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BLOG TOUR!! The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

Van Apfel Girls Cover‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven years old during the long hot summer of 1992, growing up in an isolated suburb in Australia surrounded by encroaching bushland. That summer, the hottest on record, was when the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – mysteriously disappeared during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river.

Did they run away? Were they taken? While the search for the sisters unites the small community, the mystery of their disappearance has never been solved. Now, years later, Tikka has returned home and is beginning to make sense of that strange moment in time. The summer that shaped her. The girls that she never forgot.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a novel infused with summer. The heat rises from the very first page of Felicity McLean’s compulsive debut, which tells the story of three sisters who all vanish together in one night. As their young friend Tikka relates the events leading up to and after the disappearance of Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth Van Apfel, the blaze of an Australian summer seeps across the pages. The end result is a smart, multi-layered thriller infused with a languid summer haze.

Tikka’s wide-eyed innocence, so at odds with the cool knowingness of her older sister Laura and the elder Van Apfel girls Hannah and Cordie, reminded me of the narration in Joanna Cannon’s marvellous debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. As the reader, it is easy to pick up on the faultlines running beneath the surface of the Van Apfel household, ruled by a smiling yet volatile father and a daily routine centred on family bible study.

Through Tikka’s unknowing gaze, we see these tiny fractures move outwards, encompassing the lives of the whole neighbourhood, from curtain-twitching neighbour Mrs McCausley to new schoolteacher Mr Avery, and even Tikka and Laura themselves. It’s a masterful portrayal of the politics of small-town life, and of the subtle intricacies that make up seemingly everyday interactions.

Tikka is an endearing narrator – both as an adult left confused and uncentered by the emotional resonance of her childhood choices, and as a young girl whose unwitting ability to speak before she thinks could have dire consequences for both her and her friends. The novel constantly returns to the question of fractured memories and emotional truth, asking again and again whether it is possible for Tikka to escape her own past.

The languid heat and expansive setting adds beautifully to the mood of the book, with the increasing heat of that long-ago summer creating a stifling, and at times oppressive, narrative in which both Tikka and the reader feel enclosed. It makes for a compulsively readable book and I raced through it in just a couple of evenings.

Part mystery, part coming-of-age tale, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone ticks all of the boxes for a compelling summer read. Smart and readable, this is a multi-layered novel with echoes of Emma Cline’s The Girls and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. Definitely one I would recommend for picking up this summer, I very much look forward to reading more from Felicity McLean.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean is published in hardback and ebook by Point Blank, and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this tour. The tour continues until 15 June 2019 so do check out the other stops for reviews and further content!

Van Apfel Girls Poster


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