Published by Berkley Books
Publication date: March 20, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
She made herself keep her gaze forward. To look back would be to tempt it. If she only looked forward, it would stay away.
You know how sometimes there are places that feel wrong? Idlewild Hall in Vermont is one of those places. In the 1950s it was a school for troubled girls or just girls who might be trouble. Katie Henry is one of those girls, as are her friends Roberta, CeCe, and Sonia. They’re all fifteen and have been living at Idlewild since they were left there by family because, for one reason or another, they were perceived to be a problem. They are The Broken Girls and they know there’s something off about the school. Over 60 years later Fiona knows the same thing about the place, but she has a more specific reason. Ten years ago, her older sister Deb was found murdered on the abandoned school’s grounds. Obviously, something is not right with the school, but is it something real or unreal?
The Broken Girls begins with the information that Idlewild, closed since the 1970s, has been bought and is going to be renovated and reopened as an exclusive girls’ boarding school. Fiona, a freelance journalist, wants to write a piece on the school for the local paper and begins looking into its history by trying to find and connect with former students and teachers. Author Simone St. James sets up the novel’s modern-day scenario well, using Fiona’s work as a journalist to introduce characters and unearth (literally) plot points that move the story along in intriguing ways.
As the novel flips between past and present St. James handles the past with the same steady hand. Slowly, we see why the girls have been sent to Idlewild and watch as they start to form a deep bond of friendship—something none of them have really experienced before. At the same time, she inserts unsettling little bits of schoolgirl lore and gossip, all alluding to a young woman who died at the school in the 1800s and now haunts it.
Sometimes, there’s a tendency to veer into the ‘more is better’ category of terror, but confident writers realize that what is not explained, the details not given, can be even scarier. St. James breeds fear in things as simple as a slammed door, tapping at a window, writing in the margins of books, or a garden with a rotten smell. All things experienced by the girls attending Idlewild and all of which, regardless of how small, made me nervous.
When the unexplainable events of the past intersect with the facts of the present, the novel’s tension escalates further. There is a very real murder mystery, but what else is going on? St. James does well maintaining believability for much of The Broken Girls. It’s only in the final scenes, as the pieces come together, that things begin to feel overdone. Still, the novel is entertaining throughout and made me want to read more of her work.