June 24

The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean

Firstly, good news!  I am alive despite being missing in action of late.  Believe it or not, I have been reading a lot but sadly, I have made some very poor choices and twice had to abandon my book.  This is something I try never to do (and I really gave those two a red-hot-go, trust me), but sometimes, life really is too damn short.  I am not going to chat about any of those titles because like any breakup, it was probably more me than them.

So let’s move on to a book I did finish and really did like!  This one has been everywhere so the cover won’t come as a surprise and it’s on every must-read list and for good reason – the writing is fabulous and the story compelling.

It’s not an easy tale – the title gives it away doesn’t it – so let’s talk about the Van Apfel sisters Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth who vanish suddenly in 1992 during a school concert where most of the town are present. Their disappearance is shrouded in mystery, rumour and shock and at the centre of the story is their friend Tikka Molloy, who at the time of the sister’s disappearance was nearly 12.

Did they run away or were they taken?  Both seem probable but only the sisters themselves know the truth.  When the youngest turns up dead, a worried town turns wild with conspiracy theories and fear.  The remaining two sisters are never found.

Years later, Tikka  (who now lives in the US) returns home to be with her sick sister – and tries, as best she can, to make some sense of that summer and the loss of the three girls she can’t forget.

Referred to as Picnic at Hanging Rock for a new generation, the author deftly depicts the complexity of youth, ardent religion and dysfunctional family dynamics.  She takes you into the living room of the characters through the young eyes and mind of Tikka and it feels like a portal into the past.  Set in Australia she paints our sleepy county town life perfectly, so it was like a door opening into my youth – without the harrowing disappearance of course.

This clever thriller is worth your time.  After my recent poor reading choices, it certainly was a lifeline, something sadly the Apfel sisters needed to be thrown too.

But that is just my two cents worth.