The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone
By Felicity McLean
Published June 25, 2019 by Algonquin Books
“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 recounting 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.
Brilliantly observed, sharp, lively, funny and entirely endearing, this novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – and quintessentially Australian. Think The Virgin Suicides meets Jasper Jones meets Picnic at Hanging Rock.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a book that just didn’t work for me.
Tikka returns home to Australia from Baltimore when her sister is diagnosed with cancer. Twenty years earlier, the sisters’ friends and neighbors, the Van Apfel girls (Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth), disappeared. Tikka’s return home sets her to reminiscing about the past and reexamining the girls’ disappearance with her adult eyes.
This book had so much potential. A daughter/sister returning home, an unsolved mystery. But these elements never gelled for me. The writing was well done, and the sense of heat and summer and the idleness of childhood is vividly evoked, but beyond that, I didn’t feel any connection to the story.
Tikka is a rather dull character. Other than her (understandable) grief and obsession with the unsolved mystery of her friends’ disappearance, she doesn’t have much of a personality as an adult. We’re told that the 13-year-old Cordelia is an object of fascination to everyone, but other than a little suggestive dancing, we don’t really see this.
Untimately, I found this book frustrating. There’s a huge mystery at the center of it, and there is absolutely no resolution. I didn’t necessarily expect everything to be tied up in a neat package, but I did hope there would be some answers. I wanted something more from this book.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.