Book Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

ThornhillTitle: Thornhill by Pam Smy
Genre: Graphic Novel, Horror, Mystery, Young Adult
Pages: 234
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Publication Date: 24th August 2017
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Rating: ★★★★★

Parallel plotlines, one told in text and one in art, inform each other as a young girl unravels the mystery of a ghost next door.
Mary is an orphan at the Thornhill Institute for Children at the very moment that it's closing down for good. But when a bully goes too far, Mary's revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

Years later, Ella moves to a new town where she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute. Determined to befriend the mysterious, evasive girl she sees there, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill's history and uncover its secrets.

Ella’s house backs onto the grounds of the dilapidated Thornhill, a now empty manor house that was once the home of children waiting to be fostered. When Ella discovers that someone still resides in the house, she decides to unravel the mystery surrounding the girl who lived there almost 40 years ago.

I was handed Thornhill by a colleague and told it was good, that’s all, so I took her recommendation at face value and didn’t concern myself too much with what it might be about; I just wanted to get reading.  From the cover, I’d assumed it would be a fairly traditional horror story, and so I was surprised when it ended up being about bullying.  In some ways though, that made it so much worse.

Focusing on themes of loneliness and isolation, I would say this book is about as suitable for children as The Bunker Diary was.  It won’t be to everyone’s taste, because it tackles some difficult, often uncomfortable issues.  It certainly makes you grateful for tighter laws and regulations around child protection.  But bullying is not so easily eradicated, and there were times when it was truly upsetting to read what Mary had to experience – scarier than a traditional horror.  I guess I am old enough now to feel angry and confused by how unhelpful many of the adults were despite obvious signs of distress.


However, there were still some supernatural elements in there.  I’ll admit that it took me embarrassingly long to suss that the girl in the illustrations hadn’t written the diary that makes up the written element of the book.  I mean… she even had a different name.  She even had a calendar on her wall that read ‘2017’, a whole couple of obvious decades apart from the rest of the story.  I don’t deserve nice things sometimes, I really don’t.  Nevertheless, the way the two lives were interwoven – one in pictures, and one in writing – was cleverly done, and kept me as a reader on my toes.

My one criticism, however, was the ending.  I was expecting there to be a message – that inner strength can overcome bullying, or something like that.  Instead (much like The Bunker Diary), I was left feeling a bit… empty, and disappointed.  Despite the events of the final pages, I received absolutely no closure on what happened to Mary – her death is an inevitability, but it didn’t have the effect on me I think it maybe could have had.  As for Ella, I thought the reasons for her actions in the final pages could have been better developed.  I understand that she was lonely too, but even more backstory there could have made me more emotionally invested in her outcome.  What I did enjoy was the introduction of a new child at the end.  Would the cycle repeat itself, or would something now change?

Have you read Thornhill before?  What are your thoughts on the book?

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