Cover Image: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This book had its merits, but those were largely overridden by a frustrating ending and multiple instances of needless animal violence.

The vibe of this book is a good one, and is probably the best thing about it. There’s something about kids in this age group trying to fend of boredom in the summer that always resonates with me, both aesthetically and in terms of relatability.

Unfortunately the “mystery” element of the plot really isn’t one, or at the very least it’s undermined by an ending cloaked in irritating ambiguousness. It reads better as a character study than as a mystery. 

What the author got right was the narrator’s voice. Tikka is a tad on the naive side for a 12 year old, but she still thinks and speaks in a way that indicates the author really gets what it’s like to be a girl that age. Focusing on that will likely leave the reader with a better impression of this book than focusing on the plot will. 

Note: As is my standard policy, I knocked off a star for the inclusion of needless animal violence. If that type of thing doesn’t bother you, this is a three star book.
Was this review helpful?
2.5 stars.  I did enjoy the book while reading, but after finishing and every question I had was left unanswered, it was a total let down.
Was this review helpful?
The year is 1992 and the place is a suburb in Australia.  It's summer and the hottest one in memory.  Five girls live on a cul-de-sac in the suburb and are inseparable.  Tikka Malloy is 11 that year; her sister Laura 14.  Their best friends are the Van Apfel girls.  Hannah is Laura's age, Cordelia is a year in school above Tikka and Ruth is the youngest.  The five girls are inseparable.  They go to school together and afterward, spend hours in the Van Apfel pool, eat ice creams, talk and tell secrets.

But there is one secret no one is talking about.  The Van Apfel family are religious and religion defines their lives.  Mr. Van Apfel controls everything in the house and the thing he most likes to control are his girls.  As time goes by, the Malloy girls start to guess the secret.  The secret of why Cordelia fell out of a tree breaking her arm.  The secret of why she sometimes had bruises or hair missing.  The secret behind the fact that the girls are going to run away.

And they did.  At the annual school Showstopper event, the girls vanished.  Did they run away?  Were they taken by someone?  Why aren't they being found, after days and weeks of searches and police investigations?  Their disappearance changed everything in the development and defined the Malloy girls' childhood which ended that night.

Now Tikka is back home for a visit.  She now lives in the United States and works as a lab technician.  While she is back, she and Laura work through that summer and their memories, trying to make sense of all the clues that they were too young to understand back then.

This is a debut novel and it's success makes Felicity McLean an Australian author to watch for in the future.  It was a highly buzzed book with such publications as Cosmopolitian and Entertainment Weekly calling it the book of the summer the year of publication.  I enjoyed the coming of age aspect of the novel and the slow unfolding of how Tikka came to realize that something was very wrong next door.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.
Was this review helpful?
This is a wonderful book and would definitely recommend. It is full of useful information and the writing was beautiful.
Was this review helpful?
This book was very promising to start with. 3 girls from a religious family go missing.  One is found, days later, dead. The book is told from the point of view of a neighbour friend. The story switches between present time and the past (20 years ago when the girls go missing). There are many suspects and many complications about their disappearance.  However, the book ends without an ending.  The reader is none the wiser as to why the girls ran away (if they actually ran away and were not taken), if they are dead or alive, who harmed them etc. Basically, a disappointing ending. That is why I could only give it 3 stars.
Was this review helpful?
I wasn’t wow-ed by this story in the way I’d expected. It felt flat and I didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters.
Was this review helpful?
If there’s one thing this book is, it’s atmospheric. There’s a certain feeling – of menace, of creeping heat, of the stink of the river. An undercurrent that threatens to pull everyone down with it.

Shifting between the past and the present, the book examines both the events leading up to an event as shocking as three sisters vanishing into the night, and the reverberations afterward, when people wonder, should we have known? Should we have foreseen? And for Tikka Molloy, there’s an extra element of responsibility and guilt, of shame and of longing. Because she and her sister were close with the Van Apfel girls, and knew more than they told. But would it have made a difference?

