Lane Roanoke spent one summer at Roanoke, the family farm in Kansas. She was fifteen when her mother killed herself, leaving a note scribbled on the margin of the newspaper, “I tried to wait. I’m sorry.” She does not understand then what her mother meant. When she arrives, she is greeted by Allegra, a cousin who has been raised by their mutual grandparents all her life. It’s all there in the pictures on the wall the day Lane arrives back then. Yates, the patriarch and Gran, his two sisters, their three daughters, and Allegra are all in black and white photos framed on the wall. Allegra assures her that she will be there too, one of the Roanoke girls.
Then she adds, “Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.” Before the end of the year, Lane runs and never returns until years later when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra is missing. She comes back to find Allegra or find out what happened to her. Her return sparks old memories that haunt her and rekindle an old passion with her high school boyfriend, but her main focus is finding Allegra and she’s pretty sure it has something to do with what happens to the Roanoke girls, because that kind, loving grandfather was sleeping with fifteen year old Allegra then, and Lane suspects that has something to do with why she is missing now.
This is not a secret. We know this in Chapter Four and there are thirty-one chapters. So, nope, it’s not a spoiler, except of course…incest poisons the entire family and the book. The book alternates between then and now…with interstitial stories of the Roanoke Girls who died or ran away–victims of the same incest…from childhood on..
The Roanoke Girls is a book I wish I had not read. I was far enough in before Lane spilled the beans I wanted to see Grandpa hauled off in chains or to get what he deserved in some way. I wanted lots of people to get what they deserved so I kept reading, but it just got increasingly nauseating. The characters are stock misfits. There is not one healthy woman in this book. Even in the town, the minor women characters are shallow, tawdry stereotypes. Gran is the bitter face saver drinking to soften the edges. Tommy is savior complex guy and becomes a cop and loves Allegra hopelessly and fruitlessly, mostly because he wants to save her without having a clue why she needs saving. Allegra is written as though she is bipolar, but her swings seem to have more to do with jealously and her relationship with her grandfather, rather than body chemistry. Lane is self-sabotaging because she thinks she does not deserve love. Cooper is local bad boy turning his life around and his relationship with Lane is that kind of lust-hate-love thing that is found in all the oldest romance novels. The town is a stereotypical retrograde small town with fake ethnic cafes with politically incorrect names as if there is no television and no one has ever watched Food Network.
Perhaps Engel wants to send the message that victims of incest and pedophilia are groomed from childhood, that they are not guilty in what happens to them, but because they love the person who abuses them, they feel shame and guilt. To do that, she wrote the grandfather as the most appealing character in the entire book–if his secret were not known–is the grandfather, sane, friendly, charming, loving, hard-working, generous, forgiving. He seemed the sanest, healthiest person in the book. I would have thrown the book across the room, but it’s a kindle and I can’t afford to replace it.