“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.
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…
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).