The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls

by Simone St. James
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Overview

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The "clever and wonderfully chilling" (Fiona Barton) suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare, now in trade paperback!

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 local legend says the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears . . .

Vermont, 2014. Twenty years ago, journalist Fiona Sheridan's elder sister's body was found in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And although her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of the murder, Fiona can't stop revisiting the events, unable to shake the feeling 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 renovations links the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past--and a voice that won't be silenced . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451476203
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 14,676
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Simone St. James is the award-winning author of Lost Among the Living and The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada, among other novels. She wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school, and spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2018 Simone St. James

 

prologue

Barrons, Vermont

November 1950

The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road. Night, and she still had three miles to go.

The air here went blue at dusk, purplish and cold, a light that blurred details as if one were looking through smoke. Squinting, the girl cast a glance back at the road where it climbed the rise behind her, the breeze tousling her hair and creeping through the thin fabric of her collar, but no one that she could see was following.

Still: Faster, she thought.

She hurried down the slope, her thick schoolgirl’s shoes pelting stones onto the broken road, her long legs moving like a foal’s as she kept her balance. She’d outgrown the gray wool skirt she wore—it hung above her knees now—but there was nothing to be done about it. She carried her uniform skirt in the suitcase that banged against her legs, and she’d be putting it back on soon enough.

If I’m lucky.

Stop it, stupid. Stupid.

Faster.

Her palms were sweaty against the suitcase handle. She’d nearly dropped the case as she’d wrestled it off the bus in haste, perspiration stinging her back and armpits as she glanced up at the bus’s windows.

Everything all right? the driver had asked, something about the panic in a teenage girl’s face penetrating his disinterest.

Yes, yes— She’d given him a ghastly smile and a wave and turned away, the case banging her knees, as if she were bustling off down a busy city street and not making slow progress across a cracked stretch of pavement known only as the North Road. The shadows had grown long, and she’d glanced back as the door closed, and again as the bus drew away.

No one else had gotten off the bus. The scrape of her shoes and the far-off call of a crow were the only sounds. She was alone.

No one had followed.

Not yet.

She reached the bottom of the slope of Old Barrons Road, panting in her haste. She made herself keep her gaze forward. To look back would be to tempt it. If she only looked forward, it would stay away.

The cold wind blew up again, freezing her sweat to ice. She bent, pushed her body faster. If she cut through the trees, she’d travel an exact diagonal that would land her in the sports field, where at least she had a chance she’d meet someone on the way to her dorm. A shorter route than this one, which circled around the woods to the front gates of Idlewild Hall. But that meant leaving the road, walking through the trees in the dark. She could lose direction. She couldn’t decide.

Her heart gave a quick stutter behind her rib cage, then returned to its pounding. Exertion always did this to her, as did fear. The toxic mix of both made her light-headed for a minute, unable to think. Her body still wasn’t quite right. Though she was fifteen, her breasts were small and she’d started bleeding only last year. The doctor had warned her there would be a delay, perfectly normal, a biological aftereffect of malnutrition. You’re young and you’ll recover, he’d said, but it’s hell on the body. The phrase had echoed with her for a while, sifting past the jumble of her thoughts. Hell on the body. It was darkly funny, even. When her distant relatives had peered at her afterward and asked what the doctor had said, she’d found herself replying: He said it’s hell on the body. At the bemused looks that followed, she’d tried to say something comforting: At least I still have all my teeth. They’d looked away then, these Americans who didn’t understand what an achievement it was to keep all your teeth. She’d been quiet after that.

Closer, now, to the front gates of Idlewild Hall. Her memories worked in unruly ways; she’d forget the names of half the classmates she lived with, but she could remember the illustration on the frontispiece of the old copy of Blackie’s Girls’ Annual she’d found on a shelf in the dorm: a girl in a 1920s low-waisted dress, walking a romping dog over a hillside, shading her eyes with her hand as the wind blew her hair. She had stared at that illustration so many times she’d had dreams about it, and she could recall every line of it, even now. Part of her fascination had come from its innocence, the clean milkiness of the girl in the drawing, who could walk her dog without thinking about doctors or teeth or sores or scabs or any of the other things she had buried in her brain, things that bobbed up to the surface before vanishing into the darkness again.

She heard no sound behind her, but just like that, she knew. Even with the wind in her ears and the sound of her own feet, there was a murmur of something, a whisper she must have been attuned to, because when she turned her head this time, her neck creaking in protest, she saw the figure. Cresting the rise she’d just come over herself, it started the descent down the road toward her.

No. I was the only one to get off the bus. There was no one else.

But she’d known, hadn’t she? She had. It was why she was already in a near run, her knuckles and her chin going numb with cold. Now she pushed into a jog, her grip nearly slipping on the suitcase handle as the case banged against her leg. She blinked hard in the descending darkness, trying to make out shapes, landmarks. How far away was she? Could she make it?

