In this debut novel by an Australian writer, adult narrator Tikka Malloy looks back at her 11-year-old self and tries to solve the enduring mystery of that summer of 1992, when the local Van Apfel sisters disappeared without a trace.
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 ... 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.
Containing summer friendships, whispered secrets, and a dark, hidden truth, Felicity McLean’s The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is poignant and jarring ... McLean’s writing style is poetic and fluid, and her descriptions are tactile. Gripping and beautiful in its sadness, the text conveys the girls’ fear and anxiety in a way that is tangible and eloquent ... The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is extraordinary—a warm flashback to summer with a dark underbelly. Reading it is like opening a beautifully wrapped package while holding a deep, irrational fear of what lies inside. It is a blazingly well-written, impressive, and deeply satisfying thriller.
Tikka has a sharp sense of self-awareness ... this makes Tikka a terrific narrator ... Tikka’s conversations with her father are especially affecting ... A wry, sad coming-of-age story and a well-crafted first novel.