Book Review: “The Broken Girls” by Simone St James (@simone_stjames)


The Broken Girls (2018), by Toronto-based author Simone St James, is not the most scary ghost story I have read. Neither is it the first story I have read that skilfully leads readers back and forth through time and space, navigating through various twists and turns at the present to help revealing a series of secrets from the past. (A previous, and rather similar, example is discussed here.)

The protagonist, Fiona, is a freelancing journalist in Vermont in 2014 who’s desperately trying to unearth the truths surrounding her sister’s murder two decades ago. Her journey is closely related to the personal stories of four teenagers living in Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for unwanted girls that has been closed and abandoned since 1979. Fiona’s yearning for a sister lost is somehow highlighted and even compensated by the timeless friendship/sisterhood that bonds the four girls, one of whom was brutally killed back in 1950. More importantly, all five were connected and further united through the tragedy of a woman called Mary, who as a ghost has been haunting Idlewild since her own death in 1914.

These complex plots were gracefully illustrated and the personal stories of all the characters told in a elegant and empathetic tone. St James is not afraid of bringing in new pieces much later in the story to help solve the overall puzzle, and, with the provision of some surprising clues near the end, demonstrates her confidence and skills as an author. I particularly like the idea that previous generations of those girls confined in the boarding school got to communicate to those who came later by writing secret message and warnings in the same old textbooks used in their classrooms for decades. This is how legends are made, by distributing, discussing and sometimes disputing certain rumours or myths through long periods of time.

I also like the ghost, Mary, and how she is depicted as having the ability to sense and reveal the darkest, most secretive fears of her victims. This is not a new literary technique, but in The Broken Girls, it is rather well used (instead of flashbacks) to introduce the emotional and psychological backgrounds of some of the characters. I love the idea of a ghost who haunts generations of people and who only gets to finally rest in peace when her grieves are properly addressed. Mary’s haunting and hunting does not discriminate, which makes her an ideal caricature of injustice-induced rage and hatred.

The Broken Girls by Simone St James was published by Wildfire in March 2018. More details about this and the author’s other books can be found in her website.


Leave a Reply, Please

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: