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Thornhill Hardcover – August 29, 2017
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"The book will certainly pull lovers of ghost stories, narrative illustration and creepy dolls into its dark pages, to revel in its scares and ambiguities."―The New York Times Book Review
"Atmospheric and emotional in an understated way... Beautiful, moody, sad, and spooky―all at once."―Kirkus, starred review
"All levels of readers―from reluctant readers to adults―will find themselves flying through these pages"―VOYA, starred review
"This British import is a stunner"―Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review
"A chilling tale that highlights the importance of kindness and child advocacy while emphasizing the lasting damage wrought by abuse and neglect."―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Pam Smy has created a wonderful piece of work in Thornhill. The drawings are full of atmosphere, the words are full of tension and emotion all the more powerful for being so sparingly revealed. . . . A story of friendship and courage and of the power of black-and-white images. I think it’s terrific.” –Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy
About the Author
Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Julia Donaldson (Follow the Swallow) and Kathy Henderson (Hush, Baby, Hush!), among others. She lives in Cambridge.
Top customer reviews
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Yes, there are two parallel, (if time separated), stories. POSSIBLE MILD PREMISE SPOILERS. We have 1982 Mary, an orphan inmate at Thornhill, and we have 2016 Ella, who has moved in to a house next to the now deserted and broken down Thornhill. Ella occasionally glimpses a girl in an upper window of the empty Thornhill building and undertakes to explore the grounds of Thornhill to unravel the mystery. Because the story moves back and forth between Mary's diary and Ella's investigations, we know much more about Mary, and much earlier, than does Ella. So, for most of the book we switch from the gripping continuing tale of Mary to drawings of Ella just walking around empty grounds. Ella doesn't really factor into the story until the very end.
That's all fine, because Mary's story is gripping, suspenseful and dark. Ella is a bit of a tack-on. Since Ella's story is told through drawings, and since those drawings are of Thornhill, (albeit a derelict Thornhill), the drawings could just as well be accompanying Mary's story, which makes Ella even less important. BIGGER SPOILER. That's fine too, because Mary's story makes sense, while Ella's story's end, to me, comes out of nowhere, isn't a logical consequence of her development, and feels abrupt and unexplained.
What most engaged me as a reader was Mary's descent into a certain form of vengeful madness. While a sympathetic character at the outset, Mary is not without flaws and weaknesses. The story is taken from Mary's diary, so she completely controls the narrative. A reader can read this book first from a sympathetic point of view, and then again from an untrusting and skeptical point of view, and end up with two very different Mary's and two very different reactions to the book's conclusion, (and that's both the 1982 conclusion and the 2016 conclusion involving Ella). The result is that you get that classic "Turn of the Screw" effect, where you can argue forever about who's the real ghost and who's the real evil force. God bless unreliable narrators.
I'm not a big fan of psychological thrillers that coyly play hide and seek, or ghost stories that are just a few cries and whispers. Rather, here, this book had some meat on its bones, a ghastly mood that was sustained through both the narrative and the illustrations, and lots of tidy little bits that kept the reader guessing. To me, that adds up to a nice read, and this was a nice find.
(Please note that I received a free advance will-self-destruct-in-x-days Adobe Digital copy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
This is the sort of story, you curl up with and read as fast as possible. Happily, Smy’s writing and illustrations make it almost impossible to leave this book behind for even a moment. The illustrations linger with the reader, haunting in their black and white details. The text invite readers into the past, showing them what being an orphan in was like before rules were put in place to protect children. There is a brilliance to not setting the history piece in the 1800’s, but allowing shocking situations of a more modern time to surface.
The art pieces in the book allow the reader to piece together that the girl being described in the text is not the one in the images quickly. The images are done only in black and white, filled often with deep shadows and lit by bright light at other times. They are dynamic and interesting, telling their own wordless story of Ella and her own losses.
Get this into the hands of children who enjoy ghost stories, because this one will haunt readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
There are two different storylines parallel to each other. The prose is the story of Mary in 1982, while the haunting, interlaced, black and white illustrations are Ella’s story in the present.
Mary is an orphan living at Thornhill in 1982 and is waiting to be adopted. She’s one of the only girls left along with a very mean girl who enjoys tormenting and bullying Mary to the point that Mary remains locked in her room most days.
She dreads even coming out to eat and spends all of her time in her room making dolls or reading The Secret Garden. Mary’s story is told from her diary pages. I found it emotional and really couldn’t understand why something wasn’t being done to control the behavior of these girls who were treating her wrongly and bullying her. There are spoilers/hints along the way which gives you an idea about the end. I thought that was almost too much.
Ella’s story is quite different. Told in the present, she’s moved into a house right next door to Thornhill and deals with her own set of problems. Her mother is absent for whatever reason, and her father is busy with work-related engagements, so Ella is left alone most of the time. Thornhill is viewed from right outside her window and she becomes curious when she sees a girl in the garden there, even though Thornhill has been shut down since 1982. It’s abandoned, but Ella is curious and begins to wonder about the girl she sees from time to time. She begins exploring the garden because, what else is there for her do?
This is a fairly large book at about 540 pages, but many of the pages are illustrations which make it a fairly quick read. I found the illustrations paired with Mary’s diary haunting and I didn’t want to put it down until I could find out what was going to happen with these two girls. I found the book unique, chilling, and atmospheric, but honestly, I wasn’t happy with parts of the story, especially the unexplained abrupt ending. Overall, it’s good and even though it’s juvenile fiction, it kept me engaged until the end.
My rating is 4.5****
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This is such an interesting and unique format for a book.Read more