“The broken girls” by Simone St. James – Book Review

“Idlewild was an old place, and the fear here was old fear.”

“Idlewild was the boarding school of last resort, where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls.”

Idlewild is an old, abandoned boarding school in rural Vermont. It opened in 1919 and closed its doors forever in 1979. It was never a happy place. Idlewild was a school where broken girls were sent. You know, the ones who didn’t conform to what society thought they should be.

This story is told with dual timelines, sixty-four years apart.

Autumn 1950 – Of the 120 students housed at Idlewild, we come to know four of them very well.  Roommates, they are girls who, though very different, form a bond. With no people in their lives that want them, they turn to each other for love and support. All in the same desperate situation, they understand each other. All four girls were damaged in different ways.

Cecelia (CeCe) Frank – the illegitimate daughter of a rich married man and his housekeeper.  Her mother, shamed by CeCe’s existence, tried to drown her when she was six years old.

Roberta Greene – was rendered mute after she discovered her war veteran uncle with a pistol in his mouth. Roberta was discarded to Idlewild by her unfeeling parents.

Katie Winthrop – smart, bold and fearless, though this was largely a front she put on to protect herself.  She had been attacked by a boy. Her parents blamed Katie for bringing shame to their family and ruining ‘their’ reputation.

Sonia Gallipeau – a French refugee and war orphan. A former inmate of Ravensbrück concentration camp. Small in stature due to being malnourished, Sonia dreamed of working in a library when she grows up. “All Sonia wanted was safety, a place to be. Even if that place was Idlewild, with the misfits and the ghosts.”

The reader’s heart breaks for these unwanted, discarded girls. Their innocence, their love of books, their loneliness, their longing for family – and for love.

“That was what books did – they turned off your thinking for you, put their thoughts in your head so you wouldn’t have your own.

Autumn 2014 – The protagonist of this novel is Fiona Sheridan, a freelance journalist. She is the thirty-seven year old daughter of famous journalist Malcolm Sheridan. There are just the two of them left in their tiny family. Fiona’s sister, Deb, was brutally murdered twenty years ago. After their devastating loss, Fiona’s parents divorced and her mother died of cancer eight years ago. Her father, always so full of life, lost his will, his verve.  Tim Christopher, Deb’s boyfriend at the time of her death and the son of the richest and most prominent local family, was convicted of her murder. He has been in prison these last twenty years.

Deb’s body had been found on Idlewild’s former sports field.  Never able to get over what happened to her beloved older sister, Fiona has maintained an unhealthy interest in the place.  Now, she learns that Idlewild is to be restored. She convinces her editor to let her write a story about the restoration, and the history of the old school. This is a departure for Fiona as up until now she has only written ‘fluff’ pieces.

Fiona wonders why the new owner, an elderly widow from New York named Margaret Eden, would want to sink her money into restoring this derelict building.

This is how I pictured Fiona Sheridan while reading this book. (Mireille Enos as portrayed in the TV series “The Killing”)

Fiona is dating a local policeman, Jamie Creel. He is the son of the former police chief, and the grandson of the police chief before that. Younger than Fiona by eight years, he elicits a spark in Fiona like no other man. His family do not approve of their liaison. Police and journalists are natural enemies, they just don’t mix.

Fiona’s investigative journalism takes her to Idlewild for a tour given by the new owner’s son. Whilst there, she comes to believe that the stories that have circulated for years are true. Idlewild is haunted. There was a persistent legend that Mary Hand’s baby was buried in the school’s garden.

“Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land.
She’ll say she wants to be your friend. Do not let her in again!”

During the restoration work, a body of a young girl is found in the school’s disused well.  Long dead, she had been in the well for many years. Could this be the body of the ‘runaway’ student from sixty years ago?

“Idlewild had been the resting site for two murdered girls, decades apart.”

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!

I received a digital copy of this novel, free at my request, from Berkley/Penguin via NetGalley.

Simone St. James‘ debut novel, THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, won two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. AN INQUIRY INTO LOVE AND DEATH was nominated for another Arthur Ellis Award, and SILENCE FOR THE DEAD was shortlisted for a Goodreads Choice Award.

Simone spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. She lives just outside Toronto, Canada, with her husband and a spoiled rescue cat. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Pinterest (though not all at once).

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Canadian fiction, Favorite books, ghost stories, NetGalley, Suspense and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to “The broken girls” by Simone St. James – Book Review

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  7. I really love this

    Liked by 1 person

  8. swathi says:

    Awesome review.
    Please do visit my blog.Hope you’ll like it. Thank you so much. Happy blogging.


  9. Heather says:

    I am really looking forward to this one. Yours is the second review I’ve read that was super glowing, and I love boarding school books! (even though this isn’t quite that, it reminds me of such a thing.)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. LucciaGray says:

    What an amazing review. The novel sounds intriguing. I’ll definitely check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. carhicks says:

    Great review Lynne. I have definitely added this one and after your review really looking forward to it. I agree with Dani, your choice of pictures make it come alive. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great review! I’ve been indecisive about whether to read this one or not, but I’m definitely adding it to the list now!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. yvonnembee says:

    Oh this sound good adding to my wish list. Thank you 😊 xx


  14. that sounds deliciously intriguing. I’m off to get my hands on a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. skyecaitlin says:

    Wonderful review, Lynne, and this has been on my TBR , but after reading your review, I not only need to read this but her earlier books as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Tracy Thomas says:

    I really liked this book. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Zoe says:

    Fantastic review, Lynne! I have this on my TBR for this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve seen a few mentions of this book lately and although my preferences don’t tend to lean towards the gothic, I’m really intrigued by this one although it sounds heart-breaking. This might well be my next purchase (when I earn some more book tokens)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Also I just love your #Bookstagram photo!😀📸❤

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Amazing Review!😁 Your pictures are so acurate on how I imagine Idlewild in my mind! This has to be one of my most favorite reads! Spot-on Review!😀

    Liked by 2 people

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