Prose and art combine to create truly terrifying time-travelling tale in Thornhill [Review]

Prose and art combine to create truly terrifying time-travelling tale in Thornhill [Review]

By Pam Smy
Published by David Fickling Books
ISBN 978 1 910200 61 2

If ever a book could persuade you to throw your e-reader away for good, it is this terrific piece of YA fiction by Pam Smy.

More than just an engaging story, holding this wonderful product in your hands as you page through the story is part of the experience crafted by Smy.

The cover, too, is part of the experience, daring you to open the book, if you have the nerve. And you will need a lot of nerve for this.

Smy tells her tale of the unexpected in parallel stories set in different times: one told in no-nonsense prose and the other in increasingly disturbing black-and-white drawings. Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret brought this hybrid format to YA fiction in 2008, and Smy takes it to another level.

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In the early 1980s, Mary Baines is a lonely orphan at Thornhill Children’s Home. Local authorities are closing the institution down, and most of the girls have been adopted or re-homed, but Mary never fits in. She spends hours alone in her room, reading and making dolls and puppets.

With only a few girls left in the big, rambling mansion, Mary is seen as an easy target to bully and torment. Mary dreads leaving her room at meal times. She feels safe locked in her room with her puppet.

In the present day, Ella Clarke has just moved into a new town and a new house with her father, who is too busy at work to notice that his daughter is lonely and unhappy. The new house overlooks a dilapidated Victorian mansion that used to be a children’s home. One day, Ella seesa girl standing at an upstairs window. But the home was closed in the 1980s. Who is the mysterious girl looking out over the garden?

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Ella decides to investigate; and when she finds parts of broken puppets in the overgrown flowerbeds, her curiosity is heightened. There are secrets in Thornhill’s dark past, and Ella strides further towards the gloomy house willing herself to go inside.

The prose part of Smy’s novel is the diary Mary kept during the last days of Thornhill, while the haunting black and white illustrations tell Ella’s story. The two are interlaced, and when they come together in the final pages, Smy delivers a knockout and chilling conclusion that isn’t easy to forget.

Thornhill is unique, creepy and packed with dread and atmosphere. The great Roald Dahl once wrote that a good ghost story “should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts”. Smy does this in spades. You have been warned!

John Millen can be contacted on

Edited by Karly Cox

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Prose and art combine to create truly terrifying time-travelling tale


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