Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

It is my choice and I choose Thornhill.
I will never leave.
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ (5/5)

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA paranormal (ghosts)/Graphic Novel

Synopsis: Parallel stories set 35 years apart converge as Ella Clarke unravels the mystery of the girl next door.

1982: Mary, a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute for Children, is 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 bedroom she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill next door, catching glimpses of lone girl in the window. Determined to befriend her, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through prose and Ella’s in pictures— a suspenseful exploration of human connection.

What I Thought:

This was an unexpectedly gripping, spooky and tense read, with a great deal of emotion layered into Mary’s diary entries and Ella’s illustrated pages. Thornhill is stylistically very well executed – the greyscale colour scheme, black pages separating the two plotlines, use of light and shadow – all fit seamlessly with the gothic, ghostly undercurrents of this story.

The illustrated unfolding of Ella’s life deserves particular praise. Rather than cheaply laying out her backstory through clunky exposition and obvious indicators, Smy instead used little hints here and there to help the reader piece together what had happened to Ella, and why she has moved to this new town. The closing images cleverly suggesting the cyclical (and rather unnerving) ending elevated this book to a full five stars for me.

All I wanted was a friend.

Mary’s diary entries broke my heart. Her life is a reminder of how important it is, especially for those caring for children and vulnerable adults, to try and understand other people, instead of dismissing them as ‘weird’ or ‘antisocial’. To bother to see beyond the facade of a monster’s pretty face and accept that there is a truth other than the ‘easy’ story offered up to you.

What is it that stops an adult sitting down and really saying, ‘How’s things with you?’ or ‘Is everything OK?’ I suspect that they are afraid they may get a truthful answer and then they would have to do something, get involved.
It was agonising watching Mary wonder in despair at why she was almost entirely alone in the world, and ostracised over and over. She is well on her way to a jaded cynicism far beyond her years.
Can they not see what they are doing? Are they deliberately cruel or do they just not care? Or does it amount to the same thing?

There is hardly anything I can think of that might have made this novel even better. Though I would have loved to know more about what happened to the ‘her’ who had been bullying Mary for so long, in this case, leaving room to wonder is far more effective in allowing Thornhill to leave a lasting impression on the reader. To haunt them, if you will.

I never cry. I promised myself I would never let them see me cry.
But it isn’t their horribleness that made the tears come. It was kindness.

Thanks for reading! Have you read Thornhill? Let me know any thoughts below…

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