The Broken Girls
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.
Simone St. James starts us off with a prologue that takes place in [fictional] Barrons, Vermont in the year 1950. A girl is running from something in the dark, trying to reach a seemingly familiar place for safety. This short introduction ends with the girl screaming into the darkness, and on the next page, chapter 1 sends us to November of 2014 – still in Barrons.
So continues the rest of the book. Excellent cliffhangers at the end of each chapter make it both agonizing to leave the current setting and exciting to return. In the novel’s present day, we follow Fiona Sheridan, a journalist in this small town of Vermont who is shocked to learn that the town’s abandoned girls school, Idlewild Hall, has been purchased and will be restored. Twenty years prior, Fiona’s sister Deb was found murdered in the field of the abandoned school, a crime that rocked the Sheridan family, and when the son of a wealthy family was charged and convicted, the entire town.
Fiona is a journalist with fiery red hair, but it’s not necessarily her appearance or the content of her stories that make her recognizable to people – it’s her last name. Fiona’s father was a renowned journalist who, after his daughter’s death, became quite withdrawn and something of a hermit. Simone St. James writes him admirably; he is sensible, curious, and journalistically skeptical, which Fiona needs to keep herself in check and assured, and because her boyfriend, Jamie, is a police officer who is always thinking with the law and the brotherhood in mind.
Jamie and Fiona’s relationship is a great element to the story. Both are from this small town and neither of them feel like they’ve really ever fit in. This gives them a unique perspective as they re-investigate the event of twenty years prior, as well as work through why Idlewild Hall is being renovated now. Mystery after mystery unfolds, clues are given, and relationships are tested. It would have been easy for Idlewild Hall’s story to overwhelm Fiona’s, but Simone St. James is exceptional in the art of balance; uncovering the secrets of the Hall becomes just as much a part of Fiona as working through the exposed secrets surrounding her sister’s murder.
During the 1950 chapters, we are taken to Idlewild Hall when it was still in operation, and the characters we meet there are all shrouded in mysteries that are satisfactorily exposed by the end of the novel. Even the supernatural detail, present in both the past and in 2014, is eloquently (albeit spookily) woven into the story to add depth rather than to just add an uneasy factor. If you are a fan of modern romances and relationships, murder mysteries, historical fiction, and trying to piece together the clues of a story before the characters do, The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is a must-read for you.