They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but don’t let the genre put you off either. Every reader has one that they avoid, the dark corner of the fiction section they never venture into. Some readers have more than one. For me, it’s Crime/Thrillers. Why I’m not entirely sure, but when it comes to reading novels in this genre, I always have a hard time letting the story take me. But genres aren’t always so clear cut, and you never know when a book will surprise you. Sometimes you have to venture outside your comfort zone or you won’t experience anything new.
The Roanoke Girls is one of those reads that took me by surprise. Lane is one of the Roanoke girls and that comes with a price. They may be beautiful and alluring but their lives are far from easy. They run away if death doesn’t take them first. Lane’s mother Camilla was one of the runaways. After her suicide, Lane was sent to live with her grandparents in rural Kansas, the one place her mother feared the most. That summer, Lane uncovered the dark secrets her family kept and followed in her mother’s footsteps; she ran. But eleven years later, her cousin Allegra vanishes and Lane is pulled back to Roanoke.
You don’t have to like a character, but you have to understand them. Lane isn’t perfect, she’s often cruel but it’s the only currency she trusts. For Lane, pain is more reassuring than love, its familiar territory. Her mother’s love for her was twisted by hate and that stays with her. When someone gets too close she lashes out. It’s better to be detested than to be vulnerable. Hate she knows how to handle. She’s dealt with it her whole life.
There’s something deeply insidious about The Roanoke Girls. From the opening you could be tricked into thinking this was a story about a girl’s redemption, about finding her roots and falling in love. It’s not. When Allegra disappears and Lane reluctantly returns to Roanoke it’s clear that there is something darker lurking in the mismatched house. What makes it most unsettling is how the sinister truth of the Roanoke girls’ tragic fates is interweaved with what might appear to be normal family interactions. Skip a line of dialogue and you might miss it entirely. The harmless memories of the summer Lane spent at Roanoke as a teenager are polluted by what she knows now. The ‘Then’ chapters alarmingly show how Lane’s predecessors fell into the trap.
Allegra’s disappearance and Lane’s attempts to uncover the truth are at times overshadowed by the past, but then the past does seem in danger of repeating itself. Lane’s sleeping in the same room she slept in that summer in 2004 and she’s started up the same unhealthy relationship with the boy she hurt. There’s a real danger Lane might not be able to escape Roanoke a second time.
The Roanoke Girls was a thriller that had a hypnotic hold, suspenseful and compelling in equal measures.