EXCERPT: The ghost turned up in time for breakfast, summoned by the death rattle of Cornflakes in their box.
She arrived on foot. Bare feet. Barelegged and white knuckled, in a pale cotton nightie that clung to her calves and slipped off one shoulder as jaunty as a hat. Her hair was damp with sleep sweat – whose wasn’t that summer? – and stiff strands of it fenced in her thirteen-year-old face like blinkers strapped to a colt.
By the time we got there she was already halfway across the cul-de-sac. Her unseeing eyes, her stop-me shuffle, they’d taken her as far as that and she might have made it further too, if it wasn’t for the car that sat idling at a ninety-degree angle to her path. A right angle made from her wrongs.
The driver’s elbow pointed accusingly out of the window and he leaned out and shouted to each neighbour as they arrived on the scene: ‘She came from nowhere!’ as if that were her crime. This girl who appeared from thin air.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: 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.’
So begins Tikka Molloy’s recount of the summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – disappear.
Eleven and one-sixth years old, Tikka is the precocious narrator of this fabulously endearing coming-of-age story, set in an eerie Australian river valley suburb with an unexplained stench. The Van Apfel girls vanish from the valley during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river. While the search for the sisters unites the small community on Sydney’s urban fringe, the mystery of their disappearance remains unsolved forever.
MY THOUGHTS: This was a delightful fix of Australiana. ‘Cossies’ (swimsuits), ‘thongs’ (flip-flops), ‘yabbies’, kookaburras, and finishing sentences with ‘but’. I felt quite at home, although I would never call the suburbs of Sydney home. The dialogue is so realistic I could hear the voices complete with accents as I read.
The characters are enchanting. A trio of teenage girls and their two younger sisters trying to make sense of life and the largely confusing behaviour of some of the adults in their lives. These are normal girls. They form friendships and cliques. They squabble and sulk. The older three often leave the younger two out of their plans and secrets.
Tikka, not her real name and we never find out what that is or how she earns the nickname Tikka, is stuck in no man’s land, older than 8 year old Ruth, but not yet a teenager like Hannah, Cordie and Laura. It is Tikka who narrates the story, so we only get to know what she knows and/or suspects. It is Cordie, the sleepwalker, who shines in this group. Rebellious, ethereal, she has an air about her, a sense of living beyond her years.
We learn of the cruel and inhumane treatment of the Van Apfel girls, particularly Cordie, at the hands of their father, a religious fanatic. And her suspicions about Mr Avery, Cordies new teacher. But mostly it is the lead-up to the fateful night the girls go missing, Tikka’s reaction, and the ongoing effect on her and Laura’s lives many years down the track when certain incidents are viewed differently with the benefit of hindsight and experience.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is well written and enjoyable. It’s a slow burning mystery, and an intriguing one. Don’t expect to get all the answers served up neatly. It isn’t going to happen.
An author to watch.
THE AUTHOR: Felicity McLean is an Australian author and journalist. This is her first novel.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to One World Publications, Point Blank via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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