The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel: Review

In this, the age of American Horror StoryDexter and Game of Thrones entertainment channels are able to (and often do) talk about increasingly shocking ideas. For some reason many of us are a little dark too and are compelled to explore this kind of narrative – The Roanoke Girls is one of these new age taboo shakers and I was hooked on this heartbreaking tale from cover to cover.


Title: The Roanoke Girls

Author: Amy Engel

Publication date: August 1st 2017

Pages: 288

Blurb: Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.


Firstly, a very big thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Intrigue and Mystery run thick in this unique and complex novel, once I was in it I had to finish it.

It’s set in the Osage flats in Kansas but the perspective shifts (between ‘then’, ‘now’, and various chapters from the perspective of absent characters) to inform the reader and help explore the secrets of the Roanoke family. The timeframe adjustments move flawlessly and our story moves at a satisfying pace; I didn’t feel lost reading because it was so naturally paced and fluid. By playing with time Engel gives us the privilege of truly understanding characters we might otherwise get just a vague understanding of. I’d have loved a few more references to The Roanoke Colony but the carvings and the intrigue were fabulous by themselves.

In terms of content and themes It definitely made me think of Lolita; it’s provocative and twisted but still, somehow, utterly captivating. I don’t know how I’d describe it genre wise but it certainly plays with sexuality and morality in a way that isn’t forced or incredibly intense; it simply is. I feel like I’m a despicable human for loving this book but what the heck? I guess the crown fits.

Flawed characters feature heavily throughout and are the focal point of the book’s message; it invites you to question differing levels of morality whilst maintaining a compelling narrative. It’s about perspective on morality but also uses clever imagery and symbolism to create not only a great story, but a fascinating dialogue on so many aspects of life. The themes of suffering, and small time drama with big time secrets really create a story in which we question our own initial responses: actions that seem cruel at first may be an expression of a far worse internal struggle.

“To Sarah, Allegra is simply a bitch…not one single second of Allegra’s life was easy. I know the agony she lived with every day. And I understand how sometimes you have to pass the pain around in order to survive it.”

There’s power not only in the content but in the way it it written too. This book was enticing and addictive, dark and gritty, it was so much better than I could’ve anticipated. Engel’s writing is gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed her literary style; what she did in 288 pages was more than some can achieve in 1000. I’d very much recommend reading it.


 4 out of 5

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If you liked All Things New, try The Vegetarian


  – Cat –