Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review: The Broken Girls

Author: Simone St. James
Publication Date: March 20, 2018
Publisher: Berkley

The “clever and wonderfully chilling” (Fiona Barton) suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare...

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...

The story bounced back between a perspective from November 2014 to flashbacks from 1950 at the elusive, mysterious Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for girls who have suffered less than desirable fates. Our main character, I would consider to be, Fiona Sheridan. Fiona is a journalist who is still stuck in the past and stuck in her sister’s murder that happened years before this story took place. The infamous Idlewild Hall mesmerizes Fiona because some part of her thinks it holds more secrets than anyone has yet to uncover. And when a body is unearthed during renovation of the boarding school, Fiona is forced into a world of murder, ghosts, and laying past demons to rest.

Four girls who attended Idlewild Hall share the second narrative, the part of the story that is set in 1950. Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia each share their voices and moments of the time they spent at the haunted, eerie, and soul-draining boarding school. These girls formed a bond that was unbreakable and when one of them disappeared, they banded together to learn the truth and protect the others no matter the cost. Their friendship was remarkable and endearing.

Fiona is intuitive, persistent, and determined to find answers to the mystery of her sister’s disappearance as well as the bones of the young, malnourished girl that was dug up on the grounds of the boarding school where her sister’s body surfaced years before. I absolutely loved both perspectives – Fiona’s and the teenage girls. Every character felt so real, raw, and emotional. They all have/had secrets and were eager to find something to believe in in a world that seemed otherwise hopeless.

Then there is the character of Mary Hand…or the ghost of Mary Hand, I should say. Mary Hand’s story is fascinating, if not completely unveiled until the end. To me, she serves as a major character in this story because she helps our main characters see their pasts, their present, and their future.

The writing and pacing of this novel was perfect for me. I flew this book and was completely enraptured by every part of this story. I loved both perspectives equally, I was completely freaked out when reading about Mary Hand’s ghost, and I did not see the ending coming early on. Simone St. James is a brilliant novelist with a knack for writing suspense, horrific scenes, and sending chills up your spine. There is not one part of this book that I would consider slow or boring. I had a hard time ever putting it down.

“That was what the books did - they turned off your thinking for you, put their thoughts in your head so you wouldn't have your own.” 

“If you were hunting for someone to murder, what better person could you choose?”

It was November 19, 1950. She would be dead in ten days.

Simple handwriting, on a piece of notebook paper, written in ballpoint pen. Meet me behind the church at eleven o’clock, it said. And beneath that: You’re not looking hard enough.

This was my first Simone St. James read and it was definitely a 5 star read all around! I was invested in the story from page one. It took me no time at all to love Fiona and want her to find the answers to all of her questions. These are the type of books that make readers like me more invested in this passion. I thought about this book long after I had put it down. I want more – and I will be looking for more books by St. James.

The story is spooky and creepy but not enough to make me sleep with the light on. I love the boarding school trope, so if you are a fan of that trope as well, then this is a must read for you. I did see the ending coming but not from the start. I was so pleased to see that Fiona had a love interest, but it did not take over the plot nor was that her sole focus. She was brave and kept pushing all the right people to get the answers she desired. If St. James writes more, I will be reading them and this will probably be one of my favorite books of 2018.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Berkley in exchange for my honest review*** 

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