Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

I've been waiting for the latest Simone St. James to be released for MONTHS.  I've read all of her books, and in my opinion, this is her best book.  One of the main reasons I love Simone's novels so much is because they're ghost stories. I have been a fan of ghosty stories since I was a little kid.  These are like Mary Downing Hahn books for adults.  

What makes Broken Girls different than her previous novels is the modern setting. Set in the small town of Barrons, Vermont, the narrative moves between 1950 and 2014. In 2014, 37 year old Fiona Sheridan still struggles to move past her older sister's brutal murder in 1994.  Found on the playing fields near Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for girls, her sister Deb's boyfriend was convicted and has spent the last 20 years in jail. Fiona saw the destruction of her parent's marriage, and the unraveling of her famous journalist father's career as a result of that dark November night.  She herself, a journalist writing "fluff" pieces for a local magazine, is dating a police officer, and is wary of pretty much everyone and everything. Something about her sister's death has never settled with Fiona.  

In 1950, we learn the story of Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for troublesome girls.  These days, these girls would be perfectly normal teens, but in the conservative 1950's they were seen as embarrassments and shipped off and out of sight.  Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia all room together and form a deep friendship in a place that is so creepy even the teachers hate being there.  Yes, there is something very unsettling about Idlewild Hall, and generations of girls have written notes to each other in textbooks about Mary Hand, the ghostly presence that scares the hell out of everyone.  She is a substantial part of the plot, and so eerie that even I, sitting on my couch, was a little bit creeped out. 
 No one knows who she is, but she roams the school buildings and land.  Students even have a little rhyme about Mary:

"Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under the land...
Faster, faster. Don't let her catch you. 
She'll say she wants to be your friend...
Do not let her in again!"

The ghost of Mary Hand makes you look at the worst part of your life.  She writes on windows, stands next to you and sends chills down your spine.  One of the best ghostly characters I've come across in a long time.

The plot revolves around something terrible that happens to the four girls in the 1950's, and Fiona's journalistic curiosity in 2014 as Idlewild is purchased and is being prepared for renovation, to become a boarding school for girls again. Will this renovation stir up old spirits? Does Mary Hand still roam Idlewild?

I have to say, the plot was on point. The stories of the four friends: Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia continue into 2014, and wow, the twist is pretty clever.  This plot went where I never would have expected it to go. Fiona's story is also interesting, as her digging into the history of Idlewild raises more questions that must be answered, and help her find out just what really happened to her sister in 1994. I'm not going to tell you anymore, because I don't want to give anything away. I say, just read the book!  It really is a page turner. I couldn't wait to read at night, read at lunch, and read early in the morning. I was frustrated I couldn't devote hours at a time to read it. Yes, for me, it was that good. 

Rating:  6/6.  Yes, perhaps I am biased because I love Simone St. James' novels so much, and a good chilling ghost story is hard to find.  But darn it all, this was a really great read.  One of my favorites for 2018.

Available in hardcover and ebook.

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