As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, our writers have accepted the challenge of reading and reviewing pre-publication review copies of highly anticipated young adult literature. The reviews are posted here for our readers, but also will be sent to the Book House where they will hopefully be used to inform customers about the books they may want to purchase.We will try to publish one review a week for the spring.
The reviews contain spoilers, so be forewarned!
By Pam Smy
Published August 2017
544 pages, Roaring Brook Press
Thornhill, written and illustrated by Pam Smy, is a book about two girls in two different time periods. The first one is written as if it were a diary. It is about an orphan named named Mary, who lives in Thornhill institute. There she is picked on endlessly by a bully and her friends. Mary creates puppets/ dolls to be her friends and uses them as an escape. The other story is told through illustrations, and it is about a girl named Ella. Ella is living around thirty years after Mary’s story has been written (in the present day). She has recently moved into a new house across from the abandoned orphanage, and tries to figure out what has happened to the Thornhill institute. In doing this, she discovers Mary’s past.
The themes consisted of loneliness, betrayal, and revenge. These are all seen throughout the book, but mostly in Mary’s story. From the beginning, Mary has been lonely at Thornhill. She has no friends and stays in her room, avoiding everyone. Mary doesn’t like to talk to anyone, making it very hard to make friends. “I’ve decided to lock myself away. Now that she is back it is the only way I can keep myself safe” (31). Mary does not have any friends and wants to stay away from her enemy. As a way to cope with her loneliness, Mary makes puppets, which she treats like real people and makes them her friends. The bully, whom Mary refers to as “she/her” is popular in Thornhill and has a lot of friends. “She” plays a lot of pranks on Mary throughout the book, such as tricking Mary into thinking they are friends and then getting her to do a favor for her. Mary, trying to be nice, climbs up on a chair to get a can for “her.” “‘God you’re an
idiot!’ she said. And she let go of the chair. I fell, suddenly clattering to the ground, swiping jars to the floor which smashed all around me as I landed in a heap” (146). Mary is left in a mess on the floor, with many scratches and bruises. The bully betrays Mary more than once in the book, leading to Mary wanting to get revenge. An example of this is at the end of the book. Mary has this whole plan of tricking “her,” so that she can try to trap her in kerosene and light her, and the house, on fire. “Only this time she was inside. I felt completely calm as I poured out the kerosene… Then I sat down again, the matches ready in my hand” (460). This plan almosts works, until Mary is fooled again by “her” words, which are very convincing.
Curiosity and loneliness are themes in Ella’s story. She recently moved to new house across from the abandoned Thornhill institute and she is very lonely. She doesn’t have any friends, her mom has passed away, and her dad is always at work. In the book, she is in her house alone, which leads to her boredom and curiosity. Ella becomes curious of the history of Thornhill, since it is across from her house, and is able to see someone lurking around the institution. Wanting a friend, she decides to investigate. She is able to find things lying around in Thornhill, and takes them home to further examine. She notices multiple dolls, that have been ruined in some way, and tries to fix them up. There are pictures of Ella trying to make a friend by making dolls and putting them in Thornhill for, who is suspected to be, Mary (257). Ella is able to find out more and more clues about Mary and her past events.
Although the book contained more than five hundred pages, it was a quick read, because of the pictures, and I enjoyed it. Thornhill was a very unique book, and I found it very fascinating how the book switched between two stories, and how these stories were told in two different ways. I liked the storylines, and the author’s use of plot twists. This kept me guessing what was going to happen next, and made me want to continue reading. The book also had many refer
ences to “The Secret Garden.” Mary was able to relate to the main character in this book who was lonely and needed an escape. Mary is able to find a place outside to make her “secret garden”, until it is discovered by the other girls and ruined. I liked how the author referenced this book because it let me connect better with Mary and have greater understandings of Thornhill and of Mary’s feelings.
The majority of the book is done very well, however, I was disappointed with the ending. I found it to be confusing and short. It needed more explanation, and was not done as well as the rest of the book was. I was left unsure of why Ella could see Mary, and be with her, or if Mary was just a ghost. I think if there was a few more pages showing the ending, it could have been really good and added to the creepiness of the book as a whole.
Overall, I think this story was successful and I think it will appeal to a lot of people. It was really cool that the author was able to write this book and draw all the pictures without any help. She did a really good job with it, making the pictures very engaging with lots of details. I really had to look closely at the pictures, or I could have missed something. At some points the book is very creepy, with ghosts and dolls and the pictures all being in dark colors. I enjoyed the spookiness, and it kept me hooked throughout the whole book. Lastly, I think it was a fun and easy read, and I would especially recommend it to people of the ages nine to thirteen. The themes could relate to many people, for instance, people who are either lonely, or have ever wanted revenge against someone, and it made for a better read.