Author: Pam Smy
Illustrator: Pam Smy
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Plot Synopses (provided by publisher): Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.
1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute for Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.
2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.
Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines―Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art―Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Main themes/tropes: outsiders, hauntings, lonely girls, creepy old house
Plot: Excellent building tension with enough ambiguity so that it could go almost any way right up until the very end, and the end is satisfying. One thing I appreciated was at no point was there any coyness about Mary being a ghost – that particular “twist” (can you even call it a twist anymore?) has truly been beaten into the ground at this point.
Mary’s bullying feels very visceral and true to life, and her slowly deteriorating mental health recalls Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House (also a book about someone who dies rather than leave a place) and her voice is clear.
The Mary sections are the most suspenseful, but the Ella sections, sans dialogue/interaction with anyone else as they are, really show how isolated and lonely she is. While the ending is unexpected, it does make sense, given her circumstances.
Characters: Mary is the character we get to know and understand. Ella is more of a blank – we never know what she thinks or feels about anything, so the audience is left to project motivations onto her until the very end of the book, and even then we’re not sure if she knew she would die when she went to Thornhill or if Mary lured her to her death without explanation.
Mary’s tormentor is obviously one of the villains of the book, but most of my ire was focused on the adult caregivers in Mary’s life that are completely oblivious to what’s going on right under their noses.
Art: The art is black and white, reflecting the disturbing vibe of the text. It’s gorgeous and full of trees and plants, contrasting to the dolls and doll parts that look very creepy.
Five Reasons to Read This:
1. Rising tension that resolves awesomely
2. Atmospheric art
3. Dark story about girl bullying
4. A story that will stick with you long after you’ve put the book down
5. The ending opens the door to more deaths, and the reader is left to decide how that would develop