Hardcover, 336 pagesPublished March 20th 2018 by Berkley Books
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 . . .
Idlewild was the boarding school of last resort, where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls. Hidden in the backwoods of Vermont, it had only 120 students: illegitimate daughters, first wives’ daughters, servants’ daughters, immigrant girls, girls who misbehaved…
The Broken Girls proved to be a breezy and exciting read in all of the best ways. The hooks were there, pulling me further and further into the story until I became one with it. Until the hours and pages flew by alike and I realized I’d finished it all in one sitting. Who isn’t intrigued by the thought of “throw away” girls from a time long ago? Simone St. James makes her own literary footsteps in shoes she fills well, for The Broken Girls is most definitely Ruth Ware meets Fiona Barton with an American Northeast twist.
If that line wasn’t enough to tell you exactly what to expect here, I’ll elaborate. This novel reminded me of an equal cross between The Lying Game and The Widow from the very start. The writing style is very similar—fluid and paced so that the read flies by breezily, tinged with intrigue. Even the theme of camaraderie among boarding school girls—their mischief, their backstories, their own haunting pasts—investigated in present-day scenes by a character who also has skin in the game, is the same. Here, you can even cozy up to the same scenery: wide open fields ringed with thickets of trees and old dirt gravel roads of the past. These novels were all cut from the same cloth, though they all told their stories in a way of their own.
While so many thrillers suffer from too many ideas in the plot, The Broken Girls weaves together a handful of story lines with just the right recipe. A chase here, a haunt there—a thrilling journey to the end—all brought to a boil and served up heartily leaving me full and satisfied in the end. None of the story lines felt overpowering or underdeveloped; they all fit together hand in hand, seamlessly drawing me back and forth between two periods of time over sixty years apart. Because of this skillful flow, St. James’ Girls read at a quick pace, allowing me to immerse myself in the story without interruption. That’s half the battle with a thriller, right? I was most impressed with the handling of the ghost story here in this novel. It was brilliantly done, haunting me as it haunted those four girls—never overdone or melodramatic, relying on parlor tricks like flashing lights and other theatrics; this ghost was a leading lady all her own and deserving of the space she occupied with those pages.
As is sometimes a danger with thrillers, I will say that there were a few areas that were obviously formulaic, plucked straight out of the “thriller-with-a-villain” motif and those couple of sections in the novel made me cringe enough to warrant shaving off a star. BUT, the rest of St. James’ The Broken Girls was deftly handled and intricately woven in a way that made me want to come back for more. I highly recommend this novel for anyone in need of a cozy thriller and for absolutely anyone who has read and loved Ruth Ware or Fiona Barton, because these Broken Girls served up more twists than I’d expected and more intrigue than so many novels of the same genre, scoring an easy and strong 4 stars. ****
**Thanks to the publicity department at Berkley / Penguin Random House for reaching out to me to review this book!**
Simone St. James is the award-winning author of 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. 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. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and a spoiled cat.