Book Reviews

The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel




I will also add a trigger warning for this review as it contains sexual abuse.


After her mother commits suicide Lane is taken in by her grandparents on the family farm and soon has the loving family she has always wanted. With her cousin, Allegra, who was also taken in by their grandparents, they form a sisterly bond and spend one incredible summer together. That is until Lane learns about the terrible secret of the Roanoke girls and why they always seem to run away or end up dead.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, I stayed away from other reviews as I knew this was a book that would need my full attention. Firstly, before I begin voicing my opinions I have never been in any of the situations within this book and if I am inconsiderate in my views please message me so I may rectify this review. I shall try to be as clear as possible with the knowledge I have at this point.

The truth that Lane learns at the end of her summer living with grandparents is that her grandfather is sexually abusing her cousin and has done so to all of the women within the family. Throughout the novel we learn how each of the women within the family met their deaths, most which were caused by the abuse they suffered. I have never read a novel like this that focuses on purely on the emotional state of the characters and how it affects them and their actions. I mostly read about these in crime books which focus on the criminal side rather than the human side.

The feelings which each of the girls express came after being groomed since children. I’m sure that the grandfather, Yates, has something which can be named medically but even if it does have a name that doesn’t make it right. Ever.

The journey that Lane undergoes after arriving chronicles how Yates begins to groom her. Without being explicit in naming him until the end Engel creates a real sense of “wrongness” surrounding him, from Allegra’s defence of him to his off-hand comments and looks at the two teenagers. He is what I would describe as “creepy” but, this doesn’t seem like a powerful enough word for him. Until I can think of one or one is recommended I shall keep it in.

Lane is a powerful and strong character. I may have named other characters I other books as strong but they pale in comparison to Lane. After caring for her mother all of her life while still trying to be “normal” her mother takes her own life. She keeps herself together even after discovering the Roanoke secret. Escaping while she still can, she flees and asks Allegra to go with her who is too far under their grandfather’s spell to consider the offer. When she returns she fights the urge to become one of his “girls” knowing that while she craves his attention it is wrong and not a healthy life to lead.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this tale is Lane’s grandmother who is complicit in his activities. She states that all she needs to do is “outlast them” and then the only person Yates can love is her. It probably the most disturbing due to her being the mother figure within the novel, albeit a very distant one. As a woman I look for comfort from my mother in knowing she will protect me and Engel shatters that image completely.

The novel is uniquely human. It is character focused and they (Lane); drive the narrative forward. I’m not sure I would recommend it to everyone due to its subject matter but, if you are able to read it I would suggest you do. Engel has written flawed, real characters who, as a reader, we can only hope for a happy, if not realistic ending.


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