The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

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In 1992, when Tikka Malloy is eleven years old, three sisters in their Australian neighborhood disappear. Hannah, Cordie, and Ruth Van Apfel are best friends with Tikka and her older sister Laura, and the Malloy sisters are unhappy witnesses to Mr. Van Apfel’s religious fanaticism and physical abuse of his daughters. That summer, Hannah and Cordie form a secret plan to run away, with Laura’s help. Though the older girls deem young Tikka and even younger Ruth too young to be included, the two find out anyway, with dire consequences. The sisters’ fate is clear from the very first page: the Van Apfel girls are never seen again. Tikka, however, never stops thinking about them, and she narrates the novel as an adult, decades older, returning to Australia to visit cancer-stricken Laura. Only now, with distance both literal and symbolic, can Tikka look back on that summer with any degree of clarity–and she finds that her return prompts others to reveal bits of the story to her that she’d been, before, too young to know.

There are plenty of possible villains here, but solving the mystery of what happened to the Van Apfels isn’t this novel’s goal. Rather, McLean has crafted a thoughtful, uneasy exploration of a young woman forever changed by sadness, guilt, and regret. Tikka isn’t responsible for the Van Apfel girls’ disappearance, but as an adult she understands that culpability isn’t always easy to define. There are some things you simply never get over.

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Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 304 pages
Publisher Algonquin Books
Publish Date 2019-06-25
ISBN 9781616209643 Buy this Book
Issue November 2019
Category Mystery, Crime, Thriller


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