Book Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as Ella unravels the mystery of the girl 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.

2016: 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, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past


Oh my, this was a great read! Very much reminiscent of the style of Brian Selznick, Thornhill is told both in words, via Mary’s diary, and in pictures, via illustrations of Ella’s experiences. Author/illustrator Pam Smy does an incredible job of moving the story forward through the black and white illustrations from Ella’s world, which are stark and evocative and ever-so-ghostly.

The tale told through Mary’s diary is heartbreaking, and the first-person narrative is particularly effective. We see how Mary is an outcast even among outcasts, friendless in this home for unwanted girls, locking herself away in her own private sanctuary to escape the insidious, cruel attention of the house bully. Mary constructs a whole world for herself with her books and her carefully crafted puppets, but even this sanctuary ends up being violated. It’s wrenching to read of Mary’s pain, and all too easy to understand how her pain turns to anger and then to a burning need for revenge.

Meanwhile, Ella’s story is sad in its own way. Through the pictures on her walls, we come to understand that Ella’s mother has died and that she’s being raised in this new home and new town by a father who’s usually absent. No wonder Ella becomes fascinated by the spooky house she can see from her window and the mystery of the light she sees shining from the attic window.

Thornhill is a spooky, powerful, and quite definitely sad story of two girls from different times, bound together by loneliness. It’s haunting in all the right ways, and I simply loved the use of words and pictures to tell one complete story.


The details:

Title: Thornhill
Author: Pam Smy
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: August 29, 2017
Length: 544 pages
Genre: Ghost story/illustrated/young adult
Source: Library







2 thoughts on “Book Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

  1. I can’t wait to read this! I dont think I’ve heard of any other authors besides Selznick creating books like this so I’m very curious to see how someone else does it since I love all his books. Seems like a great read for fall too — very atmospheric.

    • Yes, a great choice for Halloween reading! I don’t think anyone can quite match Brian Selznick’s brilliance, but I do like the style and the approach. 🙂

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