Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy


Thornhill by Pam Smy - cover
Source: Goodreads


Pam Smy

Pages: 539
Published August 29th 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

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.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense.

Sources: Amazon


Carol's Rating: ★★

This was great, spooky read for a chilly evening in October. The story moves along at a good pace and held my interest to the end. It's an eerie tale about Ella, in 2017 and Mary, in 1982.

The chapters alternate between these two with Mary's story told from her diary entries and Ella's story told through intricate illustrations. The story builds in suspense to a surprising end, which in all honesty, disappointed me. It was much darker and abrupt than I expected it would be and Mary's last sentence was creepy and unsettling.

The author does a great job painting a vivid picture about the pain that results from bullying but her message on friendship and how Mary gained it gave me the chills. Otherwise, I'd have given it more than 2 stars. Having said that, I believe the author's goal was to create a spooky tale in which she is successful indeed!

About the Author


Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Julia Donaldson (Follow the Swallow) and Kathy Henderson (Hush, Baby, Hush!), among others. She lives in Cambridge.

"I fell in love with drawing at the age of 19. That was a while ago. Since then hardly a day has gone by without drawing something I have seen or imagined. Drawing has given me the ability to capture stories and characters I see all around me, and I love that illustrating gives the opportunity to translate these everyday observations into recreating imagined worlds for authors.

I love stories with atmosphere, history or suspense, especially if those stories give me the opportunity to create strong characters and new spaces and places. I love short stories, books set in powerful landscapes, or rural and pastoral environments. I would love to illustrate classics such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Jamaica Inn, The Secret Garden or Tom's Midnight Garden. To be able to illustrate for Linda Newbery and Siobhan Dowd in books that deal with nature and landscape has been a gift in recent years and has reinvigorated my passion for the illustrated novel."


Sources:  and 

Interviews and Sneak Peaks

I have a special place in my heart for illustrated novels. They can often provide a much more intimate experience than novel written strictly in prose, especially when the illustrations are alluring and thought provoking. When explored in depth, the detailed images can draw you into the story, the atmosphere, and the minds of the characters. I am reminded of Brian Selznic's lovely works such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Marvels, and while Pam Smy's illustrations definitely express the story, they are heavier and more harsh than Selznic's. Perhaps that is a result of the medium being heavy ink, and is certainly fitting for the eerie story of Thornhill. In addition, I found it curious that each chapter is divided by several blank, black pages.

Listen in on this fascinating conversation with Pam Smy, wherein she describes her craft along with the origins, intent, and development of her first illustrated novel, including an explanation for those blank, black pages!

A Conversation with Pam Smy
Publishers Weekly PW KidsCast
Illustrator Pam Smy discusses ‘Thornhill,’ an eerie novel told in alternating written and visual narratives, about a girl named Ella who is mysteriously drawn to an abandoned building near her new home.


A Glimpse Inside

Discussion Questions

Source: Novel Gobblers Book Club

  1. Have you read other books by this author?
  2. Did this book remind you of any other books you've read?
  3. What do you think of the book cover? Does it represent the book well?
  4. Was the story what you expected it to be? Were you pleased or disappointed?
  5. If you listened to the audiobook, did you enjoy the narrator? Why or why not?
  6. Was the plot predictable? What were some of your predictions and were they correct?
  7. What did you find unique about this story?
  8. Were the characters believable and lovable?
  9. Were there any moments in the book surprised you? Did you feel suspense? Did the story hold your attention?
  10. Who were your favorite secondary characters?
  11. What did you like or dislike about this book?
  12. Is there a moral to this story?
  13. What do you imagine Prince Cakes taste like?
  14.  Do you have any favorite quotes from the book?
  15. Will you look to read other books by this author?

Happy Reading!