The Broken Girls
by Simone St. James
Idlewild Hall is hardly a sanctuary. It’s more aptly described as . . . a prison.
In the 1950’s, the school is where the forgotten girls are sent. The troublemakers. The unwanted ones. The promiscuous and daring. The ones with intelligence that threatens the egos of the more masculine sex. It’s where girls who can think for themselves are banished. With bars concealed as dusty bricks and makeshift guards dressed up properly and called teachers, Idlewild is a penitentiary full of outdated rules and harsh regulations intent upon crushing the spirit. A place where the madness is not cured but nurtured, and where malcontent is not smothered but instead – fanned like a flame.
But there is some solace in friendship. There are four girls who share whispers in the dark and speak of their dreams by the moonlight that filters through their dirty, frosty window. The diverse walks of their previous life notwithstanding, they have found a way to bond and create a tiny sliver of happiness in an otherwise meager existence.
Katie, a wildly beautiful and reckless young lady with a smart mouth and clever ambition. Roberta, the athlete with fierce loyalty and a harbored and shameful secret. CeCe, the unwanted bastard child of a rich man is a girl who looks for every opportunity to be optimistic. And Sonia, the quiet and frail girl with a curious accent that speak of the horrors in her past that outweigh any transgression she could face at Idlewild.
They are all looked after by each other and, in the shadows, by another girl of Idlewild . . . or rather, a ghost. The haunting image of Mary Hand, a young woman whose spirit lingers at the school and shares frightening images as way of communication. She is always trying to get in while the other girls, well – they are always trying to get out.
As the present turns into history and the broken girls are forgotten, Idlewild Hall deteriorates into a pile of crumbled bricks and rubble. The gardens and grounds are nothing but haphazard weeds, their sole intent to cover and mask any sort of memory the school left behind. Wild animals in the shape of modern-day teenagers desecrate the remaining structure with midnight trysts and forbidden drinking parties. The place is as broken as the girls it once housed, but the mysteries of the secrets it holds hangs on for a select few.
One person who can never escape the clutches of Idlewild Hall is freelance journalist Fiona Sheridan, a local in the small Vermont town that sits on the edge of the the old school’s overgrown grounds. She finds herself back there more often than she’d like to admit to herself, her grief-stricken father, or to her conscientious police officer boyfriend. Fiona’s sister is what keeps her coming back; the girl she grew up idolizing was stripped of her youth when she was strangled and dumped on the grounds of Idlewild Hall. Abandoned in the night, discarded like trash in a dump, and left vulnerable to the elements of nature and of the gaping faces of the townsfolk who came to watch the aftermath, the death of the Sheridan girl was a scandal. Fiona has allowed the murder and its subsequent fall-out to remain a constant undercurrent of obsession in her life, no matter that her sister’s boyfriend was arrested and sent to jail for the crime. Something about the case always seemed to not add up, and it has been a thorn in her side ever since.
When a construction crew shows up at Idlewild and begins demolition, Fiona’s journalistic juices begin a slow and steady pump. The place has been abandoned for years, left to its own unsavory devices. Who would want to resurrect the place now? And for what purposes? As Fiona begins to delve further into the strange circumstances surrounding the redevelopment of such a sad and lonely structure, she uncovers more than she bargained for. There are certain secrets hidden in the depths of the school and its records that have been meticulously buried deep – almost as deep as the body found during the excavation of the school. Who is the dead girl, and what is her connection to Idlewild? Fiona will make it her purpose to find the answers, even if it means burning her entire life down around her in the process.
The Broken Girls is the newest novel by Simone St. James, the award-winning author of paranormal novels The Haunting of Maddy Clare and Silence for the Dead. With a knack for bringing history to life and twisting it together with creepy nuances and spine-tingling sketches, St. James is known for her impactful drawings of strong female characters and the descriptive ways in which she weaves their quests and plots.
My impression of The Broken Girls was ultimately one of regret. I was drawn to the initial storyline; there is something about boarding schools that always seem to attract me. They are usually saturated with disgusting wealth, intrigue, strong relationships, and mystique. This particular novel had a few of those bullet points locked down along with the appealing threads of modern-day mystery sewn in. However, there was something that felt continually disjointed about the novel and almost . . . unfinished. I wish the author had pushed the stories of the young ladies a bit more or left some characters out to create room for the established ones, and the misshapen way it all came together had me questioning what one subplot had to do with the other. It felt juvenile at times and underdeveloped, which was a shame because I enjoyed the style of writing overall.
Although I’m giving this novel 3.5 out of 4 stars, I still recommend it. I think it’s an easy read and enjoyable in the throwaway sense. I’m sure plenty of readers will enjoy the fast-moving plot and lightly shrouded mystery. It’s a good read for the beach or a road trip, but not ideal for those looking to become attached.