Review – Thornhill – Pam Smy

Last night, I went to bed and read Thornhill in one sitting. Now I’m sat here and don’t quite know what to write about the book. I was left in awe with this sublime piece of literature.

The book is told through two parallel stories. The first takes the form of a diary written by Mary in 1982. The second narrative tells the story of present-day Ella, but is told through black and white illustrations. As you would imagine, the two plots are inexplicably linked. As the book progresses, there is more and more overlap between the two leading to the climax (and warning for the future).

Although the book comes in at over 500 pages, this is a quick read. The inclusion of a visual narrative is a fantastic tool that Smy uses to control the pace of the story. Longer or more frequent sections of the visual narrative speed up to overall story when needed. What amazed me was the attention to detail that is contained within the pictures. There are countless links to the historic plot contained within the pictures, which help to advance both narratives at once.

I can honestly say I have never had a reaction to a book like I had last night. From early on, I felt a tangible emotional attachment to both characters. Add to this the foreboding nature of both narratives and I was filled with contrasting emotions. By the end, as the pieces of the jigsaws slotted together, I just wanted to scream at the Ella and Mary, to help them . . . to stop them. Then the ending left me mulling things over instead of drifting off the sleep.

There is no doubting that this is a very dark book. In fact, the black cover, pages and illustrations set that tone from the outset. Topics covered range from bullying, social exclusion, selective mutism and neglect. None of them are easy topics, but truth be told without them the book would not be what it is. That said, there are very important messages that children should be exposed to.

This book is for undoubtedly mature readers: those who are capable of handling two distinct story lines presented in both ways, those who will acknowledge the themes and those who are up for a challenge. Without these skills, children (and adults) would not get the full effect of this book. Already I know of some children in my class who would fall in love with this book and I won’t hesitate in recommending it to them.

Age recommendation: Mature and confident 10 years+
Hardcover: 533 pages
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN-13: 978-1626726543

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