I received The Roanoke Girls in exchange for an honest review.
The Roanoke Girls had everything I wanted – a mystery set in a sprawling farmhouse mansion, dark family secrets and complicated relationships. But it won’t be for everyone. This book deals with some extremely serious, dark and disturbing subject matter – to call the Roanoke family dysfunctional would be a huge understatement. If you’re a reader who is triggered easily, I’d perhaps suggest you avoid this one, but if you like your stories dark, twisted and multi-layered then read on.
The ‘secret’ of the Roanoke family is revealed quite early on, but I’m not going to spoil it here. Because, to be honest, if you knew the subject of this book, it could put you off reading. I actually think this book is one that is best when the reader goes in fresh, and just soak up the characters and atmosphere for yourself. Because, if you’re anything like me, it will suck you in completely.
The story is mainly told from the point of view of Lane. When her single mother commits suicide when Lane is fifteen, she is sent to live at the Roanoke house with her grandparents and her cousin, Allegra. As soon as she sets foot in the place, there’s a sense that something isn’t quite right. Her vivacious cousin greets her, thrilled to have a partner in her camaraderie, but also extremely volatile and strangely envious of the attention Lane receives when she moves in. Allegra revels in showing Lane a framed collection of photographs of their ancestors, all beautiful, young girls, and explaining how their lives at the mansion had been cut short.
“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”
Lane leaves the house after just one summer but when, many years later, she receives a call from her grandfather telling her Allegra is missing, she is compelled to go back and revisit her troubled childhood and the web of lies which surrounds the Roanoke household and family once again.
The story flits between ‘then’ and ‘now’, punctuated by occasional short chapters which explore the other girls in the family’s lives. The setting is beautifully drawn throughout; the sense of the sprawling farmhouse which hides dark secrets and the small town where everyone knows everyone is stifling. The characterisation is great too – Allegra’s bravado jumps of the page, but it’s covering a deep sadness which she can’t quite conceal from Lane. Lane herself was very human – at some points she frustrated me with her inability to trust and just be kind to those around her, but it was clear her time at Roanoke had shaped in her the most brutal way.
This book is dark throughout but it’s subtle, the author handles tough topics with sensitivity, focusing on the complexity of the characters rather than the cruel criminality of the situation. And it really works. I look forward to reading more from this author.