Rating: 3.75 Stars
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is a chilling thriller with a paranormal twist. The central character is a boarding school for girls that used to take in troubled girls who no one wanted, but that has now become an abandoned, decrepit building after being shut down in 1979
In 1950, four roommates became each other’s friends and secret keepers at Idlewild Hall, a depressing boarding school, rumoured to be haunted. All four of them came from different backgrounds, but they formed strong bonds, helping each other survive in a hopeless place. Then one night, it all changes as one of them vanishes and is presumed to have run away.
In 1994, a girl was murdered, her dead body left on the hockey field of the deteriorating ruins of Idlewild Hall. The murder sent a shock through the small Vermont town, resulting in the conviction of the girl’s boyfriend.
Twenty years later, the dead girl’s sister, Fiona, now a journalist, still feels the echoes of the crime that destroyed her family. Try as she might, she is unable to let go of a feeling that something was not right with the investigation at the time of her sister’s murder. This obsession with the past has made it impossible for her to hold on to relationships or lead a normal life.
When Fiona finds out that someone is planning to restore Idlewild Hall and reopen it as a boarding school for girls, she thinks it is the perfect opportunity to write a story about the place, and maybe it will help exorcise her ghosts. But an unexpected discovery leads her to a strange case from the past, and things become more and more entangled as she tries to find out about the history of Idlewild Hall.
The tone of this novel is dark from the beginning. There is nothing light-hearted about this story. From the first page, you know that something dark and sinister is afoot. The scenes from the narrative of the past are deliciously eery, and you can feel a chill while reading about the school in 1950. The four girls are as different from each other as can be, and you can feel their frustration at what is predominantly a patriarchal society where they have to work towards the ultimate goal of acquiring a husband.
The parts about the present are not so impressive. Though Fiona’s character is interesting, and you feel her pain and unease, her interactions with others are rushed, the various other characters seeming one-dimensional and bland. The information that Fiona acquires seems to easy to get, and one thinks that why did it take her 20 years to get to this place.
The climax too was a bit disappointing, and over too quickly. With 300 plus pages, this is by no means a small book, but it is St. James’s gripping writing that made me want more details. The scenes where there is an element of the paranormal are quite spooky and scary, and I just wanted more of the same. The main female characters are all strong and real. I just wish the male characters were the same.
This book is more for fans of spooky books than those of mysteries and crime solving. Still, I had a good time reading it and would rate it higher than average.