Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “Sometimes you have to pass the pain around in order to survive it.”
Fifteen-year-old Lane Roanoke didn’t know much about her mother’s family except her mother likened the Roanoke legacy to a nightmare you can never escape from. When her mother commits suicide, leaving a note begging forgiveness for not being able to wait, Lane is sent to live with her grandparents on the family farm in Osage Flats, Kansas.
Upon arrival, she meets her high-strung cousin, Allegra, her loving grandfather, and her standoffish grandmother. Accepted into the family with open arms, Lane soaks up the love offered and blossoms. But the undercurrents that flow through the house doesn’t escape Lane’s notice. And when Lane discovers the truth, she runs as far and fast as she can.
Eleven years later, Lane receives a call from her grandfather. Her cousin has disappeared and he wants Lane to come home and help find her. Lane doesn’t want to come home but she knows she needs to face old ghosts and make amends if she wants to completely free herself from the past and have a future.
The Roanoke Girls is an evocative tale of abuse, survival, and forgiveness. It tells of a family’s insidious legacy and it’s devastating consequences through the voice of a young woman who attempts to break the cycle. Slow and steady, Lane’s conversational style narrative flashes between the past and the present and tells her story in mixture of defiance, anger, and hints of longing that haunts you
“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”
The story opens with a glimpse into the past, revealing the big secret almost right away, announcing it with no warning and walking away. It remains this huge elephant in the room that everyone knows about but doesn’t talk about through much of the book. The story moves forward, focusing on Lane, Allegra, and their grandfather, the fateful summer they spent together, and the catalyst that ripped them all apart. We are shown the astronomical dysfunction in this family and the coping mechanisms that Lane and Allegra unconsciously adopt to handle the confusion and turmoil in their lives. It is heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch unfold; made more so once you realize the level of sickness involved and the efforts of those around to normalize it.
“Sometimes people who love us can still hurt us.”
Lane and Allegra are two intelligent, brilliant, and flawed individuals who don’t exactly endear themselves to you. They are cracked pieces of glass that cut and slice while you wait for them to shatter into a million pieces. As teenagers, they embraced being “the rich and beautiful Roanoke Girls” and accepted the tributes they felt due them without any thoughts to the cost. A small but potent romance only serves to intensify the pain as you watch an older and wiser Lane try to discover what happened to Allegra. Bits and pieces of hers and Allegra’s lives are slowly exposed like a raw nerve. You experience each twist and turn on the emotional roller coaster they were riding and learn the heavy price they paid for their decisions.
Guilt, I’m discovering, is an emotion that’s almost impossible to kill.
This story stayed with me long after I finished as I tried to sort out my feelings about it. Engel brings to the forefront some sensitive subjects with no excuses or attempts to sensationalize in order to add drama to the story. She streamlines the storyline, choosing to lay out the events in a brisk economical manner, making each discovery so much more shocking because of the lack of artifice and drama. We are given an intimate look into the personality of a narcissistic predator and the way they are able to manipulate their victims; using love and affection to excuse their behavior.
The Roanoke Girls was certainly not what I was expecting and for that I’m glad. I look forward to reading more Engel in the future.