She glanced back again. Through the fog of darkness, she could see a long black skirt, the narrow waist and shoulders, the gauzy sway of a black veil over the figure’s face moving in the wind. Unseen feet moving beneath the skirt’s hem. The details were visible now because the figure was closer—moving only at a walk, but already somehow closing in, closer every time she looked. The face behind the veil wasn’t visible, but the girl knew she was being watched, the hidden gaze fixed on her.

Panicked, she made an abrupt change of direction, leaving the road and plunging into the trees. There was no path, and she made her way slowly through thick tangles of brush, the dead stalks of weeds stinging her legs through her stockings. In seconds the view of the road behind her disappeared, and she guessed at her direction, hoping she was heading in a straight line toward the sports field. The terrain slowed her down, and sweat trickled between her shoulder blades, soaking into the cheap cotton of her blouse, which stuck to her skin. The suitcase was clumsy and heavy, and soon she dropped it in order to move more quickly through the woods. There was no sound but the harsh rasp of her own breathing.

Her ankle twisted, sent sharp pain up her leg, but still she ran. Her hair came out of its pins, and branches scraped her palms as she pushed them from her face, but still she ran. Ahead of her was the old fence that surrounded Idlewild, rotted and broken, easy to get through. There was no sound from behind her. And then there was.

Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land . . .

Faster, faster. Don’t let her catch you.

She’ll say she wants to be your friend . . .

Ahead, the trees were thinning, the pearly light of the half-moon illuminating the clearing of the sports field.

Do not let her in again!

The girl’s lungs burned, and a sob burst from her throat. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t. Despite everything that had happened—or perhaps because of it. Her blood still pumped; her broken body still ran for its life. And in a moment of pure, dark clarity, she understood that all of it was for nothing.

She’d always known the monsters were real.

And they were here.

The girl looked into the darkness and screamed.

 

chapter 1

Barrons, Vermont

November 2014

The shrill of the cell phone jerked Fiona awake in the driver’s seat. She lurched forward, bracing her palms on the wheel, staring into the blackness of the windshield.

She blinked, focused. Had she fallen asleep? She’d parked on the gravel shoulder of Old Barrons Road, she remembered, so she could sit in the unbroken silence and think. She must have drifted off.

The phone rang again. She swiped quickly at her eyes and glanced at it, sitting on the passenger seat where she’d tossed it. The display glowed in the darkness. Jamie’s name, and the time: three o’clock in the morning. It was the day Deb would have turned forty if she’d still been alive.

She picked up the phone and answered it. “Jamie,” she said.

His voice was a low rumble, half-asleep and accusing, on the other end of the line. “I woke up and you were gone.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“So you left? For God’s sake, Fee. Where are you?”

She opened her door and swung her legs out into the chilly air. He’d be angry, but there was nothing she could do about that. “I’m on Old Barrons Road. I’m parked on the shoulder, at the bottom of the hill.”

Jamie was quiet for a second, and she knew he was calculating the date. Deb’s birthday. “Fee.”

“I was going to just go home. I was.” She got out of the car and stood, her cramped legs protesting, the cold air slapping her awake and tousling her hair. She walked to the edge of the road and looked up and down, shoving her free hand into the pocket of her windproof jacket. Back the way she’d come, she could see the road sign indicating thirty miles to Burlington and the washed-out lights of the twenty-four-hour gas station at the top of the hill. Past the hill, out of her sight, she knew there was the intersection with the North Road, with its jumble of fast-food restaurants, yet more gas stations, and a couple of hopeful big-box stores. In the other direction, ahead of the car’s hood, there was only darkness, as if Old Barrons Road dropped off the face of the earth.

“You didn’t have to go home,” Jamie was saying.

“I know,” Fiona replied. “But I was restless, and I didn’t want to wake you up. So I left, and I started driving, but then I started thinking.”

He sighed. She could picture him leaning back on the pillows, wearing an old T-shirt and boxer shorts, the sleek muscles of his forearm flexing as he scrubbed a hand over his eyes. He was due on shift at six thirty; she really had been trying not to wake him. “Thinking what?”

“I started wondering how much traffic there is on Old Barrons Road in the middle of the night. You know, if someone parked their car here and left it, how long would it be before someone drove by and noticed? The cops always said it wasn’t possible that Tim Christopher could have left his car here for so long, unseen. But they never really tested that, did they?”

And there it was: the ugly thing, the demon, coming to the surface, spoken aloud. The thing she’d become so good at keeping buried. The idea had been niggling at her for days as Deb’s birthday approached. She’d tried to be quiet about it, but tonight, as she’d lain sleepless, her thoughts couldn’t be contained. “This isn’t healthy,” Jamie said. “You know it isn’t. I know you think about your sister a lot. I know you mourn her. But actually going to Idlewild—that’s different, Fee.”

“I know,” Fiona said. “I know we’ve been over this. I know what my therapist used to say. I know it’s been twenty years. I’ve tried not to obsess about this, I swear.” She tried to keep the pleading from her voice, but it came out anyway. “Just listen to me, okay?”

“Okay,” he replied. “Shoot.”

