REVIEW: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Hey everyone! It appears that I’ve already failed my goal of posting to my blog twice a week, having only posted once last week! I moved out of my first-year university halls last week and have been job hunting the past few days (but have just come back from a successful job trial as I write this!), and somehow that took far longer than the huge amount of time that I allocated for it. Today I’m here to write about one of those elusive 5* books that I rarely come across, and review Amy Engel’s The Roanoke Girls.

Like I said, I rarely find books that I want to rate 5*, but as I finished The Roanoke Girls and went to rate it on Goodreads, reading other reviews along the way, I realised that I couldn’t think of a single reason NOT to give it an amazing rating. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the novel, it focuses on the mysterious Roanoke family, who live in a huge house in Kansas removed from their local community. From the outside, the family appear to have a curse upon them, as all the young women either flee the area or end up dead. The novel is narrated by Lane, whose mother escaped Roanoke before killing herself, resulting in Lane being sent to Kansas when she is 13. We follow Lane both during the summer she comes to Roanoke as a young teenager, and her perspective 10 years later, when she has moved away from Roanoke, but has been called back after her cousin goes missing.

This novel was definitely far darker than I expected; although I knew that there was a secret at Roanoke, I didn’t anticipate the entirely twisted nature of it. I expected that, due to the high rates of death surrounding the house, that there would be a supernatural element to the story, but it was all about the damage that a single human can cause.

I think I enjoyed the flashbacks to Lane’s summer at Roanoke more than I did her narration from the present day. The stifling, erotic environment that was presented in the flashbacks was reminiscent of The Girls by Emma Cline, another novel that I enjoyed. Both novels show that romanticising young girls, particularly in such constricting and isolated environments, means that they can be used as tools in far darker schemes. Although both stories focus on the groups of girls and their lives, the whole narrative is overshadowed by the presence of an older and dangerous man.

Another thing the two novels have in common is the emotions elicited towards the older men compared to the groups of girls. In The Girls, the teens are seen as the rogues and the troublemakers, whilst in reality they are being groomed to become accessories to murder. The Roanoke Girls sees Allegra and Lane struggle with their emotions and actions whilst their destructive grandfather is praised and idolised, to the point that even after I’d finished the novel and knew what he’d done, I could never really hate him. Although his actions were vile, the heightened emotional environment the characters were in helped normalise his behaviour, particularly Allegra’s infatuation with him, and I more felt a sense of pity for his lack of understanding of his faults.

Given the content of this novel, it is hard to pinpoint what made it so great and identify why it has so many good ratings on Goodreads. I think that it was the execution of the plot, particularly the building up of the suffocating town environment, that created such a fascination within me to finish it. The reader is gradually trickled just enough information to pique and maintain their interest, and the climatic ending gives a satisfying conclusion. Usually I would go into more detail about specific characters or plot points with less regards to spoilers, but I honestly feel that one of the things that made this novel so great was the lack of knowledge I had going into it, and if you decide to read it yourself (which I would highly recommend!) I’d like you to have the same experience.

If you’ve read either of the books I’ve read in this review, please tell me what you thought of them and recommend any similar books down below! Until I post again, please check out my social media; I’d love to stay in touch about books!

– hatterell

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