The first thing that attracted me about this book was the title, since the historical Roanoke has always fascinated me, so I was excited to be a Goodreads First Reads winner. Had I not won a copy, I probably would not have read it, as it falls outside of my normal reading parameters. Although this Roanoke is not to be equated with the historical colony, it shares the same haunting quality.
“All the Roanoke girls somehow unable to grow up, stuck in a suspended childhood their entire lives.” Shortly before turning 16, Lane Roanoke goes to live with her grandparents and cousin, Allegra, following her mother’s suicide. Her mother’s life was one of despair and darkness, with no love for herself or for Lane, and all she would say about growing up at Roanoke—the name given to the family’s farm in Osage Flats, Kansas—was that it was a nightmare. At first, Lane finds her new life at Roanoke to be fine, enjoying Allegra’s company despite her cousin’s moody nature. However, as that transformative summer comes to an end, Lane’s blinders start to fall off, and she realizes just how much of a curse being a Roanoke girl can be, so that her reluctant return a decade later drags her back into the storm’s eye.
This is definitely not a feel-good story. It portrays a dysfunctional family, peeling the layers of which like an onion causes tears. Engel writes with an unflinching manner, and as a result this book contains profanity and sexual situations, although these do not detract from or overshadow the story itself. While considered a thriller, “The Roanoke Girls” whispers its horror with a lingering sense of unease; don’t expect jump-out-of-your-seat scenes. Instead, the plot moves along like a sordid train wreck, and those who go along for the ride will be drawn into a tale that is all the more sad and frightening for its potential reality.