Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

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☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars☆➹⁀☆☆

What it’s about:

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . . 
Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

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My Thoughts:

In a remote area of Vermont, outside the small town of Barrons, a girl, suitcase in hand, runs through the isolated, gloomy forest. She is running from someone or something. As the chapter continued, I could hear a Hitchcockesque soundtrack playing in my head. The prologue of The Broken Girls hooked me. I spent the rest of the book wondering who or what the girl was really running from, and worrying about the terrifying apparition.

Author Simone St. James latest novel is excellent. It is part ghost story and part mystery. Ms. St. James tells her tale in dual time periods as well as from multiple perspectives. There are a few story threads being woven together in The Broken Girls. One story is of the disappearance of Sonia, a student at Idlewild Hall in 1950. Another story is of the aftermath of the 1994 murder of Deb Sheridan, whose body was found at Idlewild long after the school had been closed. Lastly, there is the present-day story of Deb’s sister, Fiona, who is still haunted by her death.

From the first page to the last, this book was absolutely chilling! The constant sense of dread and foreboding had me on the edge of my seat. Ms. St. James’ historical research of events influencing a main character/storyline is apparent, and the resulting realism creates an eeriness to her tale.  The book features the girls who roomed in Clayton 3C at Idlewild Hall. Sonia, CeCe, Roberta and Katie’s individual histories, which has landed them in the God-forsaken school, is tragic and heartbreaking. The author’s depiction of modern-day Fiona Sheridan, a journalist, is equally heart wrenching.   The ghost of Mary Hand, whose death was no less tragic than these girls’ existence, traumatizes each of the girls. Whether the story of Idlewild’s Ghost, the students of the school, or Fiona, the girls were troubled by something and silenced by a situation or a person. Fiona is so broken by her sister’s death that she can’t form solid love relationships and she can’t find the motivation to propel her career forward.

Fiona’s relationship with local policeman, Jamie Creel, seemed to almost be a convenient afterthought in the story. At first their romance seems a bit serendipitous, but as the story progresses, I seriously questioned Jamie’s motives. This relatively casual relationship becomes the catalyst that catapults The Broken Girls from mournful ghost story to paging-turning mystery. Even further in the story I was longing for Jamie and Fiona’s relationship to be a predestined dramatic love story despite how history and life in a small town was dragging them down like a pair of cement shoes.

As the story tension rises to a crescendo that could only be likened to a banshee’s cry, all the “troubled” girls in this story are forced to reckon with their own ghosts and become stronger for it. If this isn’t a story featuring “girl power”, I don’t know what would be considered one.

This Gothic suspense novel is more mystery than horror. It is a perfect choice for book clubs, with at least one published set of suggested discussion questions. The Broken Girls will appeal to fans of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I was intrigued by the description of The Broken Girls, but I didn’t anticipate how good it was going to be!


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