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.
Where do I even begin?
I have always been fascinated by any piece of literature that involves horror or paranormal themes be it in films or novels. There is something quite ghoulishly appealing in spine-tingling supernatural elements that no matter how much you dread watching or reading the scary parts, you just can’t seem to stop.
Simone St. James’ novel, “The Broken Girls”, immediately hit the ranks reserved for novels I’ve mostly anticipated but did not disappoint. I have known about this book when I began my search for horror-based genre novels and came across this gem highly recommended. There is more to this novel than just its brilliant interplay between Gothic elements and the mysterious trail of whodunit. St. James was able to craft a narrative that depicts horror, mystery, history, and social injustices such as racism, corruption, the Nazi concentration camps, and unresolved murder cases. The result: a five-star novel that is hard to put down and even more difficult to part with.
The story unfolds with a prologue, establishing the plot’s context, setting off the dark and sinister atmosphere of the novel. It embarks on the usual trail of horror and mystery books plotted using dual timelines and alternating third-person POVs, meant to suspend and thrill the readers of what’s to happen next, perfectly dispersing out the clues until the puzzle is complete. St. James crafted this novel to combine a period piece and a modern-day setting, intelligently contrasting human behaviors in relation to the culture and environment at the time. The novel’s central plot may be about the mysteries surrounding two separate murders committed decades apart but St. James offers her readers a lot more to reflect on.
I believe one of the reasons why readers are drawn to ghost stories is to dig into the infernal past of why such ghosts, eerie presence, and malevolent beings haunt the living, depicted in various origins since varying cultures first existed. Readers are drawn to the genre–to understand why ghosts exist–why they continue to haunt one’s dreams and feed on one’s fears–or if they are real or are simply the conjuring of the human mind.
In her novel, “The Broken Girls”, St. James has masterfully created a suspense thriller fused with paranormal elements but these tropes are mere literary tools to expose the dangers of human faculties acting on pride, greed, and anger. It exposes human fragility and how brokenness either leads the way to redemption or toward self-destruction. The Idlewild Hall symbolizes an abyss where people can simply dump their sins away; where dark secrets are buried, left to rot and decay. It is a story of survival and the need to find closure when others seemed to have forgotten and laid to rest. Haunting and sad, but generously strengthened by the powerful force of love, friendship, and revenge, “The Broken Girls” is a masterfully written novel that encompasses varying fiction genres heralding Simone St. James as one of the greatest novelists of our time.