Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sean Barrs
Reviewed by Sean Barrs
Summary: Dark and gothic, Thornhill tells the story of bullied girl through lavish illustrations and revealing journal entries.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: August 2017
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN: 978-1910200612

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Shortlisted for the 2018 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, this story is haunting, mysterious and touching. Mary is a unique child; she's introverted and very talented, spending most of her time by herself creating her fantasies through making puppets. She is being severely bullied, but her bully has gone further than most. She torments her, haunts her steps and takes every opportunity to make Mary's life a living hell. Too scared to sleep, too uncomfortable to eat with others, Mary has become an isolated mute stuck in her room at Thornhill.

Thornhill is eerily reminiscent of Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre with its dark corridors and hidden mysteries. Holly even attempts to take strength from Jane's example, quoting her in one of her many diary entries as an effort to deal with her bully. The novel is told through these journal entries and accompanied by dark illustrations. The actions of Ella are depicted in image followed by Mary who narrates her experience within her diary. It goes back and forth, becoming more intense as the story reaches its end. The power of the story resides in the sheer level of emotion that comes through the diary at the end. The illustrations reflect this with their unmistakably gothic nature; the house is dark and creepy, it's full of shadows and the sky is overcast and dreary. It's not a place many children would want to find themselves in.

Foster homes are a place for abandoned children. Jacqueline Wilson famously referred to them as The Dumping Grounds in the Tracy Beaker series. And for the children put into Thornhill this is very much the case. The house is probably normal to the outward eye, but to their perceptions it reflects the mood of the place. Their carers are not as attentive as they should be; they miss the signs of bullying and their eventual responses to it help to facilitate such behaviour further. All in all, they do everything that foster homes shouldn't do. Woe to Mary and Ella, victim and perpetrator of a situation that could have been so easily resolved had it been recognised by responsible eyes.

Central to this story is bullying and understanding exactly what causes it. It's very easy to point the finger at the bully, but underneath their outward aggression and hostility resides a sense of fragility. They bully to make themselves feel better about whom they are; they project their weaknesses and insecurity on to others they deem similar. Their self-hatred causes them to attack someone not unlike themselves. And Smy captures this in here. She gets to the root of the problem and depicts two little girls who should always have been friends; thus, the ending, the last illustration, is exactly on the mark. It ends absolutely perfectly.

Thornhill is a very strong story, but the way in which it is told is eloquent and creative. It doesn't take very long to read, I got through it in less than two hours, but afterwards it lingered in my mind. I read it again and then again. I recommend this most highly for young readers and adults alike, though the Gaiman fans will undoubtedly love it especially those that have read Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

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Buy Thornhill by Pam Smy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Thornhill by Pam Smy at


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