She swallowed. “I came here and I parked by the side of the road. I sat here for”—she checked her watch—“thirty minutes. Thirty minutes, Jamie. Not a single car passed by. Not one.” By her calculations, she’d been here for forty-five minutes, but she’d been asleep for fifteen, so she didn’t count those. “He could have parked here and done it. The field at Idlewild Hall is only ten minutes through the trees. He would have had plenty of time.”

On the other end of the line, she heard Jamie breathe. They’d been together for a year now—a fact that still surprised her sometimes—and he knew better than to say the usual empty words. It doesn’t matter. This won’t bring her back. He’s already in prison. It was twenty years ago; you need to move on. Instead, he said, “Old Barrons Road wasn’t the same in 1994. The old drive-in was still open on the east side of the road. It didn’t do much business by the nineties, but kids used to party there, especially around Halloween.”

Fiona bit back the protest she could feel rising in her throat. Jamie was right. She swiveled and looked into the darkness across the road, to where the old drive-in used to be, now an abandoned lot. The big screen had been taken down long ago, the greasy popcorn stand razed, and now there was only a dirt clearing behind the trees, overgrown with weeds. She remembered begging her parents to take her and Deb to the drive-in as a kid, thinking with a kid’s logic that it would be an exciting experience, a sensory wonder. She’d soon learned it was a fool’s quest. Her intellectual parents would no sooner take them to the drive-in to see Beverly Hills Cop II than they would take a walk on the moon. Deb, three years older and wiser, had just shaken her head and shrugged at Fiona’s disappointment. What did you expect? “There wouldn’t have been many kids at the drive-in on a Thursday in November,” she said.

“But there were kids there,” Jamie said with the easy logic of someone whose life hadn’t been ripped apart. “None of them remembered seeing Christopher’s car. This was all covered in the investigation.”

Fiona felt a pulse of exhaustion behind her eyes, countered by a spurt of jagged energy that wouldn’t let her stay still. She turned and paced away from the hill and the lights of the gas station, toward the darkness past the hood of her car at the other end of Old Barrons Road. “Of course you think they covered everything,” she said to Jamie, her voice coming out sharper than she intended. “You’re a cop. You have to believe it. In your world, a girl gets murdered, and Vermont’s greatest minds come together to solve the case and put the bad guys away.” Her boots scuffed the gravel on the side of the road, and the wind pierced through the legs of her jeans. She pulled up the collar of her coat as a cold shudder moved through her, an icy draft blasting through the layers of her clothes.

Jamie wasn’t rising to her bait, which was one of the things that drove her crazy about him. “Fiona, I know they covered everything because I’ve been through the file. More than once. As have you, against all the rules and regulations of my job. It’s all there in the murder file. In black and white.”

“She wasn’t your sister,” Fiona said.

He was quiet for a second, acknowledging that. “Tim Christopher was charged,” he said. “He was tried and convicted of Deb’s murder. He’s spent the past twenty years in maximum-security prison. And, Fee, you’re still out there on Old Barrons Road at three o’clock in the morning.”

The farther she walked, the darker it got. It was colder here, a strange pocket of air that made her hunch farther into her coat as her nose grew numb. “I need to know how he did it,” she said. Her sister, age twenty, had been strangled and dumped in the middle of the former sports field on the abandoned grounds of Idlewild Hall in 1994, left lying on one side, her knees drawn up, her eyes open. Her shirt and bra had been ripped open, the fabric and elastic torn straight through. She’d last been seen in her college dorm thirty miles away. Her boyfriend, Tim Christopher, had spent twenty years in prison for the crime. He’d claimed he was innocent, and he still did.

Fiona had been seventeen. She didn’t much like to think about how the murder had torn her family apart, how it had affected her life. It was easier to stand on the side of the road and obsess over how Christopher had dumped her sister’s body, something that had never been fully understood, since no footprints had been found in the field or the woods, no tire tracks on the side of the road. The Idlewild property was surrounded by a fence, but it was decades old and mostly broken; he could have easily carried the body through one of the gaps. Assuming he came this way.

Jamie was right. Damn him and his cop brain, which her journalist brain was constantly at odds with. This was a detail that was rubbing her raw, keeping her wound bleeding, long after everyone else had tied their bandages and hobbled away. She should grab a crutch—alcohol or drugs were the convenient ones—and start hobbling with the rest of them. Still, she shivered and stared into the trees, thinking, How the hell did he carry her through there without leaving footprints?

The phone was still to her ear. She could hear Jamie there, waiting.

“You’re judging me,” she said to him.

“I’m not,” he protested.

“I can hear it in how you breathe.”

“Are you being serious?”

“I—” She heard the scuff of a footstep behind her, and froze.

“Fiona?” Jamie asked, as though he’d heard it through the phone.

“Ssshh,” she said, the sound coming instinctively from her lips. She stopped still and cocked her head. She was in almost complete darkness now. Idlewild Hall, the former girls’ boarding school, had been closed and abandoned since 1979, long before Deb died, the gates locked, the grounds overgrown. There were no lights here at the end of the road, at the gates of the old school. Nothing but the wind in the trees.

