I dream of the Roanoke girls, lost and broken. Staring eyes and crumpled bodies. Jane. Sophia. Penelope. Eleanor. Camilla. Emmeline. Allegra. They are calling for me, begging me to help them. I search and search, but never find a single one.
When Lane returns to Kansas at her grandfather’s bidding after her cousin Allegra has disappeared she is forced to face the circumstances that sent her running in the first place. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel reaches into the dark depths of taboo subjects and shamelessly pulls forth the most wicked into the light.
I look up, catch my own pale, eyes-too-big reflection in Allegra’s mirror. Run Lane. As if I needed Allegra to tell me that.
Following her mother’s suicide, Lane is sent to live with her last remaining family members whom she has never met- her grandparents and her cousin Allegra. Allegra is quick to latch on to Lane since they have so much in common: pale skin, dark hair and mothers who met the seemingly inescapable fate of all Roanoke girls.
Allegra did a quick pirouette away from me, her smile a little too wide. “Roanoke girls never last long around here.” She skipped along the hall, her voice growing fainter as she moved, like we were standing at opposite ends of a tunnel. “In the end, we either run or we die.”
Lane and Allegra begin their summer together as most average teenagers would- fairs in the park, flirting and kissing boys, underage drinking and bonding through shared experiences and stories. One afternoon at the swimming hole Lane senses Allegra’s melancholy and slowly the cracks in the facade of the remaining Roanoke family begin to develop.
“Wanna know a secret?” Allegra asked, her voice a whisper only slightly louder than the breeze. She was still lying on the ground, her eyes closed. “Sure.” “Even if it’s the worst secret in the world? Even if it’s terrible?” Her eyes opened, found mine across the small space between us.
The secret is not shared at this moment, however, but it doesn’t take long for the distorted picture of Roanoke to come into full focus. Lane uncovers the rancid center of her new home and the horrible truth of it sends her spinning.
The real horror wasn’t seeing them, wasn’t finally knowing what deep down in the darkest part of myself I’d suspected all along. The horror came in acknowledging that my initial flush of shock hadn’t lasted long, had been overtaken almost immediately by a neon flare of envy. Why wasn’t it me? I covered my mouth with both hands to hold in the hysterical laughter. Why hadn’t he picked me? That’s how fucked up I was. That’s how badly Roanoke twisted us all.
Betrayal at the most profound level and the misguided abuse of trust in a relationship that is meant to be innocent, Engel expertly portrays the simple psychology behind the unspeakable secret of The Roanoke Girls.
It wasn’t your fault,” I whisper, “what happened to you. And it was all right that you loved him. That wasn’t your fault, either. I hope you know that.”
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A review copy of this title was provided by Crown Publishing via Netgalley.