That’s the question. Because the girls are gone, and will always be gone. There’s no question of knowing anything, of coming to any kind of resolution, because the light has been snuffed out, and there’s only darkness, the kind of darkness that rivals a starless night.

In the end, I loved a lot about The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone. It’s examinations of girlhood. Of scorching summers with the murder of crows above, circling, circling. The cruelty of religion. Of obsession, and of righteousness. Of how loaded growing up as a girl can be, even when you’re barely old enough to have your period – how you can be the touch-point around which men hover, grasping and hungry.

There was a certain discomfort in that too. Because there was a victimization of Cordie in particular that seemed to spread its tentacles throughout the book. A feeling of the male gaze in the writing of her, this impossible girl-child, sexualized before her time, spinning and dancing in the glare of the headlights.

It didn’t bother me that there isn’t any real resolution. Missing children are rarely found. McLean offers explanations in the way of imaginative speculations, but we as readers know about as much as the town that was left behind. The Van Apfel girls took their secrets with them down to the river when they stepped, unwavering, furious, driven, as girls can be, into their future – and they didn’t need us, they didn’t need anyone holding them down, not any more.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!
Was this review helpful?
Tikka Malloy was 11 and one-sixth years old during the summer of 1992. That summer was notable for a few reasons. First, it was the year that Lindy Chamberlain (of “a dingo took my baby” notoriety) was exonerated. Second, it was the year that the three Van Apfel sisters --- Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth --- vanished. Tikka and her sister, Laura, who were friends with the Van Apfel girls, have been both haunted and horrified by that summer --- and their actions during it --- ever since, but they have never been able to discuss it. In Felicity McLean’s THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE, Tikka returns home to her native Australia to confront her past and lay rest to the girls she sees around every corner.

In the 20 years since that tragic summer, Tikka has fled her home in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, for Baltimore, where she works in a hospital lab. When we meet her at the start of the book, she is returning home for the first time to see her sister, who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and her elderly parents. But she has never forgotten the summer that the Van Apfel girls disappeared, and the visit has a tense, melancholy feel as she is forced to remember them and wonder where they might be now, if they are even alive.

In alternating chapters, McLean leads us through the balmy days of the summer of 1992 as Tikka and her friends eat ice cream, have slumber parties and go swimming. But through the lens of adulthood, Tikka examines some darker memories of that time, too, regaling readers with stories of Mr. Van Apfel, a deeply religious man who ruled his family with explosive cruelty and obsessive tendencies. What makes him so shocking is that his vicious streaks were so easily glossed over by Tikka and her sister in their youth --- a fact now unignorable to grownup Tikka. Unfortunately, this is not the only shadowy figure from the girls’ past. Tikka also confronts her memories of Mr. Avery, a young, handsome school teacher whose presence at their hangouts and public outings was always just a bit too convenient.

Stifled under their father’s thumb and dealing with the multitude of issues that teenage girls face, it is no wonder that Hannah, Cordie and Ruth plan to run away. But the night of their departure is plagued by missteps, and the details surrounding their final escape are fuzzy; neither Tikka nor Laura is certain that they have survived. When Ruth’s body is found, it adds only more mystery to their disappearance. Did Hannah and Cordie leave their sister behind, or did they all succumb to the desert’s unbearable days and frigid nights?

Examining the events leading up to the girls’ disappearance as an adult, Tikka is forced to wonder if she and Laura --- or any of the local adults --- did the right thing in ignoring Mr. Van Apfel’s outbursts and keeping the girls’ plans secret. Having never dealt with the tragedy as a youth, adult Tikka experiences a sort of second coming of age that walks readers through all the turbulent emotions of youth. Already feeling a bit unmoored in her personal life, Tikka becomes obsessed with examining every moment of that summer --- much to the dismay of her sister, who would prefer to keep that summer secret. As Tikka becomes reacquainted with her hometown, she speaks with several characters who add to her understanding of the lore surrounding the girls and gets clearer answers on who knew what. But the one thing she cannot do is forget them, especially Cordie, who seemed to 11-year-old Tikka like a young queen, and who she still sees in every crowded room and across every street.

THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE is not exactly a mystery: we do not get answers about what happened to the missing girls, and after 20 years, it almost would not matter if we did. Where McLean shines, and where the real strength of the book lies, is in her pitch-perfect character development and creation of a sense of place. The setting of Australia is a character in and of itself, and McLean immerses her readers in it seamlessly and beautifully; you can practically feel the sun beating down on you and smell the stench wafting up from the river through the gully as you read. At the same time, the dialogue between the young girls is delightful. With children ranging in age from 11 to 14, and even young Ruth at seven, you get the full breadth of humor, gossip and ridiculousness that you would expect, but with McLean’s perfect pitch, each character feels wholly unique.

This is every bit a coming-of-age story, and the sense of menace and melancholy that hangs over it are enough to draw in any sort of reader. Equal parts THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, with a ton of Australian personality thrown in, McLean’s debut novel is sharp, endearing and unforgettable.
Was this review helpful?
What a dark and sad story! I feel like this wasn't a perfect match for me in terms of genre or style, but ultimately it is a well-written book that I think many people will enjoy. The comparison to Eugenides and The Virgin Suicides make sense, but I've never been able to finish his novels so perhaps I should have taken that into account before requesting this. There were times when building the atmospheric aspect of the book was a bit tedious for me as a reader and I did feel like many books have tread this ground in a more compelling (to me) way. I wish more of the loose ends had been tied up even though I understand why they weren't. In the end, this one just wasn't for me.
Was this review helpful?
Chilling and whiplashed paced, an exciting, fiercely original and compelling read. Thriller readers shouldn't miss this one!
Was this review helpful?
A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

"They're kids, for heaven's sake. What have they got to be fearful of?" Perhaps more than anyone knew. In 1992, sisters Ruth, Hannah and Cordie Van Apfel disappeared during Tikka Malloy's skit in their school's Showstopper production. Twenty years later, Tikka returns to Australia to face her sister Laura's lymphoma diagnosis and her own decades-long haunting.

Tikka and Laura knew things they didn't tell in 1992. What Tikka knew, or thought she knew, has gnawed at and unsettled her ever since, with false Cordie sightings continuous as a tic. The detective told them to "sit tight"--he would find their friends. But Tikka can no longer sit tight, compelled to address the past and whether her family did enough to help their neighbors.

Australian journalist Felicity McLean's The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a well-layered puzzle with unexplained pieces to spare. At the core of this gripping debut novel are the uncertain perceptions of young Tikka and 2012 Tikka, still partially trapped in her 11-year-old self.

McLean's often striking prose swirls deftly between the two Tikkas as suspicions begin to emerge--about the Van Apfels and their violently pious patriarch, Cordie's broken arm, and the school's first male teacher. A slow burn that maintains an electric current of dread, the narrative is also cleverly colored by the underpinning of the infamous Chamberlain case. Although more than 30 years later it was confirmed that Lindy Chamberlain's baby was indeed snatched by a dingo, the Van Apfel girls may get no such closure.

STREET SENSE: Fans of ambiguous mysteries will dig this one. I love an author who has the guts to leave questions unanswered, or at least up for interpretation. There is some beautiful writing here, and I loved young Tikka's relationship with her father.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I'm a sucker for writers who can pull off a long passage and a quick, down-and-dirty beaut. Some of my favorites by McLean contain spoilers, but here are a couple of safe bits:

Then Mr. Van Apfel appeared, stepping forward with his arms outstretched and his palms to the sky as if coming in from the Lord’s outfield.

They had six femurs, ninety-nine vertebrae, three skulls and thirty fingernails. Six kneecaps, forty-eight carpal bones, and more than three million strands of blonde hair, all tinged alien-green by the chlorine in their pool which, up until the day they went missing, we’d swum in almost every single day that summer. And yet all these things vanished—just evaporated in the heat. Not a single sign was left for us.

