I love Brian Selznick’s books because of the way that he tells his story using the combination of text and wordless illustrations. His books make you think because you have to interpret the story from the illustrations. Thanks to Twitter I’ve discovered another author who also very effectively tells a story using these same techniques. Pam Smy uses a combination of diary entries and black and white illustrations to tell a spine-tingling tale of two girls connected across time. It is a story that will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
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.
Thornhill is a tense, chilling mystery that captivated me from the first page. The story alternates between the diary entries of Mary, an orphan at Thornhill in 1982 and a girl in 2017, who we find out is called Ella. Pam Smy tells Ella’s story through atmospheric black and white wordless illustrations. From the first page we know that Mary is living in fear, being tormented by someone at Thornhill. She hears a thumping on the walls and her door at night and she sounds miserable. We also learn that Ella is unhappy as her mother has recently died and her father is often not around. As the story progresses Mary and Ella’s stories weave together and the tension in the story grows.
Pam’s illustrations are powerful and portray so much emotion. She shows the reader details of Ella’s life and how she is feeling through the illustrations. In one of the first glimpses of Ella’s life we know that she is from the present day because the calendar on her wall says 2017. There are photos of Ella with a woman, who we assume is her mother, but it is not until later in the story that we find out more about her. We only see snapshots of Ella’s life but some of these send shivers down your spine. Pam paints an imposing picture of Thornhill Institute For Children and gives us glimpses of what happened within its walls. When Pam switches perspective between Ella and Mary there are two black pages which are like a break for the reader to take in what has just happened.
Thornhill is a beautifully produced book. It feels like you are holding a work of art in your hands. It is a solid hardback with a cover illustration that looks like it has been etched in the cover. The page edges are black, adding to the sense that this is dark story. The illustrations are an incredibly important part of the story so the binding is of high quality, meaning that you can lay the book down open on a table or your lap.
The ending of Thornhill made me shiver and it still does when I think of it. It’s a perfect book for anyone wanting a spooky read. I’ll be recommending it to all the kids at my school because I know there will be lots of them who will love it. There are a group of 10 and 11 year old girls who love urban legends and ghost stories and I just know they will gobble up Thornhill. This is a book to own and reread so go out and buy a copy now.
Check out the Thornhill website to read an extract and watch this video of Pam Smy talking about her book: