Returning to Roanoke, her grandparents' farm in rural Kansas, was the last thing that Lane ever intended on doing. Though only spending one summer surrounded by family secrets in a dying town, she left for California and vowed never to go back. After years of just trying to exist, she receives a call from her Grandfather telling her about her cousin Allegra's recent disappearance. Sensing something isn't quite right, Lane hops on a plane and returns to the tragic place that she left all those years ago in the hopes of finding Allegra or at least assuage her own guilt over running away.
By integrating all the Roanoke girls' stories, Amy Engel weaves a page-turning family saga that switches between Lane's first summer in Osage Flats, Kansas all those years ago and her return. At first the time shifts every chapter confused me, but I did get comfortable with the format and could see why the author chose to present her story this way. While the book was very easy to read, I felt more of a YA voice coming through than the adult thriller I believe Engel intended. This makes sense considering that her two previous novels fell into the YA genre; however, considering the disturbing subject matter I thought a more nuanced tone could have been used.
And that brings be to my biggest concern with the story. Without revealing any spoilers, just be aware that there is a taboo subject at the heart of The Roanoke Girls that might be a bit much for a lot of people. I do think the big reveal happened too early in the book, within the first 5 chapters, to have as much impact as a later reveal would have, but I this seems to have been done on purpose as nothing that comes after is sensationalized. I don't believe that the family secret itself was intended to be the focus as much as the destructiveness of families and damaged people, so the marketing as a "thriller" seems a bit misleading.
Even though the the subject matter made me uneasy and the story itself felt foreseeable, I did compulsively turn the pages in order to watch everything play out. The Roanoke Girls is a controversial yet solid first novel from Amy Engel that should cause quite a stir once released.
*I received this book as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.