She stiffly turned on her heel. It had been distinct, a footstep against the gravel. If it was some creep coming from the woods, she had no weapon to defend herself. She’d have to scream through the phone at Jamie and hope for the best.

She stared into the dark silence behind her, watched the last dying leaves shimmer on the inky trees.

“What the fuck?” Jamie barked. He never swore unless he was alarmed.

“Ssshh,” she said to him again. “It’s no one. It’s nothing. I thought I heard something, that’s all.”

“Do I have to tell you,” he said, “to get off of a dark, abandoned road in the middle of the night?”

“Have you ever thought that there’s something creepy about Old Barrons Road?” she asked. “I mean, have you ever been out here? It’s sort of uncanny. It’s like there’s something . . .”

“I can’t take much more of this,” Jamie said. “Get back in your car and drive home, or I’m coming to get you.”

“I’ll go, I’ll go.” Her hands were tingling, even the hand that was frozen to her phone, and she still had a jittery blast of adrenaline blowing down her spine. That had been a footstep. A real one. The hill was hidden through the trees from here, and she suddenly longed for the comforting sight of the fluorescent gas station lights. She took a step, then realized something. She stopped and turned around again, heading quickly for the gates of Idlewild Hall.

“I hope that sound is you walking toward your car,” Jamie said darkly.

“There was a sign,” Fiona said. “I saw it. It’s posted on the gates. It wasn’t there before.” She got close enough to read the lettering in the dark. another project by macmillan construction, ltd. “Jamie, why is there a sign saying that Idlewild Hall is under construction?”

“Because it is,” he replied. “As of next week. The property was sold two years ago, and the new owner is taking it over. It’s going to be restored, from what I hear.”

“Restored?” Fiona blinked at the sign, trying to take it in. “Restoring it into what?”

“Into a new school,” he replied. “They’re fixing it up and making it a boarding school again.”

“They’re what?”

“I didn’t want to mention it, Fee. I know what that place means to you.”

Fiona took a step back, still staring at the sign. Restored. Girls were going to be playing in the field where Deb’s body had lain. They would build new buildings, tear down old ones, add a parking lot, maybe widen the road. All of this landscape that had been here for twenty years, the landscape she knew so well—the landscape of Deb’s death—would be gone.

“Damn it,” she said to Jamie as she turned and walked back toward her car. “I’ll call you tomorrow. I’m going home.”

Reading Group Guide

The Broken Girls

Simone St. James

Questions for

Discussion



1. Discuss the relationship between Sonia, Katie, Roberta, and CeCe. How would you characterize their friendships? Why do you think the author chose to write about four girls with such different backgrounds?


2. Why do you think the author chose to write from multiple perspectives? Did you enjoy one character’s voice more than the others? How did the alternating points of view affect your reading of the book?


3. Discuss the character of Mary Hand. Do you think she is a malevolent ghost? What do you make of her past? Why do you think the author chose to include a supernatural element, and how effective is it?


4. Mary shows different things to each girl. What do you think they mean? Is she trying to scare the girls or is there a deeper purpose? What does she show to the other characters and why?


5. From the beginning, Fiona is determined to identify the girl in the well and uncover the truth of what happened to her. Why is this case so important to Fiona?


6. Why do you think the author chose the title The Broken Girls? Do you think Fiona is “broken”? If so, do you think this is true for the whole novel or do you believe she changes? What about the four girls in the 1950s?


7. How would you characterize Fiona and Jamie’s relationship? Do you think it’s healthy? How does it change throughout the course of the novel? Use specific examples from the book to illustrate your points.


8. Journalism plays an important role in the book. Why do you think the author chose to make Fiona a journalist? Her journalistic investigation often intersects with the police investigation. Do you think the media plays a positive or negative role in police work of this kind?


9. How are the themes of voice and silence explored in the novel? What do they mean for each of the women? Use specific examples from the book to illustrate your points.


10. Why do you think the author chose to set the novel at a boarding school? How does the remote location add to the atmosphere and plot? How would the story be different with a different setting?

