I just picked up a new book last week, The Broken Girls by Simone St. James, and I flew through it. Set in Vermont, it describes a boarding school for unwanted girls called Idlewild Hall. But it may be haunted, and more than one girl meets a terrible fate there. It’s a dual timeline novel, following four girls in 1950 and one reporter in 2014.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved mysteries and ghost stories. From the dozens of Nancy Drew books I read as a kid to the countless horror movies I’ve watched over the past 15 years, scary books with a healthy dose of the supernatural are my favorite kind of story. The Broken Girls is a captivating book and is one of my favorite recent reads.
In a small town in Vermont, Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for troublesome girls. In the autumn of 1950, we meet four girls who are roommates there: Katie, Roberta, CeCe, and Sonia. They form a friendship but share fears about the rumors of Idlewild Hall being haunted. But when one of the friends disappears, there are questions about what happened to her. Did she run away? Was she killed by a supernatural presence? Or was it someone more real who harmed her?
Fast forward to 2014. Fiona Sheridan is a reporter, and her current story is on the renovation of Idlewild Hall. But Fiona has a connection to this abandoned ruin: Twenty years ago, her sister was murdered and her body was found on the overgrown land surrounding Idlewild Hall. Fiona has long wondered what really happened to her sister, and through her research, she may uncover even older secrets.
The Broken Girls is instantly captivating from its unnerving prologue. Why was this unnamed girl so scared? What horrible fate met her by the end?
From there, the novel builds up more gradually, filled with spooky atmosphere and mystery. In the fall of 1950, we get chapters focused on each of the four roommates at Idlewild Hall: Katie, Roberta, CeCe, and Sonia. Each girl is there for some reason or another: bad behavior, being too smart for her own good, simply having nowhere else to go. Idlewild Hall is a place for unwanted and “broken” girls. But these four friends refuse to be cast aside; they have big dreams for their lives once they get out of this horrible boarding school.
Beyond the rough company and harsh teachers, though, Idlewild Hall has an even worse attribute: It seems to be haunted. Rumors abound of its sordid past, and a creepy rhyme drives home the terrifying message. But the haunting is just a rumor, right? Strange occurrences can be brushed aside easily enough… until one of the four girls goes missing. What happened to her? Did she run away? Get lost? Did someone—or something—harm her?
In the 1990s, another girl met a horrible fate in the ruins of Idlewild Hall. She left behind a younger sister, Fiona, who is now a reporter in her 30s in late 2014. She’s always had questions about what really happened to her sister. When it’s announced that Idlewild Hall will be renovated, Fiona decides to finally search for answers to all the mysteries clouding the eerie, abandoned boarding school.
Dual timelines can be tricky, and readers often prefer one timeline over the other. In The Broken Girls, though, I found both timelines equally enthralling. I enjoyed getting to know the four teenagers in 1950. Their story is largely about the injustices committed against women, especially those who don’t have a voice and can be hidden away so easily. Moreover, the haunting atmosphere and horror elements also shine through in their timeline, making for an emotionally impactful but scary tale.
Fiona’s timeline in 2014 is more of an investigative thriller. I enjoyed her digging into the past and finding out the truth about long-buried secrets. However, I also loved the connection with her sister and the tragic end she faced. What Fiona uncovers is heart-wrenching, and I admired her tenacity and bravery.
The Broken Girls is a stunning mystery with enough ghostly elements to satisfy those of us who love the paranormal. It’s about women’s strength, female friendship, and sisterhood, as well as the real and supernatural dangers that haunt us. I loved this book and am excited to read more from Simone St. James!