Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

y648In The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, debut novelist Felicity McLean explores the long echoes of emotional trauma and guilt born of the disappearance of three siblings twenty years ago.

When we meet Tikka Molloy in 2012, she’s chasing a ghost from her past — literally. Sitting in a Baltimore cab, crawling towards downtown, Tikka spots the one person she will never forget, no matter how hard she scrubs at her memory, walking among the crowd of commuters headed for the metro station: Cordelia Van Apfel; the middle Van Apfel child. Without skipping a beat, Tikka is out of the cab, chasing the impossible, what simply cannot be. Because twenty years ago that week, in the summer of 1992, Cordelia and her sisters vanished. And Tikka has never been able to put the tragedy of her missing friends behind her.

Smash-cut to Tikka returning home, to Australia, and the insular community from which the Van Apfel girls disappeared two decades ago. Her sister, Laura, is about to begin chemotherapy, and Tikka is back to support her older sibling. But old memories inevitably resurface. Tikka has spent years marinating on the events that lead to that fateful day. And back where it happened, she’s determined to prod and poke at those painful memories, and ask the difficult questions, in order to determine the truth: not necessarily the specific fates of Ruth, Cordelia and Hannah; rather, her own and her sister’s culpability. Because one thing is clear, as McLean unravels her tale through flitting perspectives between eleven-year-old and present-day Tikka; there’s plenty of guilt to go around.

The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is a propulsive and deeply resonant coming-of-age tale, and an absolutely enthralling account of a young woman’s effort to heal deep wounds that don’t easily show, whose voice will stay with you for a long, long time.

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