The Broken Girls
By Simone St. James
Author Website: simonestjames(.)com
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. . . .(Goodreads)
The title of this novel is a bit of a misnomer; I think I would prefer The Wounded Girls. They did not fall off a shelf or get dropped. Whether their injuries were on purpose or by accident, they were harmed at the hand of another, or in some cases, many others. Wounds can heal, even if leaving a scar. Being broken is like Humpty Dumpty – from which one may or may not recover. One thing is for certain – this novel is much more intriguing and exciting than the description, which by itself makes it a must-read.
Fiona’s sister Deb was murdered twenty years ago and left in the sports field of the abandoned Idlewild Hall, a former boarding school for wounded girls. Girls that others didn’t care about taking the time to heal, often by the people who were supposed to loved them the most. Fiona is wounded, deeply, by the loss of her sister. Even though her killer is in prison for life, it does not remove the scar.
Fiona currently does freelance work rather than the kind of journalism she prefers. When she learns that Idlewild, closed since 1979, has been purchased and will be restored, she leaps at the chance to write about it. There are always trade-offs, however. She seeks answers for her own wounds, but as she learns about four girls from 1950, she seeks answers for the one who went missing and her three wounded friends. Something was behind the troubles resulting in its final shutdown, something that might still be there. In addition, there must be a reason the new owner is obsessed with buying and restoring it. There must also be a reason that no files of any kind seem to exist, either for financial, personnel, or students.
Fiona’s life will change as a result of her project. Fiona’s relationship with her famous father, Malcolm, might change as well. He is a renowned journalist who hasn’t written much for a long time. This project fascinates him even as it might repel him. The man Fiona has been dating, 29 to her 37, is a 3rd generation cop. His grandfather and father had been chief of police in their day. Journalists and cops do not mix well. Jamie’s father was one of the first responders when Fiona’s sister Deb’s broken body was found. It is clear that he wants Fiona away from Idlewild and away from his son. Learning that he may have engineered the outcome of searches in both in Deb’s case and at least one other, and feeling an eerie chill of the past, Fiona’s tenacity may either pay off or result in the worst she has been through since losing Deb.
The characters are compelling and their stories heartrending. The author gives us an inside look at four girls, students who have bonded through the time they are roommates in 1950 and suffered a great loss. We get to see Idlewild through their perspective. They are well-defined throughout the novel; they each have a past they don’t want to share, even among themselves. Even though this is known as a school for throwaways, they are overall quite likable. Sonia is one of my favorites, I think, because of how we both love books, and CeCe, because she is much smarter than she thinks she is. We get to know Fiona very well also, a middle-age woman who is always on the search for truth and justice even while pushing people away, since most people don’t get her grief for and obsession with her sister. Fiona is one of my favorites, also; she has a strength and ability to dig for answers that are admirable.
The narrative alternates between Fiona’s venture in 2014 and the four girls from 1950: Sonia, CeCe, Roberta, and Katie. If that sounds overwhelming, it really isn’t. I found that, as the time periods and points of view alternate, the voices compliment each other. The plot has twists and turns that surprised me more than once! Somewhere mind-boggling, shedding more light on the characters and mysteries. There is possible paranormal involvement that connects the events of 1950 through to 2014 that neither Fiona nor the girls from 1950 will discount. There is definitely something more on the site than meets the eye, or the intellect. And more behind the police investigations of both centuries. The novel begins at an even pace, then begins to snowball faster and faster until reaching the multiple stunning resolutions. The end is satisfying, with the mysteries wrapped up and new, exciting directions for some characters. I highly recommend this novel for those who appreciate very well-written and executed mysteries that involve cold cases, a bit of history, paranormal activity, and the tenacity of true journalism at its best.