Customer Reviews

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The Broken Girls 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Anonymous 10 days ago
Anonymous 14 days ago
Great writing, fluid and still complex! Love the use of journalism in the story!
Anonymous 22 days ago
This is a great read, interesting and suspenseful. You will fall in love with the girls from Idlewild.
Emma Manolis 3 months ago
This book was not at all what I had imagined it would be. It was SO. MUCH. BETTER! If you are looking for a book that will creep you out, keep you guessing, and keep you flipping pages then look no further. I now plan on reading all of Simone St. James' backlist and everything she publishes in the future. It was that good.
Sandy5 4 months ago
Oh, Mary! There’s a rumor that she roams Idlewild, a boarding school that once served young women, providing these women their last opportunity. The school closes in 1979 but Mary still roams, the rumor becomes a reality. Mary preys upon her victims, touching their lives forever. Mary is connected to Idlewild, her connection runs deep and she is not leaving until her business is finished. The story of Idlewood is told in two time periods. The past and the present day. I found both stories fascinating and I enjoyed following the characters. In the past, we are introduced to the characters as they are students at the boarding school and we get to know their personalities. The girls learn firsthand about Mary and they try to learn about her history. It’s not an instant friendship as each of the girls adjust to their new surroundings, as these girls have each come from different backgrounds. They form ties with each other, some more connected than others. In the present day, we learn that Idlewood has been vacant for some time but that is about to change. The school is being restored which is causing quite a commotion. Why would someone decide to reopen the school now and what about Mary? There has also been a murder committed on the school grounds a while back that Deb cannot get over. Her sister was the victim but the evidence surrounding the case just didn’t add up to satisfy Deb. There is an individual serving time for the murder but Deb again, is still not satisfied with the results of the case. I liked how the each of the stories dug deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters. I learned some of the history of each of the characters and as the story was being led out, I enjoyed seeing how things were being placed together and how some things just did not fit. I liked how Mary’s character pulled in a mysterious and creepy element to the story. This was a deep-rooted story, a twisted story that brought the past back to life. I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for sharing this title with me.
GratefulGrandma 4 months ago
This was quite the mix of genres. There was a bit paranormal, some romance, mystery, suspense/thriller and history. The story is told using two timelines. In 1950, Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for girls. Whether they were orphans, their family didn't want them (illegitimacy) or they were incorrigible, Idlewild is where girls can be sent and often forgotten about. They're all damaged and hurt in their own way. Some of them put on a good face and are given a wide birth by the other girls, some are shy and quiet and the brunt of taunts. A group of four girls are rooming together in 4C. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, attitudes and personalities, they form a bond that can not be broken in life or death. The 2014 storyline surrounds the mysteries of Idlewild, the discovery of a dead body in the well and the stubborn refusal of Fiona to blindly accept the death of her sister and the conviction of her boyfriend. She insists there is more to the story and she will not stop digging until she gets her answer. The characters in the past were likable as they were often hidden away for reasons that were not their fault. They tried to survive and develop the first real friends they had. The ones in 2014 were not the easiest to like. Fiona can rub people the wrong way and her boyfriend/detective seems to be afraid to do the right thing. The new owners of the Idlewild Property are secretive and again, hard to believe and like. The beginning of the story is a bit slow, but do not give up on this one. It was an engrossing read and as the story unfolded, I was riveted. I could not wait to see what was going to happen next and ended up reading more than half of the book in just a few hours, staying up long past my usual bedtime. Of course, I can not write this review without mentioning Mary Hand, the ghost. Mary Hand Mary Hand, Dead and buried underland. She'll say she wants to be your friend. Do not let her in again. Mary Hand is something of a legend among generations of Idlewild Girls. Many have claimed to see her. Some have heard her speak. Some have been shown things. One thing is for sure: once you meet the ghost in black that haunts the grounds, you will never forget her. This is definitely an enjoyable read that was much more than I ever expected. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys a little of everything, a mystery that's emotional and a bit spooky. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Edelweiss.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This be is outstanding! Kept me up at night til I finished it! Would love to see a movie made from this book! Great Writer!
Anonymous 6 months ago
Fast read. Not to scary but just enough.
faeriemoon 7 months ago
I’ve read all of Simone St. James’s books and this is the best, by far. A perfect mix of the paranormal and mystery, the story flips back and forth between the present and 1950. I was caught up in the events and honestly didn’t want it to end! Looking forward to her next book.
Bookaholic_Cindy 7 months ago
Wow, The Broken Girls was an excellent novel! A little bit of everything that I love in this book, a mystery, a ghost, murder, and a spooky story set in two different times. It's setting is a boarding school. In the 1950 chapters, we meet the girls who live there. In 2014, the school is closed and being renovated. With the difference in the years, the writing of the author had it flow easily from one to the other. This is a good mystery with that bit of paranormal and easily made it a 5 read for me. Definitely a highly recommended book! *I was provided an ARC to read from the publisher and NetGalley. It was my decision to read and review this book.
Bookaholic_Cindy 7 months ago
