Pam Smy's young adult graphic novel, Thornhill, is a wonderfully atmospheric read. It's also a wonderful novel about bullying so is perfect for younger audiences as well. It's just a well told, haunted-type tale where any lessons learned are subtle and almost beside the point. And of course it is a story that can be read and enjoyed by any audience. Since it's such a visual story, it seemed apt to talk about it in the same style as the author writes.
There are actually two intertwined stories told in parallel. The first, set in 1982, is set in Thornhill Institute for Children where Mary lives after being orphaned. She tells her story through diary entries, so we get to peek over her shoulder to learn about her world and life. Mary is not a popular girl and the institute has not been able to adopt her out to a family. She suffers from a syndrome of mutism. She is unable to engage with the other students as she simply cannot talk. Instead she writes in her diary and makes these exquisitely detailed puppets. Talented as she is, she is different, and her inability to conform to the rest of the school raises the ire of one unhappy, and sadly very mean, girl.
Fast forward to 2017 and Ella has moved in next door to the now old and dilapidated Thornhill Intitute. It has been empty for years and fallen into great disrepair. It has been closed off and has an air of secrecy and a tragic past to it. Ella can look out over the grounds from her bedroom window. As in so many other YA stories, the adults involved seem either distant or absent. Ella's story is told solely through pictures, so the reader has to mostly infer why Ella is there and what her situation is.
Both girls seem lonely and alone, though for different reasons. Looking out over the abandoned building Ella feels drawn to it and wonders about its history--so much so she sneaks inside and discovers Mary's old room and the puppets she created.
But Ella senses there is something unfinished about this mysterious young girl, the creator of these amazing dolls. She senses her presence even.
It's obvious that Mary had a hard time of it at the institute. While Mary never seems to be wanted by any of the foster parents, one of her classmates is wanted but then returned for her bad behavior. Life is miserable for Mary. While she is being tormented and must suffer in silence, she still has enough compassion to wonder if this other student who has failed to stay with her adoptive home is as lonely a she is. Maybe they can be friends? That is what she wishes for most.
There is something a little ghostly about this story and it is tinged with sadness, but maybe in the end both girls find the friend and companion they were looking for . . .