The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, Felicity McLean
There is much to like about THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE. It’s a novel to savour as the imagery is so rich and full that you might be surprised that no other writer has managed to come up with such apt descriptions of commonly known experiences and events before. Australian author Felicity McLean writes beautifully and poignantly of what it is like to experience loss as a child, without the adult’s understanding of what might come next. Here described is that feeling perhaps unique to the young of being powerless in a world run by adults, whom a child presumes have it all under control with systems in place to protect. Childhood is a chamber from which we all eventually emerge, but it is difficult to pin point at what age exactly that we graduate into the world of grownups.
It was a little tricky to get an absolute grasp on the 1990’s suburban Australia of which THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE has written. This novel depicts a somewhat Americanized version of that time period - also, it feels more like we are reading about the desultory teenage years of the 1970’s or 80’s (but that could be a whole other discussion). The inclusion of the relevant products and pop culture of the era brings us back sharply to the Australian path here and there, but it’s not entirely a firm sell. Perhaps it was the author’s intent to write in that style, of the endless hot summer where children seem to be living in a world almost unaffected by anything the adults may be up to, and where they cannot rely on their parents to understand the enormity of what it is they are experiencing.
If you are anything like me, you might be a bit tired of reading flashback novels where all the evil took place in the half forgotten murk of childhood, and there is all that wisdom to be claimed in the reflections of an adult. The ‘college’ novels had a bit of a moment there over the twelve months or so in fiction. This is another flashback novel, sure, but you need both the past and the present to reconcile in your own mind what led to three girls from the same family going missing in the same day.
TVAGAG is an elegantly written novel and shall we just say that the reader will need to commit to the novel’s journey and park their expectations of what might be waiting for them in the final pages. Lesser novels have survived this quandary with less pointers than what has been included here in this work.
THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE gifts us a vividly imagined world as seen through the eyes of Tikka (who alternates between being hyperactively annoying and being oddly wise), her sister Laura and their closest friends, the Van Apfel girls. We read of their shared past, the disappearances, and the inevitability of regret. This book deserves all the buzz it attracted on release and should be on the must-read list of every drama or crime fiction reader who appreciates something a little more finely crafted, with fully formed characters rising off the page to challenge the reader.
Part mystery, part coming of age story, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is set in a distant suburb on the encroaching bushland, over the long hot summer of 1992. It's the summer of the school's Showstopper concert. The summer Tikka never forgot. The summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing.
'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 - the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school's Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland.
Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot.