The Broken Girls

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Penguin, 2018 - FICTION - 336 pages
35 Reviews
The "clever and wonderfully chilling" (Fiona Barton) suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare...

Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants--the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears...

Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past--and a voice that won't be silenced...

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User Review  - ElleGato -

I enjoyed the 1950 story line about four girls at a haunted school far more than the 2014 story line, which I felt really dragged. Honestly this would have worked much better as a straight ghost story without the mystery/thriller component Read full review

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User Review  - Sharn -

Took me a long time to finish this one due to many factors, including out-of-state company. I thought this was a good book, a mystery that was told in alternating times, 2014 and 1950. 1950, Idlewild ... Read full review

Selected pages


Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 20
Section 21
Section 22
Section 23
Section 24
Section 25
Section 26
Section 27

Section 9
Section 10
Section 11
Section 12
Section 13
Section 14
Section 15
Section 16
Section 17
Section 18
Section 19
Section 28
Section 29
Section 30
Section 31
Section 32
Section 33
Section 34
Section 35
Section 36

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About the author (2018)

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2018 Simone St. James


Barrons, Vermont

November 1950

The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road. Night, and she still had three miles to go.

The air here went blue at dusk, purplish and cold, a light that blurred details as if one were looking through smoke. Squinting, the girl cast a glance back at the road where it climbed the rise behind her, the breeze tousling her hair and creeping through the thin fabric of her collar, but no one that she could see was following.

Still: Faster, she thought.

She hurried down the slope, her thick schoolgirl''s shoes pelting stones onto the broken road, her long legs moving like a foal''s as she kept her balance. She''d outgrown the gray wool skirt she wore--it hung above her knees now--but there was nothing to be done about it. She carried her uniform skirt in the suitcase that banged against her legs, and she''d be putting it back on soon enough.

If I''m lucky.

Stop it, stupid. Stupid.


Her palms were sweaty against the suitcase handle. She''d nearly dropped the case as she''d wrestled it off the bus in haste, perspiration stinging her back and armpits as she glanced up at the bus''s windows.

Everything all right? the driver had asked, something about the panic in a teenage girl''s face penetrating his disinterest.

Yes, yes-- She''d given him a ghastly smile and a wave and turned away, the case banging her knees, as if she were bustling off down a busy city street and not making slow progress across a cracked stretch of pavement known only as the North Road. The shadows had grown long, and she''d glanced back as the door closed, and again as the bus drew away.

No one else had gotten off the bus. The scrape of her shoes and the far-off call of a crow were the only sounds. She was alone.

No one had followed.

Not yet.

She reached the bottom of the slope of Old Barrons Road, panting in her haste. She made herself keep her gaze forward. To look back would be to tempt it. If she only looked forward, it would stay away.

The cold wind blew up again, freezing her sweat to ice. She bent, pushed her body faster. If she cut through the trees, she''d travel an exact diagonal that would land her in the sports field, where at least she had a chance she''d meet someone on the way to her dorm. A shorter route than this one, which circled around the woods to the front gates of Idlewild Hall. But that meant leaving the road, walking through the trees in the dark. She could lose direction. She couldn''t decide.

Her heart gave a quick stutter behind her rib cage, then returned to its pounding. Exertion always did this to her, as did fear. The toxic mix of both made her light-headed for a minute, unable to think. Her body still wasn''t quite right. Though she was fifteen, her breasts were small and she''d started bleeding only last year. The doctor had warned her there would be a delay, perfectly normal, a biological aftereffect of malnutrition. You''re young and you''ll recover, he''d said, but it''s hell on the body. The phrase had echoed with her for a while, sifting past the jumble of her thoughts. Hell on the body. It was darkly funny, even. When her distant relatives had peered at her afterward and asked what the doctor had said, she''d found herself replying: He said it''s hell on the body. At the bemused looks that followed, she''d tried to say something comforting: At least I still have all my teeth. They''d looked away then, these Americans who didn''t understand what an achievement it was to keep all your teeth. She''d been quiet after that.

Closer, now, to the front gates of Idlewild Hall. Her memories worked in unruly ways; she''d forget the names of half the classmates she lived with, but she could remember the illustration on the frontispiece of the old copy of Blackie''s Girls'' Annual she''d found on a shelf in the dorm: a girl in a 1920s low-waisted dress, walking a romping dog over a hillside, shading her eyes with her hand as the wind blew her hair. She had stared at that illustration so many times she''d had dreams about it, and she could recall every line of it, even now. Part of her fascination had come from its innocence, the clean milkiness of the girl in the drawing, who could walk her dog without thinking about doctors or teeth or sores or scabs or any of the other things she had buried in her brain, things that bobbed up to the surface before vanishing into the darkness again.

She heard no sound behind her, but just like that, she knew. Even with the wind in her ears and the sound of her own feet, there was a murmur of something, a whisper she must have been attuned to, because when she turned her head this time, her neck creaking in protest, she saw the figure. Cresting the rise she''d just come over herself, it started the descent down the road toward her.

No. I was the only one to get off the bus. There was no one else.

But she''d known, hadn''t she? She had. It was why she was already in a near run, her knuckles and her chin going numb with cold. Now she pushed into a jog, her grip nearly slipping on the suitcase handle as the case banged against her leg. She blinked hard in the descending darkness, trying to make out shapes, landmarks. How far away was she? Could she make it?

She glanced back again. Through the fog of darkness, she could see a long black skirt, the narrow waist and shoulders, the gauzy sway of a black veil over the figure''s face moving in the wind. Unseen feet moving beneath the skirt''s hem. The details were visible now because the figure was closer--moving only at a walk, but already somehow closing in, closer every time she looked. The face behind the veil wasn''t visible, but the girl knew she was being watched, the hidden gaze fixed on her.

Panicked, she made an abrupt change of direction, leaving the road and plunging into the trees. There was no path, and she made her way slowly through thick tangles of brush, the dead stalks of weeds stinging her legs through her stockings. In seconds the view of the road behind her disappeared, and she guessed at her direction, hoping she was heading in a straight line toward the sports field. The terrain slowed her down, and sweat trickled between her shoulder blades, soaking into the cheap cotton of her blouse, which stuck to her skin. The suitcase was clumsy and heavy, and soon she dropped it in order to move more quickly through the woods. There was no sound but the harsh rasp of her own breathing.

Her ankle twisted, sent sharp pain up her leg, but still she ran. Her hair came out of its pins, and branches scraped her palms as she pushed them from her face, but still she ran. Ahead of her was the old fence that surrounded Idlewild, rotted and broken, easy to get through. There was no sound from behind her. And then there was.

Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land . . .

Faster, faster. Don''t let her catch you.

She''ll say she wants to be your friend . . .

Ahead, the trees were thinning, the pearly light of the half-moon illuminating the clearing of the sports field.

Do not let her in again!

The girl''s lungs burned, and a sob burst from her throat. She wasn''t ready. She wasn''t. Despite everything that had happened--or perhaps because of it. Her blood still pumped; her broken body still ran for its life. And in a moment of pure, dark clarity, she understood that all of it was for nothing.

She''d always known the monsters were real.

And they were here.

The girl looked into the darkness and screamed.

chapter 1

Barrons, Vermont

November 2014

The shrill of the cell phone jerked Fiona awake in the driver''s seat. She lurched forward, bracing her palms on the wheel, staring into the blackness of the windshield.

She blinked, focused. Had she fallen asleep? She''d parked on the gravel shoulder of Old Barrons Road, she remembered, so she could sit in the unbroken silence and think. She must have drifted off.

The phone rang again. She swiped quickly at her eyes and glanced at it, sitting on the passenger seat where she''d tossed it. The display glowed in the darkness. Jamie''s name, and the time: three o''clock in the morning. It was the day Deb would have turned forty if she''d still been alive.

She picked up the phone and answered it. "Jamie," she said.

His voice was a low rumble, half-asleep and accusing, on the other end of the line. "I woke up and you were gone."

"I couldn''t sleep."

"So you left? For God''s sake, Fee. Where are you?"

She opened her door and swung her legs out into the chilly air. He''d be angry, but there was nothing she could do about that. "I''m on Old Barrons Road. I''m parked on the shoulder, at the bottom of the hill."

Jamie was quiet for a second, and she knew he was calculating the date. Deb''s birthday. "Fee."

"I was going to just go home. I was." She got out of the car and stood, her cramped legs protesting, the cold air slapping her awake and tousling her hair. She walked to the edge of the road and looked up and down, shoving her free hand into the pocket of her windproof jacket. Back the way she''d come, she could see the road sign indicating thirty miles to Burlington and the washed-out lights of the twenty-four-hour gas station at the top of the hill. Past the hill, out of her sight, she knew there was the intersection with the North Road, with its jumble of fast-food restaurants, yet more gas stations, and a couple of hopeful big-box stores. In the other direction, ahead of the car''s hood, there was only darkness

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