Concept: ★★★★★ – Three murders over the span of one-hundred years, one boarded up boarding school that sits right in the center of them, a scorned younger sister, three concerned friends, and a shady small town Police Department. Sure, I may have heard a similar story somewhere before, but St. James pulled in all the stops in “The Broken Girls”, a murder and paranormal mystery. Focusing on the here and now while revealing two stories from the past and, somehow, a relatively happy ending.
Writing: ★★★★☆ – St. James goes to great depths to soundly describe each and every scene that her characters encounter in this book, although the most descriptive scene is Idlewild Hall, for understandable reasons. I enjoyed her ability to build each character and each scene, using language that was readable and thorough.
Character Development: ★★★★★ – What I truly loved about this book is that no character is truly defined until the author actually wants you to know who they are. From the old widow who decides to restore the broken down school to Fiona Sheridan, every character has a significant role in the outcome of the story. However, the author only reveals a bit about each person at a time, allowing the reader to jump to conclusions that are – or are not – logical, long before they could possibly know the outcome.
Plot: ★★★★★ – The plot of this story is filled with murder, cover-ups, and – you’ll never expect this – history. The plot is developed by switching between the present time and the past, where four teenage girls are trapped in a boarding school in Barrons, Vermont. Like a puzzle that is being put together, the reader of this book is caught off guard by underlying plots, which the author always fully develops, with every turn of the page!
Pacing: ★★★★★ – The author maintained an excellent pace throughout this entire story, drawing me in with every chapter and always having another surprise buried in the text just around the corner. In this case, quick and steady won the race.
Ending: ★★★★★ – In the end, I expected the ending. However, throughout the rest of the book, I did not. In fact, I suspected multiple murderers – friends, teachers, cops, ghosts – and some ended up being guilty of no more than being buried in a lonely grave. Yet, as the end neared, the author started to pull sheets off of the hints that laid throughout the book and created an ending that has already been died for.
Cover Art: ★★★★★ – The cover art for my copy of “The Broken Girls” was designed by Sarah Oberrender, although the featured photos were taken by Mohammad Itani and Alexandre Cappellari. The cover is moving in a manner that makes one wonder what secrets lie within the photographed building and/or the book itself. I feel as though it impressively accompanies the story, emphasizing its mysterious theme with a cover that doesn’t allow the reader to see too much.
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
** I would like to thank Book of the Month for providing this book, via my membership! **
Our story begins in, well… it depends how you look at it, I suppose. Perhaps it started in 1914 when Mary Hand was locked out in the cold after miscarrying a child. Or maybe, it started in 1919, when Idlewild Hall was built in Barrons, Vermont. However, it may have started in 1950 when Sonia was murdered while running across the Sports Field at her boarding school. Then again, the story could have begun in 1993, when Helen was beaten within an inch of her life. I suppose it could have started in 1994 when Deb was murdered by her boyfriend and then dumped in the same field that Sonia had previously been murdered in. After really thinking about it, though, I think the story truly began in 2014, when Fiona Sheridan finally started to unravel the mysteries of Idlewild Hall and all of its ghostly inhabitants.
For the majority of the book, Simone St. James develops two stories – set almost sixty-five years apart – alongside each other. One is of Katie, Roberta, CeCe, and Sonia, four troubled young girls who were sent off to boarding school since no one understood how, nor did they want to, deal with them. Katie who rebelled after being assaulted, Roberta who refused to speak when she saw her uncle almost attempt to end his life, CeCe who was never wanted by either of her parents and almost drowned by her mother when she slipped, and Sonia who was the only remaining member of her family, excluding her elderly aunt and uncle, after the Nazi invasion in Europe. The other story is that of Fiona, a journalist determined to undercover the true story behind her older sister’s death in 1994. All the while, a constant character is Mary Hand, the girl who was left outside to freeze after having a stillborn in 1914.
In the end, we find that Mary Hand never hurt a fly. In fact, her love for her child is what kept her wandering the Idlewood grounds for over a century. As they unbury her wooden casket, it seems as though she disappears off to her resting place, finally at peace after years of torture. Additionally, we find that Sonia was murdered by one of the Nazi guards of Ravenbruck prison who happened to see her when she bought her bus ticket to leave her aunt and uncles home early during a weekend visit. Finally, we find that Fiona’s sister was murdered by the man who has been incarcerated for twenty years. However, we also learn that her boyfriend’s father was the lead “cover-upper” on the case, as he was the Chief of Police at the time. With all that drama and so many sad storylines, it’s hard to believe the ending was happy, but it really was.