The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Idlewild Hall in Vermont is a boarding school for troubled girls. It is a dreary place that has become home to the kind of girls nobody else wants to deal with. This type of establishment is commonplace in the 1950's. An odd cross between school and psychological asylum, Idlewild has become a dumping ground for the girls who won't end up getting the kind of help they truly need. Amongst the halls of this sad place, a group of students ban together for support and refuge. But their sanctuary is threatened. It is threatened by the internal turmoil that lies just beneath the surface of each girl. It is threatened by the strict rules and discipline of the staff of the school. And perhaps most frighteningly so, it is threatened by the ghost of Mary Hand.

The year is 2014 and reporter Fiona Sheridan is about to stumble upon the biggest story of her career. the long vacated and dilapidated Idlewild Hall has just been purchased by a private buyer who intends to renovate and reopen the school. All viable businessmen agree that restoring the Idlewild property is a losing venture, but the owner is adamant that the school function again. Fiona is determined to dig deeper into the mysterious owner.

Through alternating chapters, Simone St. James tells the story of the girls who inhabited Idlewild and Fiona's investigation into the school's reopening. We quickly discover that there is more to the halls of the institution than meets the eye. The students tell the story of Mary Hand, a local girl who was said to have died on the property long before the school was built. We also learn that Fiona's sister was killed and left on the grounds of the abandoned property. A scorned boyfriend has been in jail for the murder, but Fiona has always posited that something more was afoot. Could the local legends of a ghost on the property have something to do with her sister's death?

The Broken Girls hits all the right notes for a solid thriller. The combination of a decades old murder case and ghost story instantly drew me in and left me riveted through the final page. I'm not usually a fan of the overused tactic of alternating time periods from chapter to chapter, but St. James deftly uses the technique to slowly reveal her story and creates an ever building sense of suspense and dread. St. James expertly takes the "less is more" approach to conjuring the horror elements of her story by only giving short glimpses and subtle hints to Mary Hand's presence in both past and present portions of the story. The terror that my imagination summoned from this lack of information about the ghost was far more frightening than anything that could have been described.

The best fiction is built not upon the premise of the plot, but on the characters who inhabit it. St. James weaves a deep thread connecting the past and present characters in a way that is both believable and satisfying to her narrative. Through the students at Idlewild, we see how a system abandoned the people who were in dire need of help. Whether facing the trauma of domestic life or the horrors of war, the girls were ultimately left to fend for themselves and made more susceptible to the fancies of a supernatural entity. In the present day, Fiona's dealing with grief and small town politics highlight the struggle of a woman in a male dominated field. Add in the spooky atmosphere of the small Vermont town, and St. James has a real winner here. It is still pretty early in the year, but I'm almost certain The Broken Girls will end up being one of my favorites.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 18)

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12 Responses to “The Broken Girls by Simone St. James”

  1. Yay. I am glad you enjoyed this one as well. Completely agree that this had all of the right elements or ingredients for a perfect suspense thriller. Wonderful review :)

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    1. Your review of this one really motivated me to read it. I'm so happy that I did!

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  2. This sounds really interesting! I read A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis a while back and loved the idea of having the setting of an insane asylum (or in this case, a much, much gentler version). I'm also such a sucker for past-present narratives (I read a whole bunch of them last year and they kind of pulled me in and converted me) so this is definitely going on my list. Lovely review, Ethan!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

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  3. The boarding school or sanitarium setting immediately sets the tone for these kinds of stories. A favorite movie of mine is Session 9. The acting is a bit over the top at times, but you can’t beat the scares in the abandoned asylum!

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  4. I SOOOOO agree with your thoughts on this one Ethan! I loved this book so much! yes to a ghost story mingled with an old murder case! I'm not a huge fan of alternate time periods either but I also liked how it was used to to slowly reveal the secrets!

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    1. A best book of the year for sure!

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  5. I have read a book with kind of the same situation, of a home where the unwanted girls go (but it turns out to be a spy-school training for females) and it was pretty cool! This must be a great read if it managed to make you appreciate the use of a technique you don't often enjoy reading in literarture.

    My recent post: http://oliviascatastrophe.com/2018/05/april-wrap-up-2018/

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    1. A spy-school sounds really awesome!

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  6. I've got a thing for books that feature boarding schools (I think I secretly wish I could have gone to one) so this is going on my list. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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    1. The boarding school aspect is really interesting given the girls' troubled past.

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  7. This actually sounds a lot more interesting than I would've thought! Guess the 'don't judge a book by its cover' thing still works in some cases! XD

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    1. It is easily one of my favorite reads this year!

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