reader.
“Roanoke had clearly started out as something resembling a traditional farmhouse – white clapboard, wraparound porch, peaked dormers. But someone had tacked on crazy additions over the years, a brick turret on one side.
It was like a handful of giant houses all smashed together with no regard for aesthetics or conformity. It was equal parts of horrifying and mesmerizing.”
Lane’s cousin Allegra is wild and unpredictable but also more vulnerable than anyone realises, except for maybe Lane. From the first time they met Allegra and Lane were as much like friends as they were cousins.
“I noticed the girl standing there balanced on her tiptoes, as if she was about to fly down to greet me.
‘Hi!’ she called out, waving frantically with both hands. Her hair was arranged in two long braids tied at the ends with blue and white gingham bows. She wore cutoff jean shorts and a tank top, but teetered on sky-high red glittery pumps. ‘Welcome to Oz!’ she yelled, flying her arms wide.”
When Allegra is showing Lane around she stops in front of a framed portrait of all the Roanoke girls all of whom look incredibly alike.
‘Who are they?’
‘Us!’ Allegra screeched. She stabbed at the top two pictures. ‘These are Grandad’s Sister’s, Jane and Sophia. Then this row are Gran and Grandad’s girls. Penelope. She was actually June’s daughter, but Gran and Grandad raised her. Then my mum, Eleanor. Your mum, Camilla. Who totally got the best name, by the way.’ She jabbed at me with her bony elbow. ‘And the baby, Emmeline. We can take a picture of you and put it right here.”
Then Allegra tells Lane one of the family secrets
Roanoke girls never last that long around here…In the end, we either run or we die. She then begins to discuss how all the girls died or ran away.
Roanoke is near a place called Osage Flats in Kansas and soon she and Allegra are hanging out there whenever they get the chance.
It’s the type of place where you can easily believe Obama was never elected, women never earned the right to vote, and gays still hide in the closest. That nothing has ever moved nothing ever will.
At the end of that summer Lane discovers a horrifying family secret and flees as fast as she can with no plan to return.
Eleven years later in the middle of the night Lane gets a call from her grandfather telling her she needs to come home because Allegra is missing. Lane knows there is no way Allegra would willingly leave Roanoke so she drops everything and returns.
Not only does she have to contend with unusual family dynamics but she also has to deal with a charismatic ex and the ghosts of the past. On top of it all she can’t shake the feeling that she is home.
Our Final Rating...
Read & Shared 9 Times.