Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
The Broken Girls features multiple women who are broken by multiple things.
Idlewild was a school for wayward young women in the 1950s. When tragedy struck, the school closed. Now, decades later, a developer is in talks to reopen it. Reporter Fiona, a woman still haunted by her own sister’s murder 20 years ago, investigates the school and what had gone wrong.
The girls who stayed at Idlewild in the 1950s may have been labelled as broken, but really, their truths and traumas were more of an inconvenience to those around them. One saw her uncle attempt suicide, became nonverbal from the trauma, and was shipped away, for example.
Various times in their lives, these girls have been faced with insurmountable obstacles. Instead of giving them the room to grieve properly or the therapy to help them move through their trauma, they’re simply discarded. The girls are shipped off to Idlewild as if they need to be hidden from the world instead of part of it.
Strangely, they find solace with each other.
Though the place is not necessarily a place of restoration, the restoration happens between the girls themselves; their brokenness bonds them.
Idlewild had always loomed silently in the back of her mind, a dark part of her mental landscape. She’d done her best not to talk about it for twenty years, but talking about it out loud now was like bloodletting, painful and somehow necessary at the same time.
Simone St. James, The Broken Girls
Fiona is searching. Searching for what, she’s not quite clear. It’s not necessarily love, not necessarily validation in her career. She seems to be searching for closure to her sister’s murder. It was presumably solved when it happened 20 years ago, but something has always bothered Fiona; perhaps the case isn’t quite as closed as people think it is.
Interestingly, Fiona finds herself in a somewhat similar position to the girls of Idlewild. Fiona herself has a father who loves her and talks through her grief with her, but the town at large doesn’t seem to have any patience for her grief. But grief knows no bounds. It knows no time limits. It doesn’t go by a set of rules or stop on command.
The same could be said for the women who were residents of Idlewild. When they share their stories with Fiona decades later, the grief and trauma are still just as fresh. Even more poignant now, perhaps, through the wisdom of age.
Though there’s crime, The Broken Girls is not necessarily a crime drama. Though there’s a ghost, it’s not necessarily in the horror genre. It’s kind of an amalgamation of the two, presenting a wonderfully disturbing stew.
The book is not quite a tragedy, either. But it does stir all sorts of feelings about the injustices and horrors that people can visit upon each other.
It also stirs hope at what can be born out of trauma and the allies that find each other in the aftermath.