Wow, The Broken Girls was an excellent novel! A little bit of everything that I love in this book, a mystery, a ghost, murder, and a spooky story set in two different times. It's setting is a boarding school. In the 1950 chapters, we meet the girls who live there. In 2014, the school is closed and being renovated. With the difference in the years, the writing of the author had it flow easily from one to the other. This is a good mystery with that bit of paranormal and easily made it a 5 read for me. Definitely a highly recommended book! *I was provided an ARC to read from the publisher and NetGalley. It was my decision to read and review this book.
whatsbetterthanbooks 7 months ago
Haunting, imaginative, and mystical! In this latest novel by St. James, The Broken Girls, she transports us to Barrons, Vermont a small town where the restoration of an abandoned boarding school will unearth powerful emotions, tragic memories, and more long-buried secrets and skeletons than anyone could have imagined. The prose is eerie and dark. The plot, told from alternating timelines, is gripping, suspenseful and filled with familial drama, neglect, hatred, abuse, desperation, violence, and murder all interwoven with a thread of the supernatural. And the characterization is spot on with a cast of characters that are damaged, fearless, and loyal, and a setting, Idlewild Hall, that is a character itself with its dereliction and isolation. Overall, The Broken Girls is an intelligent, unique, skillfully crafted page-turner that will have you on the edge of your seat from the very first page and will ultimately leave you chilled, surprised, satisfied and thoroughly entertained.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Gripping characters
jmchshannon 8 months ago
Some thrillers start out with a bang. The action kicks off in the opening chapter with the suspense building to a fever pitch from the first sentence. Other thrillers are more subtle, taking their time to create the mystery and build the suspense. Neither is better than the other; both are quite effective storytelling methods in the right hands. Yet, some readers will prefer one versus the other. For those readers, The Broken Girls falls into the latter category. In The Broken Girls Ms. St. James allows the story to build organically, allowing readers the chance to immerse themselves into the boarding school world of Idlewild during its heyday and in the present day before upping the ante. She does so by flipping back and forth in time and in narrator, providing readers with not only a well-rounded view of the school, its rules, and its inhabitants but also Fiona's world of love and loss. Therefore, before readers understand that there is a mystery, they are already sympathetically inclined towards all of the girls, which in turn creates the necessary tension that makes a thriller a good one. One other thing to note is the fact that The Broken Girls is a quintessential Gothic novel. We have the gloomy setting complete with decaying school buildings and grounds that may or may not be haunted. There is the fact that Idlewild is purported to be cursed. There are girls needing to be rescued, and there is romance. But this is not a traditional Gothic novel in that the hero is not a knight in shining armor or even a man coming to rescue the damsels in distress. This is, to some extent, a feminist Gothic novel, making it timely as well as entertaining. The Broken Girls is highly entertaining on several levels. The otherworldly aspects are extremely effective, lending itself to more than one frisson of fear. There is a historical fiction element that reminds readers not only of history's greatest tragedies but also of a certain societal mindset that made it allowable to hide young women in a rundown boarding school in the guise of help. Plus, there is Fiona's story as she comes to grips not only with her past but with her future. Blended into all of that is a mystery that keeps you guessing with the many surprises thrown into the narrative's path.
Jessica Upton 8 months ago
3.5 to 4 Stars The Broken Girls follows the story of Fiona, struggling to grasp the senseless murder of her sister twenty years ago; however, it is hard for her to put the past behind her when she finds out that someone has bought the old boarding school, where her sister was found. With plans to restore the school to functionality again, Fiona wants to write a story about the restoration that will cause her to get closer to the buried secrets of it's past and the past of her small town. As she uncovers more, she gets closer to the four girls that were roommates in 1950, one of which went missing and was never found. Will she be able to uncover what happened to her or will she lose herself trying to figure out the past? Let's talk about the Plot - As I mentioned, we follow two storylines, one from the present day (2014) and the other from the past (1950). It took some time to build up to the point where I was wanting to set everything else aside to read it. I didn't see a few of the twists coming and I loved the historical elements that were sprinkled throughout the story as well. However, I felt like the pacing was lacking throughout the first half of the novel. Just when one storyline would pick up, we were jumping back in time again. Often that shift would pull me out of the story in the beginning. As the storylines both picked up the intensity is when I found myself more invested in reading for longer periods of time, really wanting to know what happened. Characters - Most of the characters were well described and thoroughly fleshed out, which I enjoyed. The one downside is that there was a lot of characters. I found it hard to keep all of the girls in the 1950 storyline straight. I was thankful that I had my notes to tell me who was who. I would have liked to have seen more of the present day characters prior to just the current situation, like Jamie's father and more of his role in the investigation of Fiona's sister's murder. Overall this was a very dense and slow building book. It really reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with the layered depth of it. With a slight twist of a ghost story, we follow two separate timelines that eventually converge into one. I had a hard time deciding on a rating for this book; however, it was a really good read. I would recommend this to others that like a slower pace with an interwoven story that leaves you pieces things together long into the story. *NetGalley - I requested access to this book prior to publication. All opinions and reviews are my own and not solicited by the author, publisher, or NetGalley.
