Book Reviews

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

I love a good thriller. There’s nothing better than having a page-turner in hand when it’s getting late and you should get to bed but you just can’t stop reading. Unfortunately, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone does not qualify for this category. It was a selection from my Page One Books box, and the cover was so pretty…I had high hopes for this one.

the van apfel girls are gone by felicity mclean

The Story

‘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.

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.

My Thoughts

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone really let me down. I think it’s a far reach that this book is both a “mystery” and a “coming-of-age story”. I found it to be predictable and extremely scattered.

The story is told both in present tense with thirty-something Tikka, and her first person account of 20+ years ago when the Van Apfel girls go missing. However, 75% of the book is in the past, which made the “present tense” feel very unnecessary. Also, Ms. McLean had to give Tikka’s sister cancer? Why? Was that really the only logical way that Tikka’s character would return home from the States?

Additionally, there’s one point in the book where Tikka keeps repeating to herself “Call me by my real name” (or something to that effect). I went back and skimmed the book. At no point that I saw or remembered did anyone say that Tikka’s name was anything other than Tikka.

Then, she runs into an older lady who lives in the same house as when Tikka was younger. She makes Tikka promise to come over on Thursday before 4pm. Then, the logical amount of book time goes by and there’s no mention of the visit. It gets dropped as a past happening. “Oh, I went to see her.” Really?! Then why harp on it being a specific time?!

I’m probably going to spoil some things here, but I’m not recommending that you read this book, so I don’t really care.

  1. It’s obvious she was pregnant.
  2. Also, it’s obvious that Mr. Avery was inappropriately involved with the girl.
  3. You could also see the parental abuse coming from a mile away.
  4. Duh, the girls were going to run.

My final bit…why not solve the case? It feels lazy. You’ve spent all this time laying the backstory and managing the build up just to leave it unsolved?

I’m sorry, Ms. McLean, but I was not impressed. It’s such a shame because Australia also has Sally Hepworth who is AMAZING. (Be on the lookout for my review of her next book, publishing April 13!)

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