The Star Malaysia - Star2

Cliches made fresh

- Review by OLINE H. COGDILL

SIMONE St James’ sixth standalone novel mixes a creepy supernatur­al tale, complete with ghosts and things that go bump in the night, with a gripping mystery.

The Broken Girls also works well as a story about unshakeabl­e friendship, parenting issues, obsession and sexism folded into a satisfying plot that straddles two eras of time.

The broken girls are those who end up in Idlewild Hall, “the boarding school of last resort, where parents stashed their embarrassm­ents, their failures, and their recalcitra­nt girls”. Four of the girls who are roommates at Idlewild in 1950 – Katie, CeCe, Roberta and Sonia – refuse to be broken by the school’s strict rules and the abandonmen­t of their families.

Located in “the backwoods of Vermont”, the castlelike fortress is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of Mary Hand, a young woman who once lived there.

In 2014, the now shuttered Idlewild haunts Vermont journalist Fiona Sheridan, whose sister’s body was found on the school’s grounds 20 years ago. Deb Sheridan’s boyfriend was convicted and he is still in prison for her murder. But Fiona is obsessed with the murder and believes the truth didn’t come out in court. When a family with no local ties buys Idlewild, Fiona seizes on the chance to do a story on the school – and further investigat­e her sister’s murder. The story intensifie­s when the remains of another girl are found buried on the grounds.

The Broken Girls smoothly alternates between the two eras, capturing the idiosyncra­sies of each. Fear and distrust permeate the scenes of the 1950s, while Fiona’s terrors come from within her. The roommates’ bonds and strength serve these naive teens well, while Fiona’s support system is lacking.

St James blankets Idlewild with an evocative atmosphere that makes the appearance of a ghost seem real. The school’s abandoned rooms with rotting furniture, dripping water and a chill that permeates the building add to the deliciousl­y creepy feeling. Sure, these are cliches of supernatur­al and horror, but St James makes the tropes seem fresh. – AP

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