I can’t help compare The Roanoke Girls to the hyped bestseller The Girls by Emma Cline. Both deal with teen girls sucked into a cult – or cult-like – existence with grim mysteries hanging over the story. But instead of the drift and dissatisfaction of a happy middle class teen experimenting with her darker side, you get the taught, unpredictable behaviour of a deeply damaged girl trying her best not to give into the demons that she knows, too well, lurk under the surface. Perhaps The Girls approach on this is a little subtler, but in Roanoke it’s more powerful.
The ‘cult’ leader is also more powerful in The Roanoke Girls. In The Girls the Manson figure was dissatisfyingly uncharismatic, in The Roanoke Girls Engel introduces a disturbingly every day and insidious kind of threat. And the man looming over the girls of the title is truly disturbing, mainly because you can understand his appeal – horrendous as that may be to admit. Altogether a more necessary and affecting read.