By Ekta R. Garg
March 15, 2018
Release date: March 20, 2018
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
When an abandoned boarding school gets bought by a mysterious benefactor, a journalist decides to do a story on the transaction. She has a personal attachment to the school, and when a body is discovered on the grounds her article almost becomes a crusade. Author Simone St. James strings together a series of unrelated events and forces them into the well-written but failed novel The Broken Girls.
Despite the two decades that have passed, Fiona Sheridan can’t let go of the facts surrounding the murder of her sister, Deb. Fiona’s boyfriend, a cop in their town of Barrons, Vermont, wishes she’d let it all go, but she can’t. That’s why Fiona finds herself at odd hours wandering the grounds of Idlewild, the shuttered boarding school where Deb’s body was found.
Unlike other people, though, Fiona doesn’t have to deal with uncertainty when it comes to the identity of her sister’s murderer. Deb’s boyfriend, Tim Christopher, was convicted of the crime and sent to prison for life. He’s spent 20 years declaring his innocence, but Fiona isn’t buying it. His assertion most likely comes from the arrogance that only the wealthy can afford; Tim’s family once owned Idlewild.
Until now. Fiona receives word of the school getting sold to a woman who seems to have no connection to it. The news sparks Fiona to pitch the idea to the magazine where she works of doing a story on the sale. Her editor lets her start working on the story with reluctance. Even though it’s been so long, no one in Barrons has forgotten Deb’s death.
As Fiona starts doing research, a body is discovered on the grounds of Idlewild by the crew hired for renovations. Fiona is disheartened by the reality of what Idlewild was: a school where parents sent their daughters when those daughters didn’t match society’s standards and needed to be hidden from the world. At least Deb had a family who mourned her death. The mystery girl, it seems, had no one. Fiona is determined to give the girl some dignity by searching for her identity. The more research she does, though, the more she gets drawn into the shadows that persist around Idlewild and the secrets they hide.
Author Simone St. James takes a story that could have blossomed with possibilities and instead lets it wither with the book’s biggest weakness: too many unrelated ideas. The book goes back and forth between a group of friends who attended Idlewild in 1950 and Fiona in 2014 as she pursues the story of the school and its tragedies. All of the characters talk about Mary, a ghost purported to haunt the school, but readers only get Mary’s story through second-hand information.
An abandoned school haunted by a ghost seems to offer the perfect setting for a story juxtaposing the past and the present. Instead, St. Simone tries to force a string of unrelated events into one cohesive novel. Her strategy doesn’t work and will leave readers frustrated as they keep looking for connections between Mary, the mystery girl, and Fiona’s sister but find none. The only thing the girls have in common is that all three died on the grounds of Idlewild, and that fact alone isn’t enough to carry a book.
The writing itself is lovely. St. Simone offers descriptions of small-town Vermont in rich detail that will bring the streets and the landscape to life. Readers will find it easy to picture Barrons in the fall. Unfortunately, strong descriptions can’t save the story. The novel, then, becomes a collection of pages of unfulfilled potential. I recommend readers Bypass The Broken Girls.