I know a few people who make a habit of not reading Next Big Thing books because ultimately, the end result never quite lives up to the hype. (I haven’t read The Girl on the Train and the movie’s already gone to DVD).
But sometimes it does.
I saw a few posts about The Roanoke Girls online and the title struck me because I had just finished watching American Horror Story Roanoke, which essentially scared my pants off. The book was getting a lot of hype, so I thought, why not, let me add it to the To Be Read tally I had running in my head.
I had just loaned the book I was currently reading, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, to a friend, (the book is making its rounds in her household), so I needed something new to sink my teeth into over the weekend.
Next Big Thing books are easy to spot. Just look among the floating displays at the front of any Exclusive Books store. I found and paid for my copy of The Roanoke Girls in seconds.
Oh my God.
This book was not what I was expecting at all. The plot is so twisted that my eyes nearly popped out my head. I absolutely loved it.
For the uninitiated, Lane Roanoke lives with her mother in New York. She’s dreamed about the Roanoke family home in Kansas her entire life – gleaned from the snatches her mother reveals. Mostly it’s a taboo subject. When her mother commits suicide, a social worker tells Lane her family are anxiously waiting to take her in.
At first, the sprawling estate in Osage Flats feels like home. Her cousin Allegra is mad and lovely, her gran is elegant old money and her grandfather is doting and wonderful. Lane inherits an instant best friend, a whole new wardrobe, and the family she’s always wanted.
Then Allegra shows Lane the portraits of the Roanoke Girls, the women in the Roanoke family tree – beautiful, dark and cursed. Some have gone missing. Most are dead. Lane and Allegra are the last Roanoke girls remaining, and because of a terrible family secret, they’re also doomed.
Lane can’t get away fast enough, and like her mother before her, puts the Roanoke home out of her mind. But years later she receives a call from her grandfather to say Allegra has gone missing, and Lane has no choice but to go back to find out the truth.
This is the type of novel I wish I had written. It’s fast-paced and filled with hooks to keep you wanting more – I was so bewitched I read it in two sittings flat. The mystery element is one of the book’s most intriguing qualities. The magnificently flawed Lane takes a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to sleuthing, and her ferocity to discover what happened to her cousin stirs up a lot of dust in the sleepy small town.
The book also explores the role of women in society, but more than that, it looks at how women see themselves. Author Amy Engel doesn’t hold back. Lane recognises her own propensity for cruelty and malice when it comes to men, her own weakness to willingly overlook horror just to feel wanted and special.
But all that aside, what I loved most was the writing itself, which was as beautiful and haunting as the doomed women in the title. It evokes a wonderfully vivid picture of the drama unfolding, with the magnificent backdrop of dry whispering wheat fields and a sky full of stars.
A final spoilery thought. This book gives “that look” in American Gothic a whole new meaning.
You can see more of my LEGO stories on Tumblr.