It was a ganglion, Macedon Close. A ganglion. (I got “ganglion” from our extension spelling list in week five of term two, back when we did “The Human Body.”) That’s what our cul-de-sac was: a lump that grows in some place it shouldn’t and nobody’s really sure why.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I was attracted to this cover the instant I saw it, despite never having been a big pink person. I'm not even sure when I sat and tried to figure out the image in the font, or how long it took me. The image is there if you look, but the girl has really disappeared into the font, just like the Van Apfel sisters. Clean and striking, this cover does a great job with a title that could be tricky, and thankfully didn't fall prey to the overused theme of girls/women seen from behind running into dark woods, which could easily have been done here. Kudos.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Netgalley, author, and publisher for an e-galley of this. 

I wanted to love The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone based on all of the comparisons to The Virgin Suicides, but ultimately I came away super let down and left with way too many questions. That could be 100% the point of the book, accept that you won’t always get answers and let go. Which if it was then Felicity McLean nailed it. But to me it just feels like a cop out to be left with (for lack of a better word) blue balls. 
As far as the writing goes, it was written very well and I think any fan of this sort of mystery/literary fiction genre will enjoy.
Was this review helpful?
An Australian set coming-of-age story of Tikki and her reminisce of the summer her friends and neighbors, the Van Apfel girls, went missing.

As many reviewers have already noted, this is less of a psychological thriller/missing children mystery and more of an account of Tikki’s unreliable memories of that ill-fated summer.  Setting aside the disappointment of not having everything wrapped up into a neat bow at the end, this is a fascinating reflection on what it means to look at a traumatic experience through the eyes of a child and how one hangs onto childhood trauma well into adulthood. I loved the authors writing style and felt that she thoroughly captured Tikki’s essence.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Algonquin Books and Felicity McClean for my complimentary e-copy ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
This book is so rich and lush in atmosphere. I could feel the heat wave of this Australian summer as the hot sun kissed my skin. I could hear the birds chirping and the insects buzzing and I almost felt as if I was walking hand in hand with Tikka as she told me the story about the Van Apfel girls. 

"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." 

Hannah, Cordie, and Ruth Van Apfel live under the thumb of their strict, and often cruel, religious father so Hannah and Cordie make a plan to runaway during the schools Showstopper concert. The plan doesn't go accordingly yet the girls manage to disappear leaving their best friends and neighbors, sisters, Tikka and Laura, wondering what has become of them even all these years later. 

“We thought we'd seen the worst when those girls disappeared, but seeing, and not seeing, is a funny old thing. Even now, I don't know which is crueler in the end.” 

This book is being marketed as a mystery/thriller and I think that is a huge disservice to this wonderful coming of age novel. Yes, there is the mystery of the Van Apfel girls disappearance but it remains unsolved so mystery lovers looking for resolutions may be disappointed and so with that being said there isn't really anything thrilling happening either. Where this book succeeds is in character development and drawing a sense of place. These characters came alive to me and were portrayed so realistically. The conversation among the girls and their behaviors were so on point that it brought me back to my own early teen years. I loved spending time with Tikka and this book. If you enjoy coming of age tales then this is one not to be missed! 4 *Sultry* Stars!

Thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss, and Algonquin Books for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
3.5 🌟 

This was a well written, reasonably paced read - structurally, I enjoyed the shift between the contemporary narrative and the flashbacks to the 1990s when the girls went missing. I thought the child-narrator was particularly well done, and immersed the reader in such an Australian experience of childhood in the 1990a complete with sunny boys in the garden, the Azaria Chamberlain case, and typical coming-of-age type adventure. 

There were plot twists thrown into the mix quite late in the narrative that I thought were well executed and genuinely surprised me. While I see the comparisons to Picnic at Hanging Rock, this was much more complex and more of a character study with quite a deal more complexity being handled thematically in the plot.