KrisAnderson_TAR 8 months ago
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is a dual time-line novel (2014/1950). In Barrons, Vermont at 3 a.m. Fiona Sheridan is back on Old Barrons Road near Idlewild Hall where her sister’s body was found twenty years ago. Everyone tells her it is time to move on, but Fiona has unanswered questions. Tim Christopher, her sister’s boyfriend, was convicted of the murder and is in prison serving his sentence. When Fiona finds out that Idlewild Hall has been purchased and is being renovated to turn it back into a girl’s boarding school, she decides to write (freelance journalist) an article about it. While touring the school with Anthony Eden, son of the new owner, a body of a teenage girl is discovered in the old well. Who is she and how did she end up there? Fiona dives into the past to discover what happened to this poor girl. If she happens to turn up information in her sister’s case, all the better. In 1950 Idlewild Hall is a girl’s boarding school for troubled girls (too independent, rebellious, illegitimate, traumatized, unwanted). CeCe, Sonia, Katie and Roberta room together and, as they get to know each other, become close friends. The lessons are boring, the teachers are rigid, and the luxuries are few. The school is rumored to be haunted by Mary Hand and one room seems to be more sinister than the others. Then one of the girls disappears-never seen again. What is going on at Idlewild Hall? Will Fiona get the answers she seeks? I had trouble wading through The Broken Girls. I believe the author had too many ideas and, instead of picking, she put them all into this one story (murder, 1800s ghost, modern killer, a girl from a concentration camp and so much more). I found the pace to be very slow which made the book seem twice as long. I found the book disjointed with abrupt transitions. It jumps around faster than a Mexican jumping bean. Fiona Sheridan was not a likeable main character. She came across as obsessed and unsympathetic (I kept hoping the killer would make her the next victim). Much of her sections are devoted to her endless questions and speculation (it was repetitious). I found the story from the 1950s to be more fascinating than the Fiona’s. The author could have done a book just on the four girls story (and kept Fiona out of it). There are a couple of interesting moments in the book, but I mostly found the story to be predictable (mystery readers will have no problem predicting how the book will turn out). I wanted to feel the suspense and the scare factor, but I did not. I do want to warn readers that there is foul language in the book. I realize I am in the minority regarding my feelings on The Broken Girls. That is the beauty of books. Every reader has a different perspective. If you want to see if The Broken Girls is for you, download a sample from your favorite retailer.
FrostAtMidnite 9 months ago
There is a certain eeriness to the story and that made me keep turning the pages. I thought the ghost was unnecessary, then again I liked the element of the supernatural. I am a bit ambiguous about this. The to and fro between the past and the present was not at all disrupting and added its own charm to the book. The Broken Girls was everything that a thriller could be.  It was fast, there were plenty of twists and turns, and the suspense was great. Overall a grippingly fast read.
FrostAtMidnite 9 months ago
There is a certain eeriness to the story and that made me keep turning the pages. I thought the ghost was unnecessary, then again I liked the element of the supernatural. I am a bit ambiguous about this. The to and fro between the past and the present was not at all disrupting and added its own charm to the book. The Broken Girls was everything that a thriller could be.  It was fast, there were plenty of twists and turns, and the suspense was great. Overall a grippingly fast read.
Fictionophile 9 months ago
Part modern crime thriller, part gothic ghost story, "The Broken Girls" is sure to be on my favorites list for 2018. A story of past wrongs put right. A story about police corruption, about mourning and grief, about the enduring bond of four broken girls... Highly recommended!
Mariah Poole 9 months ago
This story was so hauntingly beautiful. The prologue captured me and the story kept me entranced. 1950 - Idlewild Hall, an all girls boarding school in rural Vermont, is home to the "degenerates" of their society - the girls who are troublemakers, family secrets, and broken. Roommates Katie, Sonia, Roberta, and CeCe have become unlikely friends and know that as long as they are together they can handle anything life throws their way, including the ghost of Mary Hand who has haunted the school since it's opening. 2014 - Idlewild Hall has been closed for decades, left to rot away until a mysterious buyer decides to renovate and reopen it. This news lands especially hard on Fiona Sheridan, a journalist who's older sister Deb was murdered at the age of 20 and left on the sports field of Idlewild. Fiona decides to write her next story about the reopening of the school and try to find some answers of her own along the way. Books that follow two different time periods can sometimes leave me not only confused but unfulfilled if the stories aren't brought together extremely well. St. James, in my opinion did such a fantastic job narrating us through these two time periods and everything is brought together in such a perfect way. She crafts an atmosphere and moments that the reader can vividly picture. While you could consider this a "ghost story" it's more than that. It portrays women forging their own paths, the brokenness that is left after tragic events, and bonds that transcend above all else. I just love these characters. Their backstories, thier growth, all of it is so well crafted and tied together. This is my first St. James book and I dare say it will not be the last for sure. Thank you Berkley Publishing Group for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Loved this one. Totally absorbing.
Anonymous 9 months ago
I have been a long-time fan of Simone St. James. This book was fascinating, a combination of several stories running simultaneously. Each story was fully explored, realistic and, at times, harsh. However, every girl/woman showed her unique strength and survived. I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates exemplary writing and a richly developed storyline.
MonnieR 10 months ago
