Disturbing, but compelling

9781101906668The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel, Crown, out now

This is the first adult novel from a young adult writer and it’s a rather unusual treatment of incest. The characters are not all easy to hate and the entanglement of persons involved in many incest cases is presented. To be sure, the adverse aspects of incest rules the novel and the destructiveness of this act is always present, however, it does challenge perceptions. Dominance is not only gained by a strong arm.

Lane Roanoke’s mother ran away from home when she was young and never revealed much about her family. But when her mother commits suicide, fifteen-year-old Lane is sent to live with her grandparents, who are already raising her cousin, Allegra, on the family estate in rural Kansas. At first things seem fine—her cousin is friendly and the two girls become close and it’s not so bad being rich and beautiful. But when Lane discovers the family secrets behind the façade she runs away to escape it all. She wants Allegra to go with her, but Allegra refuses.

Eleven years later, Lane thinks she’s escaped it all, but when she gets a call saying that Allegra has gone missing, she can’t resist the temptation to go home.

The story moves between Lane’s original stay in Roanoke and her return as an adult, and also sometimes takes the perspective of previous Roanoke girls. While the theme of family secrets and incest is difficult, and dark, the characters are well drawn, making one care about them and the issues are clearly stated, both overtly and in more subtle ways. Disturbing, absolutely, but also compelling.

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