REVIEW: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
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. . . .
Dear Ms. St. James,
Let me tell you that when I knew I had to wait for two years to get a new book after “Lost Among the Living,” I did gnash my teeth a bit. But the wait for this is worth it. This is a book that rewards the patient reader but then after reading two of your novels, I knew I’d just need to cool my reading jets and let it unfold.
I would first tell anyone thinking of reading it – DO NOT PEEK. Seriously, you might be able to guess a few things or be turning suspects over in your mind playing “could it be…” games but don’t spoil the ending because when it all comes together, it’s chilling, it’s terrifying and yet very satisfying as well.
There are old wrongs here – lots of them over the course of decades. Some justice has been done but Fiona has a journalistic gut feeling that there is still something wrong. Things don’t quite fit and she can’t let it go despite requests, entries and outright intimidation. Her family is tied to the grounds of the old, deserted girls boarding school that had closed years before her sister’s body was found there. The place has always given her the creeps.
When she discovers that the decaying school has been bought and is to be restored and reopened, she sees an opportunity to dig into the past and maybe find some answers. Her police officer “friend with benefits” is one of the ones who tries to reason with her about it. What can she find, what is she even looking for? The murderer was convicted and has been in jail for twenty years. Fee doesn’t want to admit that she’s having doubts. Maybe the man jailed for the killing didn’t do it and the real killer has walked free for decades? She just knows she can’t let it rest.
Her sister’s death isn’t the only problem with the place. As a girl’s school, the students hated it too. Even the teachers hated it. No one wanted to be there and once they left, they never looked back. It was more like a reform school. In 1950, four teenage roommates bond over their time there. Each was sent by her family because she was either an embarrassment or an encumbrance. One is the fighter, one is the athlete, one is the girl overlooked and despised, while one has almost no family left in the world after the war. Something will happen that will forge an unbreakable bond among them with repercussions reaching sixty years later.
This is atmospheric, it’s chilling and it’s all tied together in the end. There are no glaring THIS IS A CLUE – PAY ATTENTION moments. The clues are there but subtly revealed which is why I urge patience. Watching it all unfold is enjoyable as it is but the journey is worth the time to get to the justice payoff. That justice is bittersweet but satisfying all the same. There are true friends out there who will go through hell for you; who won’t forget nor forgive. But just beware of the still lingering ghosts. B+