The Roanoke Girls can be best described as “domestic noir.” At it’s heart it isn’t a mystery or a thriller like the synopsis may lead you to believe. This is a family drama – a twisted, deeply disturbing family drama – but a family drama none the less. Lane, our protagonist, goes to live with her grandparents after her mother passes away. She moves from her life in New York City to small town Kansas. There she meets Allegra, her cousin raised by her grandparents, and the secrets of the Roanoke family start to unravel.
I loved this book. There are definitely lots of triggers and lots of uncomfortable things going on in this story. In fact, it will probably haunt me for a long time to come. Despite the disturbing story line I couldn’t help but be sucked in from start to finish. The prologue starts the story off with a bang letting us know danger is definitely ahead. Then, from the moment Lane steps foot on the Roanoke residence, there’s an undeniable feeling of something not being quite right. It is definitely not a fast paced, who-dunnit type of mystery but I still found it incredibly gripping. I would suggest this to fans of Megan Abbott and would definitely not recommend to the faint of heart.
The setting of this story is so incredibly, eerie. Everything from the actual Roanoke house to the small town gave me the heebie jeebies. The setting is definitely what initially pulled me into the story. The town could have easily felt quaint in a different story, with its carasoul park and taco tuesdays. However, the imagery and description given to the town throughout the story leaves you feeling like the town is broken. There’s something just slightly off and unsettling whenever the town is described.
The characters are all hopelessly broken. The characters and the setting both reminded me of Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. All of the characters are deeply flawed, and no one is truly likeable, but in the end this makes them more interesting. “We’re all fucked up, Lane, one way or another. It’s only a matter of degree.” Even the characters who are not part of the Roanoke family are flawed, and when their cracks show it definitely begs the question are we all truly rotten at the core?
Woven throughout the story are flashbacks to the “Roanoke Girls” who came before Lane and Allegra. These flashbacks are quick glimpses but they work perfectly to build tension. Each flashback reveals a new slice of the story. I loved having this family history play such a big role in the story and I found the flashbacks were written exceptionally well.
Oh, the triggers. So many trigger warnings. I don’t want to spoil anything, but be warned there is a lot of unkosher sex happening in this story. I felt like this part of the story should have bothered me way more than it did, but I was so damn intrigued by the story I couldn’t stop reading. Basically, I let myself get wrapped up in the story and found it best not to think too much about what is going on. If you spend too long dwelling on the secret of the Roanoke Girls its pretty difficult to stomach.
The reveal is casually dropped, pretty early on. I’ve heard from some people they found this anti-climatic and wished the reveal hadn’t been until the end. I personally don’t think the story would have worked if they had kept us in the dark about the secret. It has to be revealed early on for so much of the story to have any impact. There are so many statements made by characters, especially in the “then” chapters, that have crazy double meaning once you know what the secret is. All of those gems would have been lost if we were in the dark. I also felt like there were enough smaller reveals throughout the story, one major reveal wasn’t necessary.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. It definitely won’t be for everyone and I’d probably be hesitant to recommend it because of the triggers. However, if you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn or Megan Abbott I think you’ll be able to see past the more disturbing elements and get caught up in the mystery of the Roanoke Girls.