Once I started this book, except for refilling my beer glass, grabbing a quick sandwich and catching a few zzzzs, I didn't put it down. Yes, folks, I loved it - and I heartily thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review it. The story opens in 1950 at Idlewild Hall in Vermont, a boarding school for girls who just don't fit in anywhere else. Four of the school's incorrigibles become unlikely roommates, and they band together to try and make their lives less miserable and deal with rumors that the school is haunted by a mysterious woman named Mary Hand. Then, one of the four leaves for an unexpected weekend visit with relatives and is never seen again. Now it's 2014, when the long-abandoned school buildings and property are purchased by a buyer who plans to restore the place to its former glory and reopen it as a school. Local freelance writer Fiona Sheridan decides to do a story on the property. Fiona's interest, though, goes beyond the typical historical approach; 20 years ago, her older sister Deb was murdered - her body dumped in a field near the school. Deb's boyfriend was convicted and has been in jail ever since, but Fiona always suspected he might be innocent. Fiona's boyfriend, local cop Jamie, is less than enthusiastic about digging up old bones (so to speak); but her father, a well-known but mostly retired journalist, stands behind her. As the story progresses, flashback chapters offer details of what was going on in 1950 from the perspective of each of the four roommates, while "here and now" chapters outline Fiona's efforts to gather information for her story. But the more she learns, the more she's sure she still needs to learn - and the more she meets resistance from people who would go to extreme lengths to ensure that what happened in the past stays in the past. Interesting connections turn up, including a tie-in with the Holocaust, and there are more than a few twists (some surprising, others not so much) along the way as well. Definitely a winner for me - highly recommended!
Barb-TRC 10 months ago
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is my first book by this author. When I started this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Upon completing this book, I now have to research more about St. James, as I loved The Broken Girls. This book revolves around two different time periods, and two POV’s. The first POV is set in 1950, where 4 young girls are sent by their family to Idlewild Hall, in Vermont. The boarding school is a place where troubled girls are sent, and we meet Katie, Roberta, CeCe and Sonia, who become roommates. The school is rumored to be haunted, where both students and teachers fear a ghost called Mary Hand. We watch and learn about these girls, their lives, their fears, and how they ended up in the dismal spooky Idlewild. Katie is the strong and beautiful one, CeCe is a follower and Roberta is smart. Sonia is from Europe, and has no family. In 2014, Fiona Sheridan is a journalist, who has grieved for 20 years the death of her sister, who was murdered on the grounds of Idlewild, which is now decaying and closed. Her sister’s murderer is in jail, but Fiona cannot get past the questions of why her sister’s boyfriend, who still claims his innocence, would murder her. When Idlewild is purchased with the plan of renovating the school, Fiona’s journalistic mind plans to research and find evidence to help her solve the old murder. Along the way, a body is found in the well, and the death took place in 1950, which has Fiona also researching that death. Is there any connection to the two deaths 64 years apart? This was a terrific suspenseful, dark and at times scary story that had me on the edge of my seat. Once you get to the half way point, there is no putting this book down. There are so many secrets between both sides, as we go between both pov’s, with the death of the girl in 1950 bringing some things together. The twists and turns, with an amazing surprising finish were so well done by St. James. Fiona will find her life in danger, as she continues her investigation into both era’s. To tell too much more would be spoilers, and you really need to read this book from start to finish. St. James not only has created a fantastic amazing Gothic thriller, but she also gives us some wonderful characters that we will not forget; Fiona, the 4 girls in 1950, Fiona’s boyfriend, the Edens, the Ghost and the villain. The Broken Girls is an awesome and exciting mystery, that had a slight paranormal element that was done very well, giving this a chilling gothic feel at times. The mystery has so many surprises, and I fully loved how this ended. Simone St. James did an amazing job writing this captivating thriller. I suggest you read this book..now.
Candice_S 10 months ago
This book was INCREDIBLE - I love a good mystery, although I haven't found many mysteries out there that can incorporate a ghost story in such a completely thrilling, terrifying and believable way. This book managed to do all of that, while keeping me entirely absorbed in what was coming next. The Broken Girls moves brilliantly back and forth between two narratives - 1950 when Idlewild Hall was a boarding school for unwanted girls and 2014 when Idlewild has been long since abandoned. In the 1950's following four girls who become roommates and best friends, sharing secrets and creating a family that is unbreakable, until one of them goes missing. Idlewild is not without it's own secrets, and the ghost of a dead girl casting unbearable fear to all those forced to live within its walls. 2014, and Fiona Sheridan cannot move past the murder of her sister 20 years prior - a sister whose body was dumped on the abandoned Idlewild school grounds. It is the mysterious purchase of the school, with plans for renovation that lead to the discovery of a second body on the grounds, causing Fiona to start digging into secrets that were never meant to be uncovered. I was sucked into this story from the start - this was such a wonderfully fast paced read, that kept me on the edge of my seat, and had me desperate for just one more chapter. Simone St James did an incredible job of creating characters who I fell in love with, and whose backstories were so wonderfully complex. I also found myself completely absorbed by the ghost story, which was perfectly intertwined between the past and present mysteries of the dead girls. This particular ghost story was haunting in the very best way, and kept me up well into the night - its rare for a book to give me actual chills down my spine. If you are a reader who loves a good mystery, a good crime thriller, or a good ghost story, then this book should be on the top of your to-read pile this spring.