About the Book
‘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.’
Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992, growing up in a distant suburb in Australia surrounded by encroaching bushland. That summer, the hottest on record, was when the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – mysteriously disappeared during the school’s Showstopper concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river.
Did they run away? Were they taken? While the search for the sisters unites the small community, the mystery of their disappearance has never been solved. Now, years later, Tikka has returned home, to try to make sense of that strange moment in time. The summer that shaped her. The girls that she never forgot.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is about Tikka Molloy, aged 11, and her friendship with the three Van Apfel sisters: Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth. The novel begins with Tikka in the present day where she’s living in Baltimore but she has to travel back to Australia to visit her family and she wants to know more about what happened to the Van Apfel girls.
This book is absolutely stunning. I started reading it in the garden on a beautiful sunny day and I just got lost in its pages. I was intrigued from the opening chapter and I just loved everything about this book.
Tikka is an interesting character and I like the way the book is framed both from her viewpoint as an adult reflecting on her childhood with the Van Apfel sisters but also from her viewpoint when she was an 11 year old. It really highlighted the way we remember things differently from the way they perhaps really were, and also how we just don’t fully understand things when we’re children and looking back through adult’s eyes puts a whole different spin on things.
The writing in this novel is mesmerising. I could feel the heat, I could feel the oppressive atmosphere of the Van Apfel family home when their parents were there. I had such a knot in my stomach reading parts of this book as I could see the things that 11 year old Tikka couldn’t quite grasp.
We know from the start of the novel that the Van Apfel girls all went missing but we don’t know then whether they ran away or were kidnapped, or if they came to harm so there is a mystery running through this book but it’s much more a coming of age novel. The Van Apfel girls felt almost ghostly to me throughout this book, even when we were there with them as young girls before they disappeared – it was as if they were right there but you could never got too close, you could never really get to know them fully. It wasn’t so much they had secrets as much as they were just set slightly apart from everyone else, even their best friends.
There was so much I could relate to in this book, I so remember that time when you’re wanting independence and feeling so grown up. You begin to feel you have a power but you don’t yet fully understand consequences. I felt such fear for Cordelia as she is so aware of her own body and the affect she’s having on boys (and grown men who should know better) and reading that as an adult was unnerving. I was willing her, and her sisters, to all be okay but it felt like this book was always leading towards something sad. There is a feeling of melancholy in the three sisters, and in the book as a whole, which I couldn’t look away from.
Running through this novel is the news story big in 1992 about Lindy Chamberlain who was cleared of killing her baby. She is the woman whose baby was taken by a dingo and never found. This gave another level to this novel as it did more than just reinforce when it was set but also the way that sometimes a child does just disappear. The thinking when it happened was that the mother must have killed her baby, but her appeal in 1992 found that actually what the mother said happened was more likely to be true. This in relation to the Van Apfel girls has haunted me in the parallels and what it’s perhaps telling us about what really happened to them.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is ultimately Tikka’s story; it’s about her trying to come to terms to what happened the summer she was eleven. It’s haunted her whole life to date and she seems to be at a place where she needs some resolution that she just can’t find. This was so relatable, we might not have had the same experience as her but we all have things in our lives that haunt us, we all have those ‘what ifs’, and so often we believe if we’d just done something differently then things might have turned out better. It’s life though, and not everything works out.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a captivating, mesmerising and haunting novel that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s such a beautifully written novel and I’m so glad that I got the chance to read it. I already know that this will be one of my top books of this year and I highly recommend it.
Many thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book. All thoughts are my own.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is out now and available here.
About the Author
Felicity McLean was born in Sydney Australia. She graduated at Sydney University with a BA in English and Australian literature and worked as a book publicist before embarking on a freelance career. Her journalism has appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail and the Big Issue, among others, and she has ghost-written celebrity autobiographies. THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE is her first novel. She lives with her English husband and two young children in Australia.
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