Ultimately though, this felt like it ended a little anti-climactically. Some interesting commentary on memory and the legacy of childhood secrets, the haunting of small acts that together combine to become a force redirecting entire lives. Decent story to spend an afternoon with (audiobook is also really well performed!).
Was this review helpful?
I was intrigued by the rave reviews I had seen for this book, and because of the reviews, this is a book that will likely be added to our collection because there is an audience for it.  However, I'm afraid I'm not that audience.  i found the animal cruelty---and there wasn't a lot of it, but any is just too much for me---off-putting and unnecessary.  I understand the point was to illustrate how despicable the character was, but it was not needed; the reader already knew he was despicable.  So there's a warning for folks who have a low to zero tolerance for such things.  

An even greater issue is that I found the main character extremely annoying.  I understand that we were meant to see the story through her young girl's eyes, and there are books where that is done well, but this wasn't it.  Space was wasted with repetitive questions from the character.  Perhaps other readers saw this as humorous, but it was a distraction or me.  Added to that, there were no characters who were fully developed enough to create a deeper reaction than annoyance or vague interest.  Along those same lines, there was just too much unnecessary detail.  Again, I understand that the author was trying to give the reader a reason for the Tupperware lady to be on the neighbor's porch, but there was too much prattle about it.  And I truly did not care about the character's spelling list.

I made myself keep reading because I held out hope it would get better.  I don't require neat, tidy endings to novels.  But this one felt as though the writer didn't know what she wanted to do.  I knew very little more at the end of the novel than I did at the beginning, other than that the cast of characters felt flat, there were too many asides, and I cared less at the end of the book about the missing girls than I did at the beginning.   

I very much appreciate the publisher and NetGalley giving me the opportunity to read an ARC  o the book and I wish that I could give it a more favorable review.  Perhaps the audience for this book is meant to be closer to the age of the child characters in the book.
Was this review helpful?
I'm on a bit of a mystery/thriller kick, and The Van Apfel Girls was a great way to carry on in that vein. After I got everyone's names straight (a bit tricky with so many girls, but easy enough by the third chapter or so!), I was immediately hooked. McLean writes in a way that provides such insight into her characters' complex thoughts and emotions, but she is equally adept at leaving out just the right amount of detail to keep the mystery alive -- ambiguity abounds in the best way. I"ll definitely be recommending this to both my students and friends!
Was this review helpful?
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 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.

Ultimately, 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 that there would be some answers. I wanted something more from this book.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoy books set in Australia and this one captured the heat and summer that the Van Apful girls went missing so well. Tikka was friends with the girls and this story laid out the summer her childhood went from carefree to guilt and angst ridden. She grappled for the next twenty years with that summer and what happened to her friends. I'm all for this type of plot but I had a lot of trouble staying focused with this author's writing style. There was something awkward and stilted about it. Maybe she was going for more of a literary feel to the story which I think she achieved but I thought this would be more of a mystery and it really wasn't although the mystery of that happened to the girls is at the core of the story. What this really felt like was a slow coming of age drama with minimal tension but good setting and atmospheric details. However, The vagueness and ambiguity of the whole thing really kept me from enjoying it. This wasn't for me,
Was this review helpful?
3.5 stars

This review is based on an ARC of The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Algonquin Books). 

What a great debut! This is a heavily immersive story about the disappearance of the Van Apfel sisters told from the point of view of their best friend left behind. I love love love sibling stories, and best-friend stories, and stories about complicated topics told from the simplistic point of view of a child. This novel features all three and blends them perfectly. 

The prose! The prose is wonderful and unique and I am a Felicity McLean fan, I'll stake my claim right now!

The start was slow, I will admit. I was confused at how everything was supposed to come together. But once we warped back to the 90s everything started to slip into place. And on that note, this story is so so so atmospheric! Oh, it made me want to go to Australia more than ever! 

I'm not sure that I liked the ending, the inconclusiveness. On the one hand I love that the mystery lives on and will never really be solved. I love the realness that evokes (and oh, how I love realistic endings). But on the other hand I just read over 300 pages and I want to know what happened, dangit! 

Overall a very fascinating and tantalizing plot, and a magnificent debut!
Was this review helpful?