The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean
“We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song.” *
In the summer of 1992, a quiet suburb in Australia is stunned when the three Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth – disappear. Suddenly the news is no longer focused on the infamous Azaria Chamberlain case and the community is searching the valley for any sign of the girls.
Tikka Malloy was eleven the summer her friends disappeared. It was a confusing time for the precocious girl and now that twenty years have passed, she is just beginning to understand the significance of some of the events she witnessed in the weeks leading up to the disappeance of the girls.
Tikka is back in Australia to visit with her older sister Laura, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. As Tikka takes readers back to the summer of 1992 and describes what transpired, we learn in the present that Tikka and Laura have a secret: they knew that their friends were planning to run away.
The narration of eleven-year-old Tikka was completely endearing; both amusing at times and utterly heartbreaking. She shares the truth with readers without truly understanding it herself and her innocence makes the story atmospheric and poignant.
“We thought we’d seen the worst when those girls disappeared. But seeing and not seeing is a funny old thing. Even now I don’t know which is crueller in the end.” *
In present day, Tikka struggles with the secret she’s kept all these years and with the realization that many adults were aware of the events she didn’t fully understand at the time and yet did nothing.
While the disappearance of the Van Apfel girls remains unsolved (readers are left with two highly compelling possibilities), Tikka grieves most the fact that her three friends could’ve been saved if only one person had been willing to speak up.
There were several layers to this story: the disappeance of three sisters as told by an innocent young girl, the opportunity to also see things from her adult perspective and uncover more secrets, and the slow burn mystery at the heart of it all; combined, it makes for an atmospheric and compulsively readable novel!
I enjoyed that some major clues are revealed but we’re left with more questions than answers about the girls’ fate. The book is described as “The Virgin Suicides meets Picnic at Hanging Rock“ and I can say there’s definitely similar vibes so if you’re a fan of either of those books, a coming of age meets slow burn mystery, this is a book to add to your stack.
Thanks to Algonquin Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review. The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is scheduled for release in the U.S. on June 25, 2019.
*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.